Thursday, December 13, 2007

What Is Up WIth Final Cut 'Native' HDV Capture?

A recent blog post discussed both Windows and Macintosh workflows to capture and transcode native HDV files.

While options available on both platforms, namely Adobe CS3 Premiere Pro and Canopus Edius Neo (or Pro), there’s one other wildly popular editing tool that claims native HDV that didn’t stand up to the native HDV test.

In the course of testing HDV workflows we put Final Cut Pro 6 through its paces to see if its HDV capture would play nice with programs that expected, well, native HDV support in terms of an .MPG or .M2T extension. Surprising results.

So What’s Up with Final Cut and HDV?

It does capture HDV, but not in the standard .M2T (or even .MPG) extension. Final Cut’s scratch captures are listed as .MOV files and the Movie Inspector in QuickTime shows the footage as HDV1080i60, with the HDV resolution the correct 1400x1080 (1888x1062) and the frame size as 1920x1080, meaning that it is correctly extrapolating the additional lines. So far so good.

But converting Final Cut’s HDV footage (even the scratch footage) in to an .M2T extension isn’t so easy, as Apple apparently is doing something with its HDV files that adds a proprietary twist to the files. Changing the extension to .M2T did absolutely nothing; changing it to .MPG also did nothing, and any extension confused Handbrake enough that the “beach ball hell” kicked in and never stopped.

Another confirmation that the Apple HDV files wasn’t conforming to the HDV MPEG-2 LongGOP spec was the fact that MPEG Streamclip could open it on the machine on which it was captured (ie, a Mac that had Final Cut Pro 6 installed) but opening it on any other Mac with the MPEG-2 Playback Component only yielded a white screen in the MPEG Streamclip window with an audio bar directly across the middle. So the audio would play but nothing else. Oh, and on no Mac would MPEG Streamclip ungrey the option to demux the MPEG-2 file, probably because it wasn’t an MPEG-2 file and therefore not in a native HDV format ;)

Compare this to CS3 Premiere Pro, which output a .MPG file which we changed the name on to a .M2T extension, loaded it up in Handbrake and spit out a .MP4 file, flipped over to MPEG Streamclip and demuxed a .M2V video file and and an AIFF audio file (just as MPEG Streamclip on Windows had done) and then opened the latter the M2V in QuickTime Player, where the audio was automatically linked to it.

Saved that MPEG-2 1440x810 resolution file out as a .MOV (didn’t export, just did a “Save As”) and now had a native HDV and a native MPEG-2 MOV to work from on almost any Flash transcoding system. Oh, and changed the extension of the .M2T back to .MPG and opened it up in Sorenson with no problem at all on a separate Mac machine that didn’t have Premiere or the MPEG-2 Playback Component loaded on it ;)

And don’t get me started on Apple’s Intermediate Codec (AIC) used in iMovie 08 and Final Cut Express 4; this lossy compression isn’t supported by QuickTime for Windows, plus yields additional concatenation issues. Bad move and poor timing as the new Final Cut Express 4, with its price reduced to $199, would be an ideal base-level system feeding up to Final Cut Pro as iMovie 08 feeds into Final Cut Express 4. And Apple can’t say AIC is used because the machines don’t have enough power or storage: FCE and iMovie 08 are both running on Macs more powerful than those that Apple says are the minimum for native HDV editing.

Almost workable on a single platform except for that stupid AIC codec. And no support at all for moving either FCP’s ‘native’ HDV or iMovie and FCE’s AIC files to Windows. I love my Mac and use it for almost every video test I do, but now have to settle for Adobe CS3 Premiere Pro to get true native HDV out of the Mac. Triple ugh.


Andrè Villa - Freestyle motocross said...

Seems like you know what you are doing so I would like to ask you a question.

I just got the Final Cut express 4 on my mac.
I have used Adobe Premiere earlier, and all my captured videos came out of that program - saved as mpeg files.

I can´t bring these files into Final Cut.
Do you know if that can be done at all? Could you please give me a hint


Tim said...

If the files you captured were in HDV format, they'll either come out of Premiere as .M2T or .MPEG (.MPG) files. I would recommend the use of a tool like StreamClip.

See for the other article I wrote on this topic.