The Difficulty of Editing AVCHD and What to Do About It

AVCHD is an acronym for Advanced Video Coding High Definition. It’s a file format for recording and playback of HD video. It is typically stored on flash memory card or hard drives. It is great for recording footage from the camera, but it can be a challenge for editing.

Editing Standard Definition footage on an older computer is easy, but editing AVCHD is another story. If your AVCHD clips stutter and drop frames when you preview in a NLE, it can be impossible to do a good job of editing. The newer full-fledged NLEs will edit AVCHD files. They also require powerful, robust computers. But for those with older computers or software, editing AVCHD can be a torture.

Why is it so difficult?

There are several reasons:

1. HD video files have up to six times the resolution of SD compressed into about the same file size. It’s this heavy compression that makes AVCHD so demanding for native editing.

2. Older computers have slower processors which may not be suitable for the high demands of editing native AVCHD files

3. The video codec avchd or h.264 codes is actually a finishing codec. When you edit with this it is highly compressed. The computer has to decompress the file before you can even see it on the screen. So when you add edits, transitions, titles and so forth, these put an even greater strain on your CPU.

If you have the bucks, you can upgrade your computer to one with a faster processor, lots more RAM as well as more storage since you won’t have tape backups.

But before you do anything, first install the software that came with your DSLR or AVCHD camcorder. This will make editing and transcoding much simpler.


What are the solutions?

1. If you have an older (slower) computer, not much storage or money and want a high-quality end product, convert AVCHD files to Proxy Files.

A proxy file is a copy of the HD file which has been converted to a more edit-friendly video codec with a much smaller bit rate and frame size. This turns an HD video clip into a SD video clip so when your editing will be just like editing SD where the frame rate is solid and the previews look good. It’s easy to edit. And then when the editing is done, you replace the low quality proxy files with the original HD AVCHD files and then render them. This is much easier than it may sound.

2. If you have a fast CPU computer with lots of hard drive space and some money, convert your files to Cineform.

Cineform converts AVCHD files into a higher quality video files that are edit-friendly. Cineform is compatible with all major editing tools: Adobe CSx, Final Cut Studio, Avid Media Composer, and Sony Vegas. It can be used with AVCHD, HDV and other formats that are difficult to edit in their original form. Cineform files, unlike proxy files, do not have to be converted back to the original form. Cineform files retain their high quality throughout the editing process.

For Macs you could also use Apple’s Pro-Res 422. ProRes 422 is a standard-definition and high-definition lossy video compression format developed for use in post production. It is a proxy file that makes editing HD footage much easier for an older computer.

But most people use the Cineform codec which is available in both Mac and Windows versions. There are different versions at different prices. The $129 version is probably all you need unless your project is going to Hollywood. When you’re done editing, you stay with that file. You don’t have to replace it with the original file as you do with a proxy file. Then just render and you’re done.

How To Create Proxy Files

Sony Vegas Movie Studio or Sony Vegas Pro

You don’t need proxy editing on Vegas Pro 10, because the files are now are previewed properly. Vegas Platinum 10 is also working better with these formats than any older version of Vegas, but still not as good as Pro 10.

But for earlier versions of Sony Vegas and Sony Vegas Movie Studio, you need a different approach. The basic strategy is to first shrink the project to a proxy file, then edit your project with these proxy files. When you’re done editing, replace these files with the original avchd files and render it. There are a number of free programs that will convert avchd to proxy files. One is called Super.

Here’s a simple way How to do Proxy Video Editing using Sony Vegas

Detailed instructions are at

http://eugenia.queru.com/2007/12/12/proxy-editing-with-sony-vegas

There is also the free Proxy Stream script available from

http://sony.vegas.1.free.fr/

With this script, you can take any files that you can import into Vegas and batch transcode them to any format and any resolution that Vegas will export to. This enables you to batch transcode files from various camera formats into 1280×720 Cineform files for easy editing.

There are no instructions with this script. For instructions see

http://www.hv20.com/showthread.php?23991-Proxy-editing-and-Batch-conversion-script-for-Vegas-Pro-8

Adobe Premiere CS3 CS4 and CS5

For Creating Proxy Files in Adobe Premiere CS3 CS4 and CS5

see

http://www.homedvd.ca/2010/12/19/offline-hd-proxy-editing-at-work/

Edius

For Edius just convert your HD files to CanopusHQ and you can edit in FULL HD on any computer faster than 3G single core and any dual core upwards. Edius 6 can edit AVCHD files directly. Edius 5.5 can edit AVCHD if it’s just straight cuts, but anything more causes some stuttering.

Final Cut Pro

You can either use FCP’s batch export or you can use Compressor to make proxy files.


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7 thoughts on “The Difficulty of Editing AVCHD and What to Do About It

  1. Jacquie

    Hi,

    I use FCP. I don’t want to upgrade to the new version of FCP which works with AVCHD files natively because it has other issues.. so I’m a bit stuck… I want to film using AVCHD but not use the new native software versions… I would love a step by step (idiots) guide of how to import into FCP from my camera using the correct codecs etc. Unfortunately the software that came with my canon camcorder isn’t mac compatible so I can’t utilize that at all…

    Your article was an exciting start for me b/c it’s recognizing and talking about these problems :)

    Reply
  2. Guy Maxfield

    I cut on Avid Pro HD Ver.4.5.7 from what i read in my manuals I’m supposed to be able to edit this format with my current work station I just haven’t tried it yet.

    Reply
  3. Bill Phelps

    I use FCP 7 and use “Log and Transfer” to capture the .mts files from the AVCHD camera. It will display all the clips on the camera in a bin where you can select the clips and the in/out points within the clips to transfer to FCP. You can then drag those clips to the timeline without additional rendering needed.

    Reply
  4. annie

    A step by step leading down the editing path.
    i am just use to import, put on time line then
    export to mov, quicktime, or CD or Dvd etc.
    Maybe a time or two will lessen the stress.
    This is just alot to take in at once!

    Reply
    1. Hal

      The right editing software and the right computer and you won’t even think about it. Sony Movie Studio 13 even has button to convert HD clips to proxy clips. It’s all becoming a lot easier than it used to be.

      Reply

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