Manifest Technology Blog
| DVI Tech
| Site Map
| PC Video
| Web Media
| DVD & CD
| Portable Media
| Digital Imaging
| Wireless Media
| Home Media
| Tech & Society
PC Video: |
PC Video Articles |
Video Software Gallery |
Video Editing Resources |
HD on the Desktop: HDV and AVCHD (1/08)
Consumer Software for HD Playback & Editing
by Douglas Dixon
HD Video Formats
Dealing with HDV
Dealing with AVCHD
Playing HD Video
Editing HD Video
New Software for New Formats
High-definition video is here -- not just for broadcast television and
professional videographers, but now in under-$1000 consumer camcorders, and
supported by sub-$100 consumer video software that can run on your desktop.
However, while today's computers have grown to be able to handle the demands
of standard-definition video, the advent of HD, like the beginnings of DV,
places heavy demands on a standard computer. First, HD video is big -- some four
times bigger than standard definition -- so it takes more storage and bandwidth
just to move clips around. And HD uses new formats like HDV and AVCHD, which
require more processing power to display (much less edit) the frames.
As a result, we're back to the beginnings in some ways -- consumer software
applications are past ten generations in their development, but again have to
play catch-up with the new formats, new demands, and new hardware developments
like multi-core processors.
As a result, some applications, like CyberLink PowerDVD, are very sensitive
to your system configuration, refusing to even to try to play back HD clips if
they cannot validate your system and video hardware. Others, like Pinnacle
Studio, are willing to try anyway, even on an older or lower-power system. After
warning that performance might suffer, it still tries to play and even edit HD
clips, albeit with some stuttering when the system runs out of horsepower.
So let's look at the two new HD formats for playback and editing -- HDV and
AVCHD -- and see some of the issues in working with them on the newest
generation of consumer video software.
The big question with bringing high-def video to consumer computers and
camcorders is how to store the HD frames -- what compression format to use, and
how aggressively to compress so that it is feasible to store and process all
that data with desktop and handheld equipment. We can't just use the same old
processing for this much higher resolution -- this is a major step up in
resolution -- from MPEG-2 on DVD and DV on tape at 720 x 480, to HD at what's
called 720p (1280 x 720) and full 1080i (1920 x 1080).
Instead, we need new compression approaches to still be able to fit a
reasonable amount of HD video on a consumer devices and storage media -- tape
cassettes, DVD discs and mini-DVDs on camcorders, small hard disks on
camcorders, or even multi-gigabyte solid-state memory cards. The developers of
the new high-def disc formats, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, were faced with a
similar problem -- even with higher-capacity optical discs (15 to 50 GB
double-sided) they needed to fit several hours of a high-def movie, plus sound
tracks, plus special features.
The result of these needs was convergence on several options for storing
high-def video: HD MPEG-2, WMV HD, and MPEG-4 AVC / H.264.
- The most direct option is to scale up MPEG-2 to high-def, since it's
well supported from desktop DVD to digital television broadcast equipment.
However, this requires significantly more storage with the increased resolution,
and newer compression approaches like WMV and H.264 promise the same quality for
roughly have the size.
- Microsoft Windows Media Video (WMV) is designed to scale from
tiny handheld screens, to Internet streaming, to full-screen TV, to widescreen
HD, and so is an especially good option for delivering HD for desktop playback.
- The enhanced MPEG-4, called both AVC (Advanced Video Codec) and H.264,
is similarly improved and scalable, and is often used for mobile phones and
handheld video devices like the Apple iPod.
All three of these HD video formats were adopted as options for both of the
competing high-def disc formats. And they were also used as the basis of new
industry formats for HD video in consumer products, using specific variants of MPEG-2
HD (called HDV) and MPEG-4 H.264 (AVCHD) adapted for
use in consumer devices, especially small handheld camcorders.
