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Final Cut Pro: Native HDV versus AIC

By Heath McKnight

Before Final Cut Pro 5 was introduced at NAB 2005, the only ways to cut HDV (high definition video) was to use either Lumiere HD  or, as of January 2005, iMovie HD, part of iLife 2005.  The technology allowed you to use the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) to bring the HDV footage into iMovie HD, edit, then allow iMovie HD to send it back as HDV to tape.  Frederic Lumiere (of Lumiere HD and Lumiere Media fame) even came up with a workflow to use this in Final Cut Pro 4.5

Seemed simple right?  Even Final Cut Express HD uses the AIC to work with HDV on its timeline.  Unfortunately, the first iteration of the AIC darkened the video and added artifacting to it.

Click for full view. Captured in iMovie HD, part of iLife 05; notice darkened video and artifacting.  MPS Digital Studios



Another issue with using the AIC is that, like any Intermediate Codec, the file becomes quite larger when its a different, less compressed flavor of HD.  Its not uncommon to see file sizes that are around twice the size of native HDV, which is compressed to the size of DV (digital video), around 3.6 mbps (megabytes per second).  An hour of HDV footage is around 11 to 13GB vs. 22 to 26GB if its captured using the AIC.  Other Intermediate Codecs can really increase the size, as well, up to 40 to 60GB for an hour of footage.

But there are some advantages to using the AIC vs. native HDV, especially since Apple has improved the codec and as you can see below, the two stills, one captured in native HDV, the other using the AIC (both were shot on the Sony HVR-Z1u in 50i mode with CineFrame 25 enabled).  Both are identical, with very little difference between the two vs. the original AIC.  Another is that if you shoot in 24p on the V1u and capture with the AIC, you can easily remove the pulldown.

Click for full view. The still above was captured in native HDV, while the still below, with the AIC, using FCP 5.1.4. Copyright MPS Digital Studios.

One of the bigger advantages Ive discovered in using the AIC vs. HDV is that I can work with a 50i clip captured with the AIC, either de-interlace it in Final Cut Pro (or shoot in 50i with CineFrame 25 enabled) and easily conform it to 23.98 frames per second (fps), aka, 24p.  With HDV, youll need to actually convert the clip to a different flavor of HD, like 8-bit or Photo JPEG (quality setting at 75%), export, and then conform to 23.98 fps.

When youre done editing, simply do a Print to Video (under File), and it will conform it back to HDV and youre done.  If you cut in native HDV, you must Print to Video, as well.  Ive noticed, depending on the size and length, conforming to HDV seems to run about the same, whether you started with native HDV or youre using the AIC.

Conclusion
Using native HDV vs. the AIC is a decision left wholly up to you.  Before you even begin to edit, you should take time to weigh the pros and cons of using either one.  Both are remarkable ways to edit, especially with the AIC now a very clean, viable working option vs. earlier versions.  


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Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.


Related Keywords:Final Cut Pro , HDV v AIC, Apple Intermediate Codec, high definition video

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