Sunday, March 23, 2008

FLIP Video Ultra camcorder: iMovie HD works, iMovie '08 might

[Update - Over the course of using and testing this device I became very negative about it for all OS X users and even for XP users. I don't believe the video files will be readable in five years. On the other hand, as per my 7/08 update, on one machine iMovie '08 now edits this video.]

I bought a Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder for the kids to use. I've jotted down some initial impressions below.
  1. It feels flimsier and cheaper than the original model a friend of mine has. I'm surprised by this. I'd recommend buying the older model, which is now sold at a discount.
  2. There's no CD in the box, the software is delivered in the camera's memory store. Cute, and it works.
  3. Videos are in "AVI" format -- that's a metadata wrapper around a codec. In this case coded is 3ivx MPEG-4. iMovie HD (old version) can import these files after the 3ivx codec is installed, but iMovie '08 (current version) cannot (more below).
  4. Amazon had Jan 2007 firmware update. I downloaded and installed it but my camera was up to date anyway.
  5. The bundled software for OS X video editing is universally derided. I did not install it.
I installed the 3ivx MPEG-4 decoder from FLIPVIDEO:System:INSTALL:Macintosh 3ivx from a non-admin account. It used a standard Apple installer, no restart required. Install is into a Applications:3ivx (shared applications) and it includes an uninstaller* and a link to [1]

Videos are found in FLIPVIDEO:DCIM:100VIDEO.

Since iMovie '08 only imports DV, MPEG-4 and .mov files I used Mike Ash's QTAmateur to translate the AVI files to DV files and imported these into iMovie. QuickTime Pro would also work but costs $30 -- and Apple makes users repurchase a license with every significant update.

The need to translate prior to import into iMovie '08 is very irritating. I'm working on something better, or I could just use iMovie HD. I've left feedback for Apple requesting support in iMovie '08 for importing AVI files when codecs (such as 3ivx) are installed. I'll also contact some Mac gurus I know.

I'll have more on the camera later once I figure out a good import workflow. Apple definitely deserves multiple hard blows for the lack of file import support in Movie '08 vs. iMovie HD.
[1] 3ivx is hoping you'll buy the full version from them. The current version is a small fix ahead of what Flip Video is shipping:
3ivx Technologies Pty. Ltd., the MPEG-4 Video & Audio specialist, announces the immediate availability of version 5.0.2 of the 3ivx MPEG-4 compression suite for Windows, Mac OS X & Linux....Version 5.0.2 fortifies the 3ivx MPEG-4 Filter suite against software exploitation from maliciously crafted video files.... improved Vista compatibility and additional QuickTime 7.3 compatibility...
The 3ivx site has some interesting configuration information, but the decode page for OS X is blank. The 3ivx site references iMovie HD (they call it simply "iMovie"), but not the problematic iMovie '08.

[2] Apple's iMovie was probably cutting into Final Cut Express sales, so Apple tossed it out and gave us 'iClip' instead.

Update 3/23/2008: I started a thread on Apple's Discussion list . It's gotten at least one helpful response that suggested MPEG Streamclip.

Update 3/23/2008: If you don't have it, you can download iMovie HD from Apple. I don't know if it really checks for iMovie '08, most everyone with a Mac will have one or the other though.

Update 3/30/2008: I found an AppleScript that should do what I need. It tells QuickTime Player to open multiple AVI files, process them to DV stream, then delete the originals. Unfortunately, it's giving me cryptic error messages.

Update 3/31/2008: I'm beginning to think Apple quietly disabled AppleScript driven conversion in QT Player. Nobody seems to know anything about it.

MPEG Streamclip is a free video converter and editor that will work with the 3ivx encoded AVI files FLIP Video produces. QuickTime Pro ($30) won't do batch conversion, but it will directly edit the AVI files -- and it may be much simpler to use than iMovie. Perian doesn't help with conversion, but some feel it's a better solution than the 3ivx supplied codecs. VisualHub does batch conversion and is well regarded, but it costs $23 and the "trial version" is very limited. Mike Ash's QTAmateur also does batch conversion and it's free.

I considered the possibility of a script solution that would automate the flow into iMovie, but neither iMovie '08 or iMovie HD are scriptable [1]. So the best one could do would be to flow into iPhoto and collect from there.

I like the idea of a simple editing solution the kids can use on their video clips, without a translation step. iMovie HD doesn't require the translation step, but it's too much for now. I think I'll try MPEG Streamclip first, then, if that doesn't work, I'll spring for QuickTime Pro. If that fails then I'll fall back to iMovie HD. I'm going to leave iMovie '08 out of the picture for now, it just aggravates me.

