AVCHD camcorders and editing

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col lamb
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AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by col lamb » Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:00 pm

GENERAL INFORMATION
This is aimed at those interested in HD video, if your video is other that HD AVCHD then you may find the article useful as a guide only. 4k video is another matter and whilst similar to HD the differences are outside the remit of this text.

CHECKLIST
Before buying any AVCHD camcorder try the following; -
• Research models within your price range listing the features that you wish to find incorporated within your camcorder
• Check your PC or Mac specification to see if it can handle the video files
• Buy some fast solid state memory, for example a class 6, SD card.
• Test run the preferred camcorder, recording video onto your own solid state memory in the shop then at home transfer the whole card contents in to your PC, download VLC media player if your PC does not play the files
• Download a trial version of Edius if your existing editing software cannot handle AVCHD video
• Transfer the files from the solid state memory card into your hard disc
• Edit the video
If all is OK and you are happy with the results then you are ready to go.

CAMCORDERS
Most HD camcorders record AVCHD or variant compliant video files. The video is generally recorded at about 20Mbps using the h264 codec and the files will have an .mts extension. The AVCHD format is MPEG4 and is compatible with MPEG2 or DVD standards so you can make a DVD out of your new HD AVCHD footage quite easily.

RECORDING MODES
You can vary the recorded image quality by setting the camera to a variety of settings, these basically change the recording bit rate to a lower setting and in other modes the recorded pixel count or combinations of both. The end result is that more video can be recorded onto the solid state memory but at a lower quality.

I tend to use 16Gb solid state cards and at the highest quality settings each card hold about 90 minutes of full HD video. With prices presently about £15 to £30 for a 16Gb card you will need to factor in buying enough to meet your requirements.

VIDEO FORMATS
In table 1 I have listed the resolution, encoding method and bit rate of the different video formats currently in use. As you can see AVCHD has a lower bit rate than HDV but records more pixels, it is all down to the CODEC (coder / decoder) that is in use. You can see that HDV uses MPEG 2 and AVCHD uses MPEG 4. Now without going into too much techno babble MPEG 4 compresses the video more than MPEG 2, if you want to learn more have a look on Wikipedia or Videoguys.com where there is a mass of information available for you to digest. Since one system works one way and another works another, the end result is a trade off. Both offer stunning images on an HD TV or projected in HD at the Movie Making club or IAC event.

[img]http://www.theiac.org.uk/forum/pics/format-table.jpg[/img]

What is important to understand is that as AVCHD uses a higher compression system (but still a very efficient one); the problems that you are going to face will be in the editing and output stages.

A variant is to shoot progressive, with many camcorders and most DSLR, iphones etc shooting progressive by default. Rather than take another page explain about progressive, have a read about it on Wikipedia. Recording devices tend to record progressive video at a higher data rate and hence then quality should be better, but, and there is always a but, progressive was not part of the DVD/Bluray standard and hence there may be some compatibility issues, it is now part of the standards but systems and equipment still need to play catch-up so if you want to record for DVD or Bluray stick to 1080i for the time being. To give examples my Panasonic 900 records 1080i at 21mbps and 1080p at 28mbps and the improvement is there but only just, my Canon DSLR also records 1080p and again at 28mbps so its a matter of choice. That said shooting in progressive does require specific techniques if you want to avoid artifacts and effects in the recorded images so you need to read up on shooting techniques http://www.dvuser.co.uk/content.php?CID=208 is the current link to the best article, Nigel's website is also very useful to bookmark and visit from time to time

THE PROBLEM WITH AVCHD
Getting the files onto the PC or MAC is an easy task, being able to edit them is another matter. To be able to edit the files in their native format is going to require a seriously fast PC or MAC. We are talking serious money for a workable system that can handle native AVCHD files; however it is a system that should give you all your editing requirements for years to come. The problem with native AVCHD files is achieving real-time playback with smooth images in the monitoring window, this can only happen with a very fast system. The graphics card is a critical component for Premiere users as it is required assist in the processing of the files to achieve real-time playback for software that requires CPU power then the faster and more cores the CPU has then the better it will perform.

