You are here

An AVCHD Update

An AVCHD Update

Are you Looking to upgrade your editing program but are unsure of some of the stories you've read about codecs and the newer formats? Don't be too concerned. The AVCHD format has some challenges, but we can work them out.

The Advanced Video Codec High Definition (AVCHD) format is one of the most popular video formats around. And, it's one that we've written about quite a bit since it can be found in every corner of our video production craft, whether you're a shooter or an editor. We can take a closer look at the format, see what's new and where we see it heading in the future in this year's update to AVCHD.

AVCHD Editing Basics

AVCHD is a data format that is used for recording, editing and delivering high definition video. It uses the uber efficient MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec to compress HD video into smaller files without jeopardizing a lot of quality. It's so good at compressing video that it has become the standard recording format for many consumer and prosumer video camcorders. Most all legitimate video editing software packages have adopted the AVCHD format natively so that video editors can work with these files seamlessly, and many video sharing sites will accept this format when submitting your video to their sites.

New editors shouldn't be weary of the format, but it can pose a few challenges. AVCHD video can be stored on all sorts of media: DVDs, hard disk, a variety of memory card types, etc. As an editor you'll need to be able to take a client's footage no matter what it's stored on, or preferably be able to borrow the clients camcorder to extract the footage.

If your editing software does not support AVCHD natively, you'll need to log and transfer your footage to a different format. This process adds another step to your post production workflow, adding more time to completing your project. Make sure to factor that in if you are new to the format.

If you're lucky enough to avoid the log and transfer step you may still experience a challenge or two. As with any advanced data format, your editing computer will need a decent processor to do most of the computing. This becomes even more evident if you're applying special effects to your native AVCHD video. Less may be more in this situation. If you happen to need to apply a lot of special effects, you can also use the log and transfer process to side step the format altogether. Many professional editing software suites offer an alternative editing format that works better when applying special effects. Even then, whatever format you use, it will most likely be demanding of your workstation. If there's any lesson to learn here, it's that your processor plays an ever-important role in your productivity as a video editor.

Then and Now

Despite these challenges, AVCHD and the H.264 codec have matured nicely in support for the format. Many of the compatibility issues that existed just a few years ago are no longer a problem. Most editing suites support AVCHD natively or at least give you an option for dumping to a new format. And while there hasn't been a lot talk lately in terms of new developments, it does appear that there's more potentially on the horizon.

A New View for Two

In 2010, the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec within the AVCHD data format was updated to handle 3D video distribution (Blu-ray 3D). Keeping in line with the newest trend in video production, MVC (Multi View Coding) was added to the codec. This new technology allows two different views (i.e. stereoscopic video) to be united into a single data stream so that Blu-ray Disc players and TV sets can display 3D video more easily.

Currently, there is not a lot of encoding support for this yet. Although the technical specification is there, the most common disc authoring tools haven't jumped onto the 3D bandwagon with MVC. Like most new technologies, that should be expected. You can find it in some high end tools, like Sony's Blu-code version 4, but the vast majority of us will need to wait before we can put this new technology to use in our next Blu-ray 3D release.

An Eye on the Future

The future of H.264 on the Web is now being questioned as major players in the HTML 5 standard debate the merits of supporting H.264 in favor for open standard alternatives. This has sparked some debate. The H.264 codec has been such a successful and popular compression technology for web video that it's hard to imagine that it won't be well supported in the HTML 5 standard. However, working against H.264 is the fact that this compression technology is not an open technology. While it's currently free to license H.264 decoding (playback of H.264 video) there is no guarantee that the patent owners (MPEG) will keep it that way. Imagine if MPEG decides to charge a licensing fee. YouTube would have to pay patent owners for every video that any one of their users playback on their site. That's why many authors of the HTML 5 standard have argued for Ogg Theora and WebM formats over H.264. Major web browsers Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, (Google owns YouTube by the way), have decided not to support the H.264 in their HTML 5 browsers for now.

