Sony’s got the videogeeks all aflutter today with the announcement of new high-definition camcorders that record directly to mini-DVDs and hard drive. They’re basically a melding of existing DVD and hard drive cams with Sony’s entry level HDV camcorder.
The hi-def part is made possible by the new AVCHD format/codec that Sony co-developed with Panasonic. But, as Mike at HD for Indies points out, there’s no indication that there’s any editing support for this codec.
This is the same problem that exists with current standard-definition hard drive and DVD camcorders. They record using the efficient MPEG-2 codec (used in movie DVDs, satellite TV, and other delivery systems) that crams much more video into fewer gigabytes than DV, but at the expense of being difficult to edit, since it doesn’t record full frames of video.
AVCHD uses H.264 MPEG-4 as its compression technology, which is similar to MPEG-2, in that it is very efficient (in fact, it’s much more efficient than MPEG-2), but not designed to be edited. With nearly all current video editing applications, in order to edit MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video like you would edit DV you have to render the MPEG video into DV or some intermediate format in order to fill in the missing frame information. This adds a time-consuming step to the process that can really muck up your workflow.
Now, I do think there’s a little bit more hope for AVCHD than with the consumer MPEG-2 DVD and hard drive camcorders. That hope springs from the fact that developers of video editing applications like Adobe and Ulead have signed on as licensees for the codec. Although the miniDV tape based hi-def format, HDV, now has pretty wide support with Premiere, Final Cut Pro and Xpress, that wasn’t the case when the format was introduced. Editing HDV was pretty slow going then, but now it’s substantially speedier, even though it requires more computer horsepower than standard-definition DV.
Of course, the jury is still out. Unless you absolutely need the convenience of recording direct to an internal hard drive, I wouldn’t jump on these new HD camcorders if you intend to edit your video. Instead, you’d be better off buying a tape-based HDV camcorder or waiting to see how support for the AVCHD codec develops.