June 2008 - Posts

Hi-Def AVCHD Video Format Processing for mere mortals ...

I had recently purchased a Canon Hi-Def Flash Camcorder HF100 at wholesale price (please dont ask me how much and where I got it from). There was a long thought process before this high-end purchase. I knew I wanted a camcorder to record in Hi-Def (HD) format. The question I had was the recorded video format. I did some research and poking around and there were some pros and cons that I was seriously considering such as:

  1. What is the recording storage medium ?
  2. What is the recording format ? If answer to [1] was a DV Tape or sort, then the answer would probably be HDV/MPEG-2 format.
  3. Do I have enought processing power / software infrastructure to deal with the answer to [2] ?

In the end, I decided that I would not want to do the route of using a DV Tape. Tape is proven, tested, good, mature and cheap but has its limitations. The fact that it is a sequential access medium puts me off. Even newER backup solutions of today seems to provide disk storage, whose prices have dropped in recent years, as an alternative to tape. Usually, the restoration granularity and the time it takes to restore is the deciding factor for customers to champion disk over tape. Moreover, if I record on tape and then later edit on disk, it does somehow seem that I am going backwards.

So, instead of carrying bulkIER tapes around with me (and I do a lot of random recording), not forgetting that the housing for these tapes in the camcorders itself does take up some bulk and effectively limits the handling of the camera at hand, I dumped the idea of either the Canon HV20 or HV30. Mind you - their dual recording format in a choice of either Standard-Definition (SD)or HD is really attractive but I doubt that I would want to record in SD in a couple of years down the road where computing power, screens, bandwidth are all commodities.

That left me with Question [3] above. What does it take to process/edit those videos ? From searches of many forums and reviews, a lot of people buy a AVCHD Camcorder (such as the Canon HF100) without realizing that they dont have the infrastructure to process and edit the recorded HD clips. I guess a lot of peple dont realize that there is not much choice of video-editing software that can process a AVCHD video clip today. So. what most of them did was

  • Pay X Dollar for the camcorder and then 2X Dollar for a brand new Mac - Holy Smokes. Since when does money grow on trees ?
  • Pay a couple of hundred dollars more to buy a decent video editing software such as the Pinnacle Studio or the Sony Vegas

I didnt like both options. First or all, I edit video clips - Yes - but I dont consider myself to be a "pro-consumer" of sorts that would want to fork out much money just to have 3000 over video transitions up my sleeve ... and ... I am not a MAC fan. Yes, I admit. Crucify me. I am just not genetically engineered to use a MAC or any of Apples' products. Yes, I love my ZUNE and its marketplace very much. Thank you.

Therefore, I had to look for an intermediate solution since my old, trusted and most FREE Windows Movie Maker and Media Player cannot handle AVCHD video files natively and I am not willing to fork out anything more than SGD100.00

Luckily, my prayers are answered and my search leads me to media\video developer ShedWorx who has the VoltaicHD for both the PC and the MAC. Bascially, VoltaicHD transforms your AVCHD High-Def video clips to WMV-HD, which both Windows Media Player and Microsoft Movie Maker can handle. FAQ here. This little known shareware (just USD30.00) has gotten some great independent reviews so I went for a trial, downloaded a sample AVCHD .MTS file and it worked like a charm.

[Note to ShedWorx]: Now if you could make a command-prompt version of your awesome tool, that would be a great addition as it would complete a workflow scenario of an "unattended" conversion process of the captured AVCHD .MTS files to WMV-HD.

With that, I bought it and went broke but GOSH - what a camcorder !!! Its light, intuitive, great handling and churn out great looking HD video clips. I guess the reviews out there in the wild will do it better justice than me writing about it here.

Yes, the computing power and storage resources are high. At the best quality mode, the HF100 records at 17Mbps and my usual mode would be to record at a compromised (between storage and battery power) bitrate of 7Mbps. Even with a decent Core2 Duo Processor T7200 2.0 GHZ (highly-rated) Merom chip and 2Gs of RAM that I have, editing a WMV-HD 7Mbps video clip does require some patience. And the file recordings are huge - as a rough gauge - AVCHD are abt 120Mb (15MB) /min of footage and becomes 500Mb (wmv) after decompression !!!

Luckily, I delegated the conversion of AVCHD -> WMV-HD files to one of my servers, running a Dual Core XEON Pro 5140 2.33GHZ 4MB L2 cache 1333MHz FSB - Woodcrest Chip and this was much faster, comparatively. In any case, this can be done unattended, and this would also give me a good excuse to plug in another same processor on this 2-way box in the near future. i-wink.

All in all, this is a great buy at near-wholesale price and I already had quite a lot of fun doing roving and recording real 1080p high-definition videos and enjoying the processed WMV-HD clips on my wide-screen LCD monitor, my HDTV as well as my Rapsody N35 media center (which plays WMV-HD High-Definition videos).

Below is a "short" clip I took with the above Canon HF100, with the sarcastic emphasis on "short". I took this 50-second clip in full 1080/9Mbps HD glory. Uncompressed file size is 210MB. In order to "dumb" it down so that it can squeeze and play better over the HTTP ravine, I had to re-encode it to a smaller scale/Mbps at 856x480/3Mbps. Even then, this same 50-second 856x480/3Mbps clip's file size is still at a large 19MB !!! If you blow up the player to your full-screen, you can see that it maintains a clear and good quality at full-screen even at 3Mbps. Mind you, the source look great on my local playback at 1080/9Mbps/25fps.

var qs = new Querystring(); //alert(qs.get("vidfile")); var cnt = document.getElementById("130bb010-294a-4382-94e3-e2cc9d89d140"); var src = 'http://www.softwaremaker.net/jwslplayer/wmvplayer.xaml'; var cfg = { file:'http://j2ci5a.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pMMNQE7uqg8YP9kQaCzN7qdfHRagU0B3zJgUKGeQitDEkwkxjxcFIZTiQo4gokXkaAWMk4ys2W0Spm3ma_YPJlA/CanonH100InOutTest1080_480HD_140608.wmv?download', image:'http://www.softwaremaker.net/jwslplayer/Silverlight.jpg', height:'220', width:'400', autostart:'false' }; var ply = new jeroenwijering.Player(cnt,src,cfg);