The HDV format was developed by Canon, Sharp, Sony, and JVC in 2003 to
fit HD video into the capacity of standard DV media (DV or Mini DV cassette
tape), allowing DV-like camcorders to shoot in high-def, and then deliver it to
a computer with the same workflow as DV, over USB or FireWire / IEEE 1394
This required several adaptations to squeeze the HD video to fit into the
same tape that is used to store an hour of standard-def DV video. To start, DV
is a relatively lightly compressed format, in which each frame is compressed
independently, which makes it very convenient for editing. MPEG-2 compresses
harder using inter-frame compression, in which frames are compressed in relation
to each other, storing only the differences between adjacent frames. This
provides better compression (i.e., from DV on tape at 25 Mbps data rate to
MPEG-2 on DVD at 9 to 6 Mbps), but is more difficult to edit since each frame
can only be decompressed and processed in relation to the group of frames
adjacent to it.
The next step for HDV is to compress more aggressively, using a longer group
of pictures (GOP) of adjacent frames --- which means even more work when
editing. And the final trick with HDV for the higher HD resolution is to not
store the full 1080i resolution (1920 x 1080), but instead give up some
horizontal resolution and use 1440 x 1080.
The HDV video format, then, supports MPEG-2 compressed video, at two
widescreen 16:9 resolutions:
- 720p (1280 x 720, progressive), at 19 Mbps (less than DV!)
- 1080i (1440 x 1080, interlaced), at 25 Mbps (same as DV)
at both NTSC and PAL television rates (30 and 25 frames per
- 720p at 60p, 30p, 50p, 25p
- 1080i at 60i, 50i
For audio, HDV supports MPEG-1 Audio Layer II compression at 48 kHz
sample rate, with 16-bit samples, stereo (2-channel) at 384 kbps data rate.
The result is a nice compromise, fitting HD video into the existing DV
workflow -- with the same tape capacity, and the same data rates -- although
requiring significantly more processing, not only for decompressing the larger
frames, but for dealing with the larger groups of adjacent frames that need to
be processed together.
Another issue for playback and editing on computers is that the HDV file
format is optimized for capture on consumer devices, and uses the MPEG-2-TS
(Transport Stream) format designed for transmission, and not for data file
storage and processing. Unfortunately, not all video software can deal directly
with this format, since they expect the common MPEG computer file formats:
program streams (typically .MPG, with mixed video and audio) and elementary
streams (typically .M2V, with just the video data, plus separate audio .WAV
files). Instead, there's now video in transport stream files with names like
.M2T, .MTS, and even .M2TS.
A further confusion is that consumer HD camcorders are no longer just
tape-based -- the data may be stored on mini-DVD or hard disk or memory cards.
As a result, video editing software that was designed to "capture"
video (importing it over USB or FireWire from a video camera), now also needs to
be able to handle opening the files directly, i.e., after they have been copied
directly to hard disk.
As HDV was originally designed to fit high-def video on DV tapes, AVCHD
was designed by Sony and Panasonic to fit HD on mini (8cm) DVD media (www.avchd-info.org).
Since the format was developed later,in 2006, instead of using MPEG-2
compression, AVCHD uses MPEG-4 H.264, also called AVC. As a newer and
more advanced format, AVC can provide similar video quality for less storage and
Like HDV, AVCHD supports multiple video resolutions:
- HD at 1920/1440 x 1080 and 1280 x 720 -- 16:9
- SD at 720 x 480/576 (NTSC/PAL) -- 4:3 or 16:9
And it supports multiple frame rates, for NTSC, PAL, and film:
- 1080/60i, 50i, 24p
- 720/60p, 50p, 24p
For audio, AVCHD supports two formats, including multi-channel surround
- Dolby Digital (AC-3), 64 - 640 kbps, 1-5.1 channels
- Linear PCM, 1.5 Mbps (2 channels), 1-7.1 channels
Since AVC is one of the formats used for Blu-ray high-def discs, AVCHD could
be designed so that discs recorded on a consumer DVD camcorder could be played
directly on a Blue-ray set-top player. The result, however is a messy folder
structure similar to what you also find on today's digital still cameras that
shoot both still photos and video clips.