GENERIC PC SPECIFICATION
To give you an idea of what is required to get the best out of AVCHD files you will need a fast PC or MAC, for a PC you are going to need a minimum specification of: -
3GHz quad core Intel i7 processor
A minimum of 2Gb per CPU core, quad core = 8Gb etc, ideally double this at 4Gb per core
A Motherboard such as the Asus or Gigabyte
A CUDA enabled graphics card with at least 1Gb memory and compatible with your chosen editing software.
Boot hard disc
A separate video hard disc (ideally two drives set up as RAID)
64 bit operating system such as Windows 7 Ultimate
Large LCD monitor offering at least full 1920x1080 HD resolution.
See the sticky forum post on PC specifications for more details

Now transferring video files from your hard disk does require quite some effort on the part of the system and that is best achieved by having two video storage drives set up as RAID 0. This is when the disks are set up in parallel so that data is written and read to each disk alternatively, the end result is a very fast write and read system. Additionally a backup storage hard disk should be regularly used to copy all the data, I use external USB connected drives to backup my complete RAID system after each edit session.

I have been using Windows 7 Ultimate now for many months and have found it to be very stable. It is possible to use a lesser specification PC’s but if you are going to update yours please do not assume that your choice will be OK, the specification I have listed should be your starter and what you put in it should be in excess of that specified. My own PC is a 3.4GHz, 16Gb RAM, RAID system with a 1512Mb graphics card and a i7 6 core CPU.

I also have an Asus N56 laptop which has a 2.4GHz quad processor and 8Gb RAM, it plays back the AVCHD files OK and I can easily edit with it using Edius or Adobe Premiere CS 5.5

STORING AVCHD FILES AND USING THEM
I have created a folder called “AVCHD STORE NOT 4 EDITING”, after each shoot and within this folder I create a sub-folder labeled with the name of the project I have on the memory card such as “Oz2009”. If I have the project on more than one memory card I label the sub-folders Oz2009A, Oz2009B etc. I then copy the complete contents of each of the memory cards into their own sub-folder. Then I back up these files on to the two separate external hard drives that I have. So I now have three copies of my precious video footage safely stored.

Next in the folder set as the video source for the editing project I copy all the memory stick’s contents into this folder, please note that I keep the files within the “AVCHD STORE” folder completely pristine and unused this is not the source material for the editing project it is simply a store. To give you an example if I am editing my Oz video in Edius Neo I create a folder structure on my RAID hard disk system R://Neo/Oz2009/AVCHDsource, and it is within this location I place all the native AVCHD files that I am going to use within the editing project. If I am going to convert or transcode the AVCHD files then I will use the previous located files to transcode into their own folder such as R://Neo/Oz2009/TRANSCODED VIDEO.

EDITING
Be careful here, some software versions of the popular editing system software such as Premiere Pro, Final Cut, and Edius etc says they SUPPORT video in the AVCHD format. What in practice this means is that it converts AVCHD files into MPEG 2 format HD files that can be edited. What we are ultimately looking for is editing software that can edit AVCHD files NATIVELY, that is without any conversion or transcoding as it can also be called.

Before I cover native AVCHD editing I’ll explain about file conversion. Mac’s Final Cut family, Edius 5 and other older editing software versions required the source files to be converted into editable format files. Since an update of Edius to version 5.5 and the newer version 6 they now support native AVCHD editing without transcoding. The transcoded files can be AVI’s, MOV, or a dedicated CODEC format file such as CanopusHQ. Transcoding the AVCHD video files into AVI's is the best way forward if your PC struggles to play or edit the video files, Edius have their own utility which easily batch converts AVCHD files into editable AVI's yet the originals remain on the hard drive in their original format. As the native AVCHD files are highly compressed these files convertors or transcoders, expand the files considerably in size and so you will need plenty of hard disk storage.