Update 3/31/2008b: MPEG Streamclip

I'm back from my MPEG Streamclip. It's very impressive as a free app, but it's pretty rough. I came across a lot of odd behaviors, and it's a very industrial interface. There was no budget for eye candy! I came up with some interesting numbers in testing a small video:
  • initial size (AVI file, 3ivx coded): 12 MB
  • convert to DV using QT Amateur or iMovie HD import: 84MB file, exquisitely slow.
  • MPEG Streamclip: painless quick trimming, but can't save as AVI (no encoder). Oddly enough, none of the 'Save As' options worked. Export worked though ...
After I trimmed the small video to a 10 second clip I tried exporting from MPEG Streamclip to various formats:
  • Conversion to mp4 H.264: small clip took minutes (2.5MB)
  • Conversion to QuickTime Motion JPEG A: very fast but 17MB file
  • Conversion to Apple MPEG 4: very fast and the file is only 2.2 MB (quality probably less than H264)
iMovie '08 was able to import the H.264, Motion JPEG and Apple MPEG 4 files.

If it was just me I'd go with MPEG Streamclip, do initial trimming with it, export as Apple MPEG4 then drop the clip in iMovie. I think Streamclip is too rough for the kids though. So on to QuickTime Pro.

Update 3/31/08c: QuickTime Pro

Well, we have a winner. QuickTime Pro is a very nice tool for trimming video then saving it.

Just as with Streamclip, I experimented with various video formats. QT Pro will open the original AVI file and save it as an MOV file, but that doesn't help. It's simply changed the wrappers.

I tried exporting a QuickTime movie using H.264 compression, but it was unbearably slow on my G5 iMac. MPEG-4 Improved had very tolerable speed and image size and quality, but it was not compatible with iMovie '08. Until I turned "streaming" off, then it worked.

So I think I'll teach the kids to use this workflow:
  1. Copy videos to a shared folder.
  2. Trim and save using QuickTime Pro.
  3. If they want to assemble the clips into a movie we can use iMovie '08 or iMovie HD.
Update 4/30/2008: My Amazon review - not for OS X customers.

Update 6/5/08: Flip's owners, rebranded as Pure Digital, have finally acknowledged there's a problem with iMovie. In the meantime, Apple's QuickTime 7.4.5 broke the 3ivx codec used by the Flip camera on OS X 10.4 (but not 10.5). My costly version of QuickTime Pro is now of no use. Neither Apple nor PureDigital has acknowledged the problem, but the Apple and 3ivx support forums have lots of complaints.

Update 7/3/08: The FLIP 3ivx videos are now directly importable and editable in iMovie '08 7.1.2 with the default FLIP provided 3ivx codec, OS 10.5.4, Intel processor, and QuickTime 7.5.

I've been using Perian on my PPC iMac since QT 7.4.5 broke 3ivx audio

With that codec and QT 7.5 & iMovie 7.1.2 & 10.4.11 FLIP video import attempts don't produce any error message, but they don't work. I need to reinstall the 3ivx codec and try again.

Update 12/12/08: Apple has even provided official documentation on import from new FLIP camcorders.


[1] Scriptability is a great way to test when Apple software is polished and ready for use. Apple commonly releases poor quality products then tunes them up over many iterations (ex: iPhoto). Applescript support seems to require a mature product with a healthy code base and good design, so the lack of Applescript support in iMovie HD, iMovie '08 and (really) Aperture 2.1 are all bad signs.


Tom said...

iMovie HD and iMovie can co-exist on the same machine legally. Apparently there was such an outcry when iMovie plugins were broken that Apple left it available as an option.

Ryan said...

My camera videos are in AVI format (Canon M-JPEG I think), and iPhoto 08 pulls them off the camera. These show up in iMovie 08, and it lets me use the clips. Is this perhaps a way to get the Flip AVIs transferred to iMovie 08? I've been trying to find a sample Flip .AVI file to try it out before I buy, but I guess I'd need that codec too. I would guess that connecting the Flip would open iPhoto anyway since it mounts as a disk and has a DCIM folder. So, it would' be a bad setup where iPhoto made it easy to pull the video in and be the clip archive (Time Machine and all) that iMovie could pull from without other manual transcoding steps.

John Gordon said...

Thanks Ryan. I tried the experiment, but no go. I'm guessing the Canon data is MPEG-4 in an AVI wrapper, and iMovie can handle that directly.

Apparently the 3vxi codec is ultra-cheap, which is why FLIP uses it. Almost nobody else uses it.

Ryan said...

Actually my Canon, like many cameras apparently, is Motion JPEG. It seems that the Motion JPEG codec is part of QuickTime since I didn't have to install a codec for my camera videos and in some video utility I remember seeing some conversion options listing it as "Apple M-JPEG". Also, iMovie 08 says that the importer would work with DV and most MPEG4 and MPEG2 video.

Thanks for testing. I suppose an Automator or Applescript might help things out. From what I've read so far, you want to use Perian instead of the 3vix codec it comes with, at last for Leopard stability.

Monica said...

Thanks for this post, I've been banging my head against the wall all day on this. I do admit though the kids think the Flip is a scream. FWIW, I copied the Flip AVI's into iPhoto, and the thumbnails are there and play as QT. But when I try to import the iPhoto movies into iMovie '08 they just don't show. Keep us posted in you find anything.