For example, the Panasonic HDC-SD1 and -SD5 tapeless AVCHD
camcorders with Leica lenses and 3 CCD sensors record HD video direct to SD /
SDHC memory cards (www.panasonic.com).
Since there's not tape or disc drive mechanism, they can be designed to about
the size and shape of a soda can: a big lens plus some associated
The older SD1 records at 1440 x 1080 video with Dolby AC3 5.1 sound, and the
new SD5 records at full HD 1920 x 1080 with stereo audio -- at a size of only
2.6 x 2.6 x 5.3 inches and 3/4 pounds.
Find the Panasonic
HDC-DX1 DVD camcorder
HDC-SD1 memory card camcorder on Amazon.com
The Panasonic AVCHD camcorders use the following file structure:
JPEG photos, i.e. 1920 x 1080
nnnnn.MTS Video clips (MPEG Transport Stream),
1440/1920 x 1080
In this disc-based format, each video segment that you shoot is stored as a
separate .MTS file, numbered consecutively in the same way a digital camera
stores each photo. The camera than can easily display a thumbnail index of all
the clips for you to review and play back.
However, since the AVCHD format is newer than HDV, the latest versions of
consumer video player and video editing software are just starting to support
it. Some can import the individual video files, and some can import the entire
disc folder structure (i.e., under the AVCHD directory) like a DVD, allowing you
to quickly choose the clips that you ant to use in your project.
Unfortunately, there are two "flavors" of AVCHD, from Panasonic and
Sony, so, for example, Sony Vegas Movie Studio only supported the Sony version.
This is representative of a more general problem with all these video formats --
there is so much variety possible even within one specific format that it's not
uncommon to find cases of apparently similar files where one will play fine
while the other has problems. Expect to always need to check and test new files
from different camcorders or different software tools to make sure they work as
The first step with HD video is just to play it back and view it on a
computer. Both the consumer DVD player applications for Windows -- CyberLink
PowerDVD and InterVideo WinDVD -- can play a wide variety of video
and audio formats, including versions of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, and Windows Media
Video, including WMV HD. But not all of today's software can handle the MPEG
formats embedded in a transport stream file, or some of the HD variants.
Some of these applications recognize the .M2T / .MTS MPEG transport stream
file types by default, or can open them if you explicitly import them. As a
work-around, some can import the files if they are renamed to .MPG.
Most of today's software can handle HDV, since it's been out for a while, and
the latest versions have been adding support for AVCHD, also as an outgrowth of
their expansion to cover MPEG-4 formats and high-definition discs.
Today's software also is optimized for playback on multi-core CPUs, so on my
quad-core 2.66 GHZ MHz test system, I saw playback using around 25% of the CPU,
and spread across all four core processors.
Since the Microsoft Windows Media Player is built on top of the
Windows media architecture, it can take advantage of new codec components
(encode/decode modules) that are installed with new player and editing software,
and also play these new formats (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia).
Meanwhile, Apple's QuickTime Player has been leading in the playback
of the new MPEG-4 formats, especially for clips from mobile phones and portable
devices (free, www.apple.com/quicktime).
However, in my testing with Windows version 7.2 it did not play sample HDV and
AVCHD transport stream files.
CyberLink PowerDVD Ultra (version 7.2) did a great job of playing my
sample HDV and AVCHD files ($99, www.gocyberlink.com).
It provided full controls during playback -- with responsive single step forward
and back, dragging the slider to scan forward and reverse, or clicking to jump
to a new point.
PowerDVD did not recognize M2V AVCHD files, but would open them when they
were renamed to MPG. It also could open the AVCHD folders as a disc, playing
though the numbered collection of .MTS clip files like a DVD (or actually Blu-ray)
disc, with each clip as a new title.