With certain Panasonic camcorders you can get a free utility from their web site that is produced by Main Concept that converts or transcodes the AVCHD source files into DVCPro format files which are more readily edited on a PC that can handle HDV video. If you have a Sony VIAO laptop or desktop system then if you can update to the latest 6.4 version of their “Edit Components” then you can edit on a more modestly specified PC.

For reasonably priced editing software Magix Movie Edit Pro and Edius Neo 2.5 and newer handle AVCHD files NATIVELY, that is without conversion to MPEG2. Of the two Edius Neo is by far the best choice. Whilst Magix is fairly cheap at about £70 you do need a fast PC to get the most out of it and on my system it is not stable, it crashes at will. It does have some very good features a and it is certainly worth downloading the trial version and testing it out on your own PC. Lightworks also sell HD editing software but it requires a £60 per year subscription

For editing software Edius Neo is in practice very similar to Edius 5 or 6 in that it is rock stable and very easy to use. It has multiple timelines available and if you are used to Premiere then getting used to Neo will be an easy task. Neo is the cut down version of Edius but do not let that put you off it as it is not at all like the cut down version of Premiere. Neo has all the bells and whistles that you are likely to require. I cannot recommend Edius Neo highly enough, it is well worth downloading the trial version and testing it out.

When Adobe released CS5.5 you could then handle AVCHD files natively, please be warned that it does require a very highly specified PC and one with a 64 bit operating system. If you watch the demo’s then also take note that they are using a CUDA graphics card that by itself costs £2000, for that amount of money you would be better advised buying a MAC. Newer versions are Premiere CS6 and the CC version are also OK for native AVCHD editing but still require a powerful PC

OUTPUTTING
Whilst I have a Blu Ray burner in my PC I do not have a player under my TV, nor does the Movie Making club to which I belong. So for me there is no point in burning my movies to Blu Ray disk on a regular basis. As a series of tests from the files I have created in the editing software I have burned Blu Ray disks and used the VIAO laptop to output the movie to the club's HD projector where the results are very satisfying.

What I usually do is to output the finished movie to a variety of format files; within the editing software I select presets from: - DVD MPG, HD MPG, HD AVI, AVCHD and Blu Ray h264 and create movie files. I then store these files on three separate hard disks, one being the RAID and the other two being external portable hard drives. It is best to play around with different settings and view the results on a device other than your PC or Mac. It does make a considerable difference if you use the correct encoding settings. Unfortunately as there are many different editing software makes and versions out there I cannot be definitive with specifics.

As more and more online systems become available there is less need to record onto optical discs and more usage of media files stored locally and streaming. Also a media player plugged directly into your TV can provide the best way of accessing your movies.

As of the 1st July 2015 the specification that I recommend for HD editing is: -

ASUS Z97 Pro motherboard
Intel i7 CPU 4790k
16 Gb RAM (give your system builder this spec with the instruction for them to source a fit compatible RAM)
nVidia GTX970 GPU
750W power supply minimum
Optical drive of your choice
At least four hard drives with each used for, (1) Boot, (2) video media store, and project files (3) cache, exports, previews (4) backup drive of discs 1 and 2
Include for a good quality modular case preferably aluminium and it will last for year and your system can grow or change easily

Note that this PS specification is general, it is up to you to verify with the software you use to edit that the specification is valid.

If you have any queries then feel free to post a question
Last edited by col lamb on Mon Jul 06, 2015 7:25 pm, edited 7 times in total.
Col Lamb
Preston, Lancashire.
FCPX, Edius6.02, and Premiere CS 5.5 user.
Find me on Facebook, Colin Lamb

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Dave Watterson
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by Dave Watterson » Mon Oct 28, 2013 12:15 am

Wow!

Thanks, Col for an extremely useful intro to a complex subject. Sorry about the size of the table ... to make it work as a table I re-created it in Word, captured the result in Paint Shop Pro, uploaded the pic to some webspace and linked to it! Depending on how your computer display shows text, it may seem to be using a very different size ... but I hope still readable.

