Managing HD Video

At ShedWorx, we get a lot of questions from first-time High Definition video users. We've put together this guide to help new starters make the right choices when moving to high definition video. We hope you find it useful.

Why High Definition?

The difference between Standard Definition (SD) and high definition (HD) at the consumer level is dramatic. I've heard it referred to as the difference between looking out the window (HD) and well, looking at a fuzzy video picture (SD).

Most TVs being sold today are HD capable. It won't be long before you can't buy a SD TV. If you want your videos to look their best for the next 1, 5, 10 or 20 years, its worth making the move to HD now.

Your camera

At ShedWorx, we're not in the business of reviewing cameras, although we do have quite a few cameras on the test bench. We leave reviews to people who are good at it, like the folks at SimplyDV. Colin and the guys at SimplyDV are experienced professional video journalists who cut through the gimmicks and marketing to tell you what these new cameras are really like.

SimplyDV also run a very good bulletin board where you will find a wealth of information from everyday camera users.

One point about all AVCHD cameras - stay away from DVD cameras! Macs will not be able to read the disks.

Storage

The big thing to be prepared for with high definition video is the huge storage requirements. One hour of full HD AVCHD footage takes up about 6Gb of storage. Converting this to an 'editor friendly' format such as AIC (on the Mac) or WMV (on the PC) can create files ten times the size of the AVCHD file. So at about 60Gb per hour of uncompressed footage, you need plenty of space.

We recommend that you buy an external storage drive for your video. At ShedWorx, we use two drive types. We use Western Digital Passbook drives for general use, and MyBook 1 or 2 Tb drives for the really big files.

Western Digital Passport

These drives are great for general use. We use a bunch of the 250Gb models for video storage. These drives are USB powered, so require no external power supply. The data throughput rate is USB 2.0, which is up to 480 Mbps, on a burst but not sustained.

These drives come formatted with FAT32, which has a file size limit of 4Gb.

There is a Mac version of these drives (My Passport Studio) which is marketed as 'Mac Friendly'. What this means is that it is formatted as HFS+ (The Mac filesystem format) which has no file size limit problems. These drives also come with a Firewire 400 connection, in addition to the USB 2.0 connection.

Editing content stored on these drives is OK, but you will get occasional dropped frames and jerkiness while previewing your work, due to the lower file transfer speeds.

Larger drives

For the heavy duty work we used to use custom built external RAID arrays and eSATA connections. Western Digital now makes MyBook versions with eSATA and disk striping, so we now use these.

Our RAID drives connect to our Mac's via eSATA cards which have a sustained data transfer rate of 1,500 Mbps, which makes them about 5x the speed of the WD Passports.

This data transfer rate, and the RAID striping, means that access to this kind of drive is faster than a laptop's internal disk. As such, editing is a breeze with no transfer problems.

File Management and Conversion

Now that you have your camera and storage sorted out, you need to manage all that data.

There are many ways to do this, and we are going to tell you how we do it.

The easy way

With the launch of FlamingoHD, we now use this to manage our AVCHD files (and all our media). Camera importing is a breeze. Just fire up FlamingoHD and plug in your camera. You will then see a thumbnail preview of all video files which you can import as required.

Importing files from your filesystem is just as easy. Just select Import Media from the Files menu and select your directory. The import process is then the same as for a camera.

Finally, there is Batch Importing, where you give FlamingoHD a starting folder and it will drill down through all the child folders looking for content. Each folder that it finds containing content has a new Event created for it.

Once you have you Events under control, just create Projects as required, drop the media in as you need and you're done. You can then send any Project to iMovie or any editor (this step requires VoltaicHD also), ready to edit. You can even just send a Project straight to VoltaicHD to edit the AVCHD files natively then send to YouTube or iTunes (iPhone/iPod/AppleTV).

The hard way

Editing AVCHD video generally requires conversion. We believe that it is best to keep all of your raw AVCHD footage and convert files as needed.

Go to the BDMV/STREAM folder on your camera or memory card and copy off the clips. Copy the clips into a folder per event. Look at the clip creation dates on the camera if you need to break them up. We recommend keeping your 'events' stored using a naming standard that sorts the events by year.

If you organise your files this way, our new product FlamingoHD will be able to batch import all these directories into separate events.

On the Mac, you should also be using the HD Quick Look plug-in from ShedWorx. This very handy utility lets you see the first frame of your AVCHD files without any conversion! We're finding this very useful ourselves, and so are many others.

Often, your movie projects will use footage from many events, so you need to keep your projects separate from your events. Create a directory for your new project, then start up VoltaicHD.

Set your output directory to the project area, then add all the files you require into VoltaicHD. You can see the thumbnail preview of each clip as you add it to VoltaicHD.

Once you're all set up, convert your files. Once VoltaicHD is finished, your new project is ready to edit!

Editing

Whichever editor you use, on PC or Mac, you now import your footage into the editor. Hopefully your editor allows your files to be left in place, rather than moving/copying them to a new area.

Now go and create that movie. Once you are done, export the finished product, ready for viewing.

Since you are keeping all of your raw AVCHD footage, you can delete the converted clips once you are done.

Watching

Finally, you want to watch this video! This can be the tricky bit.

On the Mac

YouTube

You can export from iMovie to YouTube, but it does limit your resolution to 720p. If you want to upload a Full HD 1080p movie, export out of iMovie at full resolution first, then use VoltaicHD to send to YouTube. VoltaicHD has the optimal settings configured for YouTube HD uploading at 540p, 720p and 1080p.

Final Cut Pro and Express have no in-built YouTube uploading function, so again, you can use VoltaicHD for this step. Just do a simple Export from Final Cut then use VoltaicHD to upload that export to YouTube.

Blu-ray player (including PS3)

There is no support yet for publishing your completed video to Blu-ray disk, as far as we know. Roxio Toast will attempt to convert a Quicktime Movie to AVCHD, but this fails when we try it.

AppleTV, iPhone, iPod Touch

From iMovie you can publish direct to iTunes. This is quick and easy, but has limited control over how it is done.

If you want more control over how the AppleTV/iPhone 'sending' works, try out VoltaicHD with its new sending options.

Be aware that the AppleTV only supports up to the 1280x720 HD resolution. This is half the effective resolution of Full HD, which is 1920x1080.

On the PC

Blu-ray player

Some of the editing packages (such as Sony Vegas) support the burning of your finished movie to Blu-ray disk. Vegas supports both Blu-ray disks and AVCHD DVDs (which play on Blu-ray players).

XBOX 360

Depending on what you edited your video in, you may be able to publish the final product to XBOX 360. Using VoltaicHD for PC, you will find a WMV HD export option from Movie Maker. The final video produced by this Export will play on an XBOX 360, in Full HD.