AVCHD video: The hardware is willing, but the software is weak
If you've got to Google before using your video, the camcorder's not ready for prime time.
Latest updates in bold.
After 20 years in the biz, I've lost count of how many times I've heard, "The software hasn't caught up with the hardware." Usually, however, it simply means you have to wait a bit before recognizing the speed benefits of your expensive 64-bit, dual-core system, or find games that show off the long-shader support in your graphics card. With camcorders, however, it means you can't use your video.
Personally, I don't consider a camcorder as mainstream if you have to search the Web and troll forums to find software to play or edit your video. The highly lame software that comes bundled with these models doesn't count. That's where we stand with AVCHD, even
eight 10 months after the first models hit the market.
I just reviewed the
Updated 8/9/07: Adding to the confusion, the
The camcorder will be bundled with an as-yet unconfirmed set of Corel applications. My guess is VideoStudio 11, which doesn't yet support the 24fps files.
Updated 10/24/07: I've never been a big fan of DVD-based camcorders, but mixing them with AVCHD seems to be one of the worst ideas evah. You just end up with the worst of two worlds: slow, unstable (for real-time recording, at least) low-capacity media combined with a confusing, low-compatibility encoding format. Can you tell I've just completed my testing of the
I also ran into an as-yet unsolved mystery: Windows XP on my system could not properly read the AVCHD disc (Windows Explorer reports zero objects), while our lab tech had no problem whatsoever on his system. On my PC, the bundled software applications read the disc, but nothing else could. Of course, an afternoon of googling yielded no useful information about my Lite-On DH16A1L, which could be a culprit. Suggestions welcome.
Updated 10/25/07: Rabw mentions Elecard Converter Studio AVC HD Edition ($75; free trial) below as a potential solution. I purposefully haven't discussed transcoders--software that converts files from one encoding format to another--for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that any file format that requires manual transcoding before you use it is not transparent enough to be an adequate consumer solution. It's true that all video-editing software transcodes video into an intermediate format, but it does so on the fly without user intervention. Second, once you start discussing transcoding software you inevitably must address the quality of the encodings, which I so don't have time to test. You guys are free to post comments with your experiences, however.
After a couple of pain-free AVCHD experiences--notably, footage shot with the new
Updated 5/2/08: As if AVCHD camcorders aren't problem enough, along comes the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1 sort-of-hybrid still/video camera to bring all sorts of unwanted software excitement to my life. I haven't had a chance to take it out into the world yet--I've been spending hours trying to figure out what applications can properly handle its FHD 1080i and 1080p files (the 720p clips seem to be okay in software that supports QuickTime files). Complicating matters, the Casio uses the QuickTime MOV extension rather than the more "standard" MTS extension used by Canon, Panasonic and Sony. Ultimately, after much trial and error, I figured out that only the bundled software, ArcSoft TotalMedia Extreme and TotalMedia Theater (see below) can play the files. The kicker? No editing capability. You can't even transcode the videos to edit them in something else. I called Casio tech support and a rep told me that they don't know anything about third-party software, and actually suggested that I go to my local electronics retailer and ask them for advice. After the laughter died down, I did some poking around on ArcSoft's site and saw that the retail version of TotalMedia Extreme includes the Studio editing software. But it doesn't seem to be in the trial version I downloaded. I'm trying to find out how to get it, so stay tuned. Updated 5/6/08: I've heard back from ArcSoft and as far as I can tell, Studio isn't real editing software anyway, just disc authoring. So scratch that as a potential editing solution.
Also, one note for those of you complaining in the comments about the Pixela software bundled with the Canon HF models: stop trying to use it and spring for some real software, such as anything mentioned here. This is one occasion where spending a little money beats sticking your head into a wood chipper, which is what it feels like to use bad software.
- Updated 5/14/08: ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater (BD/HD DVD). $89.99; 15-day trial download. Requires entire file structure to play back from folders, though drag and drop works for individual files.
- Updated 3/13/08: Nero 8 Ultra Edition Enhanced 8 (with ShowTime 4). $80; there's a 15-day trial download, but AVCHD support requires the full licensed version.
- Updated 5/6/08: CyberLink PowerDVD 8 Ultra. $99.95; no trial download.
- Updated 5/14/08: Corel WinDVD 9 Plus. $79.99; trial download does support AVCHD files, but only by dragging and dropping them onto the player. According to a Corel rep: "'open from folder' functionality is for DVD folders only. There is no definition of an AVCHD folder in the AVCHD spec. AVCHD folders have the exact same structure as BDMV folders so, for security concerns expressed by the Blu-ray Disc Association, Corel WinDVD 9 Plus Blu-ray does not support AVCHD or BDMV folder playback." (emphasis mine). This is odd, since other products will read from the BDMV folders.
- Added 5/6/08: CyberLink PowerDirector 7 Ultra. $119.95; no trial download.
- Added 11/15/07: Final Cut Express 4. $199; no trial download. For Intel-based Macs only. As far as I can tell, there's no list of supported models, which bodes well in my mind. Notably, FCE4 can mix HD and SD video on a single timeline, just like its very expensive big brother.
- Updated 5/14/08: Sony Vegas Video Movie Studio Platinum Edition. $129.95; 30-day trial download. As of Version 8.0c, Vegas Platinum supports Panasonic and Canon files. I opened a few files to check. Woo hoo! According to the release notes for Version 8.0d, it now supports 1,920x1,080 files, but not for Panasonic.
- Updated 6/6/08: Pinnacle Studio Plus 12. $100; no trial download available.
- Final Cut Pro 6. $1,299 (part of Final Cut Studio 2); no trial download available, and AVCHD editing requires a Mac Pro with Intel Xeon CPU.
- Updated 4/2/2008: Corel Ulead VideoStudio 11.5. $99.99; The current version of VideoStudio now lets you import AVCHD files--it no longer requires the entire directory structure--and author AVCHD discs.
- Apple iMovie '08. Apple only supports a few of AVCHD camcorders, however, and even those have a couple of caveats. Here's the current list of supported models.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 and Premiere Elements 4 don't yet support AVCHD editing.