InterVideo (now Corel) WinDVD 8 could play HDV .H2T files after
renaming them to .MPG, but was slow in jumping within the file ($59, www.intervideo.com).
It also could play individual AVCHD files, but not open the full folder
structure. Unfortunately, WinDVD did not display the slider control to seek back
and forward in the file, so you could play and pause, but not single step or
Similarly, the latest versions of consumer editing applications typically
support working with HDV, and are starting to support AVCHD. Most can import
directly from popular camcorders, and some can open files that have been copied
to a hard disk.
Apple iMovie '08 supports standard and high definition video,
including DV, HDV, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and now AVCHD ($79, www.apple.com/imovie).
However, Apple currently lists only a few AVCHD camcorders as tested and
supported: the Sony HDR-SR1 and SR7 (hard disk) and Panasonic HDC-SD1 (memory).
AVCHD DVD camcorders are not supported. AVCHD support also requires an
(iMovie '08 Camcorder Support - http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306171)
Pinnacle Studio 11 Plus version provides an end-to-end HD video
editing workflow, including native HDV and AVCHD editing ($99, www.pinnaclesys.com).
It is designed to import from HDV camcorders, but could not process the .M2T
files directly. It did the best job of working with AVCHD videos on my system --
opening, playing, editing, and exporting with good response.
Studio could browse quickly though the AVCHD folder structure, view
thumbnails of the clip files, and then click to preview the clips. The interface
was very responsive, dragging the slider to scan though the clip, playing fast
forward and reverse modes at 2, 4, and 10X speeds, and even resizing the
application window while playing video. It also has a handy full-screen playback
Ulead (now Corel) VideoStudio 11 Plus version supports HD formats
including AVCHD and MPEG-2 HD ($129 www.ulead.com/vs).
It opened and edited HDV video clips, including .M2T, with a nice Info window to
show clip properties. While it did not open individual AVCHD files, it could
import clips from a folder, displaying an Import DVD dialog listing the clips,
and to preview and select the ones to import into your project.
However, VideoStudio was sluggish when dealing with AVCHD files -- taking
seconds to switch between the editing steps, or to display a new frame when you
drag the slider to a new position (it could not scan though the video).
Sony Vegas Movie Studio+DVD 8 Platinum Edition supports HD video,
including HDV capture and editing ($119, www.sonycreativesoftware.com).
It also supports AVCHD import and edit, but only from Sony camcorders, so it
refused to import my Panasonic files. Sony says support for Panasonic AVCHD is
in the works.
CyberLink PowerDirector 6 supports high-definition video editing, with
the HDV format for capture, editing, and export back to tape if desired ($89, www.gocyberlink.com).
AVCHD support should be coming in the next release.
Nero Vision 4 supports HDV and AVCHD editing (part of the Nero 7 Ultra
Edition Enhanced suite, $79, www.nero.com/nero7).
It processed HDV files after renaming to .MPG, and played and scanned though
The bottom line is that you can use $100 consumer software to work with HD
formats -- but make sure you have the new versions, and check for the latest
updates. The developers are still working to catch up to the new formats (like
AVCHD), and to new ways of accessing formats (as with HDV in .M2T files).
I've explained how these applications worked for me when I tested the
versions available at the time. However, the software that works best for you
will depend on your specific HD camcorders, and sources for HD video files. So
check the websites for new releases and updates, and for trial versions that you
can download to experiment with how they work with your clips and perform on
CyberLink - PowerDVD Ultra
InterVideo - WinDVD 8
Apple - iMovie '08
Pinnacle Systems - Studio 11
Ulead - VideoStudio 11
Sony - Vegas Movie Studio+DVD 8
CyberLink - PowerDirector 6
Nero - Nero 7 Ultra Edition Enhanced / Nero Vision 4
Originally published in Camcorder & Computer
Video magazine, Buyers Guide 2008.