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Editing HDV

A Look at the NLE Solutions By Heath McKnight

Though there were some issues editing HDV early on, it has become an easy process in all major and most consumer NLEs. Whether you choose to cut in native HDV, or using a DI (Digital Intermediate), editing this popular new video codec is easy, if you have the right tools.

Ill be taking a look at all the NLE apps out there, big and small, and some of the proxy solutions to help out if your camera or deck arent yet supported, or your computer is older and upgrading may be out of the question. Some points when deciding on your NLE:

  1. Apple vs. Windows: If youre already working with one, stick with it. Its tough trying to edit with Sony Vegas on a PC if youre emailing from a separate Apple laptop. Best to have the same systems.
  2. How fast is your system? How much hard drive space do you have? Those two factors can help you decide if you need a proxy or a DI solution, detailed later in this article. Also, youll need a firewire or iLink (IEEE 1394) i/o port to capture the HDV footage, just like DV.
  3. Do you already have an NLE you use regularly? Stick with it and dont try switching teams. Though all edit systems have similarities, its best to go with what youre familiar with, and more than likely, its already up-to-date for cutting HDV.
  4. If youre buying a new system, do you want additional hardware support to capture and edit in uncompressed HD, or better real-time? In some cases, like seeing your edits on a preview monitor in Final Cut Pro, its mandatory.

But first, a background on some of the issues of editing HDV.


Early Problems

In 2003, when the JVC HD10 and HD1 camcorders (the Consumer version, though many would argue that the HD10 was a pro unit) were both rumored to be announced at NAB in April, I went online to find out as much information as possible. One of the questions I asked was, can someone edit it with Final Cut Pro (version 3 was out, 4 right around the corner). The silence was remarkable.

When the official announcement was made, JVC promised free scaled-down NLE software for Windows users, the full version going for over $1,000. To say either of the versions of NLE software from JVC worked even remotely would be fibbing.

I went ahead and bought one of these cameras, and quickly asked a new question: can any NLE support it? (I probably shouldve held off on buying one for that reason alone.) The good news was, there were some proxy editors, both free and affordable, that could help it out. Ill talk about those later.

By late 2004/early 2005, as Sony released the HDR-FX1 and HVR-Z1, many NLE makers provided native editing support, or plug-ins to help get the HDV (high definition video) in, convert it to a DI (digital intermediate) and allow the editors to cut large HD files with ease, despite the size.

Editing native HDV (.m2t files)

HDV is packaged into mpeg2-ts (transport stream), or .m2t, so it can easily fit onto a minidv tape. HDV 720p compresses at around 19 mbps (megabytes per second); HDV 1080i/p is compressed at around 25 mbps. Of course, on paper that seems like a little too much compression, but even casual viewers or users of HDV know how great it looks and sounds. Its also around 3.5 mb per second, like DV, so HDV file sizes wont be so large.

Because it's .m2t, similar to how video is compressed for DVDs (though its mpeg2 compression is only a program stream), it was originally very difficult to edit. In fact, with the exception of Apple?s Final Cut Pro (www.apple.com/finalcutstudio) and Sony Vegas 7, most video editors find editing .m2t files to be very hard on older systems.  And yes, all major NLEs support HDV editing, but everyone of them prefer you use the DI.

DI (Digital Intermediate)

Enter the DI, or Digital Intermediate; instead of capturing and editing in native HDV, you use a software application, like CineForms excellent product AspectHD (www.cineform.com), to capture and convert on-the-fly to a different flavor of HD, usually uncompressed. The downside is you lose HDVs size (around 13 gb for an hour of footage) in favor of ease of use. These new files can be anywhere from 40 - 60 gb per hour of footage, depending on quality settings!


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