I have a love/hate relationship with AVCHD. My little Canon HG10 is a hard-drive AVCHD high-definition camcorder. It is small, takes beautiful video, has a nice lens and generally does pretty much everything you could want from a consumer-grade device. What’s not to like? The editing workflow. Quite simply it sucks. First of all, to get video out of it, you have to ensure that it is plugged into its charger, then connect it to your computer and copy the files over. If you’re on a PC, the only good video editor I’ve found that will happily ingest AVCHD is Sony Vegas Pro 8 (there are other products that may work, I just like the power and interface of the Vegas product). On the Mac the story is more complicated. Final Cut Pro 2 requires you to preserve the entire directory structure of the camera otherwise it doesn’t seem to know how to import the streams. My workaround is to regularly dump the entire contents of the camera hard drive to my Mac in folders called Tape 1, Tape 2, etc. One you’ve done that, you can use the Log and Transfer function to ingest the AVCHD footage and convert it to Apple’s ProRes 422 intermediate codec. This is great, except that you’re now locked into FCP (there is no ProRes codec on Windows). In both the Mac and Windows cases, ingesting the footage is not instantaneous, since it must be converted into something that is editable. Since AVCHD is a computationally intensive codec for decompression, this can take some time if you have a lot of footage. I have to say that at this point, the edge that AVCHD has over tape is its tapeless convenience. From a workflow standpoint it probably takes the same amount of time – if not longer – to ingest for editing on consumer grade computers as tape.
Anyway, I do think that the format is here to stay. Not a week seems to pass without a new consumer AVCHD device. But what about the pro end of the market? At NAB, Panasonic had their new AG-HMC70 shoulder-mount 3 CCD AVCHD camcorder (see picture) on display, which has an MSRP of $2495. While I like the shoulder-mounted form factor, I can’t help thinking that there’s a lot of air inside the camera since it just records to SDHC cards. Also, while it does have 3 CCDs, its highest bitrate for recording is 13Mbps, which doesn’t compare favourably with the Canon HG10 (15Mbps) or the new Canon HF10 (17Mbps).
More interestingly, Panasonic were talking up their AVC-Intra 100 codec, which is billed as a professional intra-frame codec with bitrates of 100Mbps. More on this another time.