Dave

tom hardwick
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by tom hardwick » Mon Oct 28, 2013 9:33 am

Excellent piece of work Col - thank you from all of us.

Might say that since you wrote the original, 16 gb SDHC class 10 cards have halved in price.
(Second paragraph, Recording Modes)

tom.

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TimStannard
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by TimStannard » Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:17 pm

Could I just add into teh equation that Sony Vegas Pro (and it's baby sibling - the £30 Movie Studio) can also comfortably handle AVCHD in native format and has done so for years. And it'll mix and match formats better than most :)
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it

col lamb
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Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2007 8:51 pm
Location: Preston, Lancashire

Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by col lamb » Mon Feb 10, 2014 5:24 pm

It is now quite sometime since the original article and there have not been many significant changes.

There are less models of camcorders available, more and more DSLRs and compact cameras have HD video capabilities. Action cams have grown significantly but most of all, more and more mobile phones and tablets are HD video capable.

Whilst the version numbers of the editing software have changed, their functionality and the PC system specifications have only marginally changed.

If you are considering buying a HD recording device please seek advice first by starting your own specific thread.
Col Lamb
Preston, Lancashire.
FCPX, Edius6.02, and Premiere CS 5.5 user.
Find me on Facebook, Colin Lamb

col lamb
Posts: 680
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2007 8:51 pm
Location: Preston, Lancashire

Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by col lamb » Thu Jul 02, 2015 7:08 pm

2nd July 2015 and I have updated the PC specification to the latest hardware.

Please note that this is a HD editing PC specification and not 4k.

The PC specification is: -

ASUS Z97 Pro motherboard
Intel i7 CPU 4790k
16 Gb RAM (give your system builder this spec with the instruction for them to source a fit compatible RAM)
nVidia GTX970 GPU
750W power supply minimum
Optical drive of your choice
At least four hard drives with each used for, (1) Boot, (2) video media store, and project files (3) cache, exports, previews (4) backup drive of discs 1 and 2
Include for a good quality modular case preferably aluminium and it will last for year and your system can grow or change easily
Col Lamb
Preston, Lancashire.
FCPX, Edius6.02, and Premiere CS 5.5 user.
Find me on Facebook, Colin Lamb

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TimStannard
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by TimStannard » Sat Jul 04, 2015 7:50 pm

See my note in the other thread about nVidia cards and Sony Vegas
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it

col lamb
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by col lamb » Fri Sep 04, 2015 10:13 am

My advice has now changed, ignore considering updating or replacing your PC and buy a 5k iMac instead.

It is far less hasstle and the iMac simply just works.

Yes it is expensive but if you consider a new PC as a mini from the nineteen sixties then an iMac is the latest top of the range Merc or BMW.

There is literally that much difference between them.
Col Lamb
Preston, Lancashire.
FCPX, Edius6.02, and Premiere CS 5.5 user.
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TimStannard
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Re: AVCHD camcorders and editing

Post by TimStannard » Sat Sep 05, 2015 10:52 pm

Usually Apple converts comments with a large pinch of salt - especially when they are so evangelical, but your opinion I respect, Col :lol:

I disagree with you about the cost though - especially with this model. You couldn't build a PC to a similar spec (remember the 5K screen) for that sort of money - it's great value if you're prepared to lay out that much in one go - and indeed if I was starting from scratch I'd look seriously consider this.

I'm a little surprised that at hat spec it handles 4K so well, but there again my 4 year old PC (i7 2660K) does as well ;) RAM seems a little low (or did you upgrade) but perhaps it doesn't need it.

I'd love to have one for a month (and time off work) to see how I got on with FCPX (from what I've seen its far closer to Premiere than Vegas) as the real cost is in the time taken to learn a new NLE.

I'm due an upgrade and I'm sorely tempted to take a look.
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it

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