Is this the end of H.264 and AVCHD? No. Absolutely not, but its future use as the predominant web video codec is in question. It's a shame, really, for video editors. First off, H.264 offers superior quality and it's well adopted among consumers and the top online video sharing sites. And second, moving away from a H.264 encoded file would mean a significant break in many of our post workflow: record in H.264, edit H.264 and deliver to the Web in H.264. Keeping it all, H.264 helps maintain a superior visual quality. If we change to another format, then we risk losing some quality at the end of this workflow.

Nevertheless, Web standards are generally considered better when they're open. Open standards give the authors of the technology and the users a greater chance at improving and innovating the technology and making it better. More importantly, free access to the technology means that more people can use it to share their voice. That's something the Videomaker staff can get behind.

Only time will tell what the future of Web video will bring. We editors are used to changing with the times, especially when it comes to working with different data formats. So when it comes to working with Web standards, we should feel right at home with the pace of innovation.

Contributing columnist Mark Montgomery is a web content specialist and produces instructional videos for a leading web application developer.

Tags:  September 2011
Mark
Montgomery
Thu, 09/01/2011 - 12:00am

Comments

artsmith's picture

Mark, you may beam articles of this level of usefulness and quality in my direction for as long as you like. References to all sorts of odd places including some excellent publications of Moscow State University convinced me some time ago that updating my entire system to x264 was the way to go and I have worked out a very successful process for so-doing, using 'Virtualdub' to convert 720 x 576 images back to the 1024 x 576 format where they started out, (think widescreen), giving them a judicious level of 'sharpening', then a final upscale to 1280 x 720 in a TMPGEnc software item. Although I am the first to concede that this is not 'High Definition', it still comes across as superior to the original footage in mpg2, which in many cases, itself, was not too bad. The objective is for me to be able to continually update my work to keep pace with new historical and other information which comes-to-hand; also to avail myself of the much kinder 'winter' light, than what we experience in the summer months here in New Zealand, where our exceptionally clear atmosphere makes the daylight the harshest in the world, apparently. In the future there will be a predominance of actual High definition, courtesy of a new camcorder, due any day now, and the whole exercise is meant to assure compatibility in the timeline when editing, although I am forced to concede it's one hell of a lot of work, with a sixteen-second video clip taking roughly twelve minutes to convert, not including the 'Virtualdub' part of it. So, I am happy to have been assured that I am on the right track, even if I still have in excess of 9000 clips still to convert. That is only made possible by the fact that my computer runs '24/7', with a compulsory session each day, to top up the batch-processing queue.
ctr5000's picture

"New editors shouldn't be weary of the format..." seriously?! How many writers and editors missed this one! You just told us that "new editors should be 'tired' of this format." I do believe you wanted to tell us not to be "wary" of this format! Wary vs. weary: "The adjectives weary and wary are completely different in meaning. To be wary is to be on ones guard against something, watchful, or cautious. Given the spelling of wary, its easy to think of it as related to aware, which also denotes attention and watchfulness. These writers use wary correctly: Partygoers should be wary of the legal and health implications of using the ecstasy-like designer drug known as "meow meow despite it not being listed as a controlled drug in Victoria . . . [The Age] But one is cautioned to be wary of what one wishes for. [Sports Fan Live] And weary means physically or mentally fatigued. Its a synonym of tired. These writers use it correctly: For the 39th year, the Minneapolis Boat Show is sparking dreams of summer among Minnesotans weary of winter. [KSTP.com] And though they were weary from their hard work and arduous travels, they were ready to return to their regular service work when they reached New Jersey. [The Times of Trenton]" http://www.grammarist.com/usage/wary-weary/
Julie Babcock's picture

Hi Colin, We appreciate your diligence to the proper use of written words. I assure you we are fully aware of the difference between "weary" and "wary". Unfortunately, seemingly blatant mistakes like these slip past us all from time to time.
brownmedia's picture

Im a new editor that was looking forward to my new career, but between all the codec information and grammar instructions I feel slightly wary/weary. Thats right? right? Could go either way wary or weary. Im brilliant I know. Interesting about AVCHD info, shame it always ends up about the money.