iMovie and the uncooperative camera

Christopher Breen
28 April, 2009
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So, you like iMovie ’09 but you can’t get the videos from your new Sony HDR-SR11 or other HD video camera into the application. Here’s what to do.

First of all, if you have a PowerPC Mac, your Mac and camcorder are incompatible as far as high-definition (AVCHD) video is concerned. iMovie ’08 and ’09 require an Intel Core Duo processor to work with this variety of video. (Don’t despair if this is the case, I have a workaround that I’ll get to in a bit.)

The other possibility is that you’ve mixed media types on the camcorder. This particular camera (and several others on the market) shoots both high definition (AVCHD) and standard definition (MPEG-2) video. As explained by Apple, although iMovie ’08 and ’09 are happy to edit both forms of video on an Intel Mac, if you have both kinds of video on the camera, iMovie will see only the standard-definition content.

Apple’s suggested solution is to erase the standard definition content and I can confirm this works. With that content gone, the Camera Import Window displays the HD video you’ve recorded. With the standard definition content on the camera, all you see is that content in the Camera Import Window.

“But wait, I want my standard definition content!” you say. As you should. I’m sure every frame is golden. You can hang on to it in a couple of ways.

Plug your camera into your Mac, mount it in the proscribed manner, launch iMovie ’09, and click the Import From Camera button (or choose File -> Import From Camera). In the window that appears choose Archive All. This produces a sheet that prompts you for a location to save all the media on the camera—the standard- as well as high-definition content. Click Create and the camera’s data is copied to your Mac.

Alternatively, the camera’s hard drive will appear on the Mac’s Desktop as a removable drive. You can open this drive and drag the media from the camera’s drive to your Desktop. The high-definition content can be found by following this path: /AVCHD/BDMV/Stream. The AVCHD files will bear the .MTS extension. Standard definition files are found here: /MP_ROOT/101PNV01. These files have the .MPG extension.

Once you make these copies you can erase the standard definition content. When you’d later like to use this archived standard definition content, you can import it by choosing File -> Import -> Camera Archive and then navigating to the archive you created. Just as with the camcorder, because the archive contains both standard- and high-definition content, iMovie will see just the standard definition content.

You can also convert this media to a form that iMovie will import. (And this will be of special interest to those with PowerPC Macs.) The least expensive way I know to do this is to import the video into the free Handbrake. Not only is it a great tool for ripping DVDs, it can also convert MPEG-2 and .MTS files to file formats compatible with iMovie (MPEG-4 and H.264). Another option is ShedWorx’s $US35 ($A47) VoltaicHD. I batch converted a load of AVCHD files copied from a Sony HDR-SR11 camcorder and it works a treat.

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