John Gordon said...

Hi Monica!

I'm working on an AppleScript approach, but what we really need is for a real OS X hacker to buy a Flip Video, and create a solution.

I put 90% of the blame on Apple though. iMovie '08 should be able to import anything QuickTime can view; Apple really shafted their customers when they shipped that product.

JulieHRR said...

I happened to find your blog on a quest to figure out WHY my Flip Ultra videos wouldn't import into iMovie (just got a new MacBook); I had literally been tearing my hair out, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.

I really appreciated the info you shared here. I am so utterly disappointed that this version of iMovie doesn't work with the Flip, after hearing all the hype about how easy it supposedly was . . . Must have been for individuals who haven't had to work with iMovie 08 . . . *sigh* . . .

Eric said...

I've been using iSquint - converts flips to imovie readable mp4s - is free, does batch processing!

(Settings: Optimize for TV, Quality="Go Nuts", H.264 encoding)

gail said...

Using QT Pro I was able to get flip video into iMovie 08 and it played fine, but I cannot get it to export to anywhere! I've tried various combinations (wish I had written them down!), but sometimes I get audio only, but mostly I get a upside down screen with fragments of images from my desktop mixed in with the video! Can you explain that? Fortunatley i still have iMovie HD and will use that next, but I wish there was a better way!

scoops said...

I have had the same problem exporting Flip Video out of iMovie 8. I have been trying to publish a small video on YouTube--just a black screen (no video) but there is sound.
I have tried so many workarounds since purchasing my camera However, I did manage to import my current Flip video into iMovie 8, I couldn't do that in January 08. Maybe Apple has fixed their problems (I am not sure I have seen an update).
Anyone have an idea why I have no sound on YouTube???

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. While I am reading your blog trying to figure out this Flip Ultra and the iMac fiasco, my 10 year-old is watching and "sharing" his recent Flip work on the PC. Strong work Apple...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I have a Flip, and have been thinking about getting a Mac Book to replace my old PC. Went over to the Apple store today to see how it handles the Flip clips. I had to convert the clips using QTP as you noted, and then was able to open them in iMovie, make edits etc. I did not try then export for upload/share - I assumed it would be pretty easy, but now I have my doubts. Any thoughts on that?

Eridius said...

I wrote an Automator workflow to convert all the Flip videos into DV (using QuickTime Player) and import them into iMovie '08 in a completely hands-off process.

John Gordon said...

Thanks Eridius/Kevin -- I've downloaded and will take a look. There are some good comments in your blog as well. Looks like you used the Perian codec? More for me to learn!

I'm guessing this might need 10.5 to run -- I'm still on 10.4 pending the 10.5.3 release.

Erik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gtcaz said...

Doesn't Final Cut Express work with AVI files? Maybe that'd be a better solution, long-term.

John Gordon said...

Final Cut Express educational price isn't too bad, so maybe it's a better place to spend money than QuickTime Pro.

FCE does use QuickTime libraries, so it ought to be able to import the AVI files if the 3ivx codec is installed. I think it stores its video using Apple Intermediate Codec.

Ryan said...

What about the recent iMovie '08 update? This post says it adds support for the new Flip Mino:

Also, has anybody tried the Flip Mino with a Mac?

Ryan said...

What about the recent iMovie '08 update? This post says it adds support for the new Flip Mino:

Also, has anybody tried the Flip Mino with a Mac?

John Gordon said...

Ryan, excellent tip. I'll try to update iMovie tonight, might be a day or two before I can test though.

A quick search tells me it's using the 3ivx codec, though I'd wonder if they've gone to a newer version.

Michael McDaniel said...

Another vote for iSquint! Spent an hour trying to get Quicktime Pro to work, 5 minutes and iSquint did the deed.

Anonymous said...

Been thinking about getting Flip Mino, but I will go with Casio Exilim Z80 instead. It is just as easy to use, has a dedicated movie-shooting button and shoots in formats that Macs can use without any problems. The only downside is that the lens is a bit slower than Flips….

Anonymous said...

spent more time figuring out how to get flip in to imovie08 on leopard than it did to actually put my movie together. Funny thing is, I was doing this to force myself to learn imovie08 (long story). I normally use final cut pro and have the codec installed for FCP under the quicktime library. It wasn't until I read your blog did I learn where the codec need to be installed for imovie08 (applications). Run the installer which came with the flip and true to form I can import native flip video in to imovie08. Haven't tried exporting yet so don't know quality or if other issues exist but at least I got this far and know how imovie08 works! I'm running 10.5.4, quicktime 7.5 and latest imovie08.

Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you for your blog - it has been really helpful for me. I feel like i am on the right track and will try some of your suggestions. I am trying to import a mp4 video that i can view in Quicktime Player - into iMovie 08 but it won't let me... I just want to put together a great video for my grandparents and i am stuck - i want to be spending my time creatively on the video and not trying to figure this out - i thought it would be so easy to drag and drop the file - that is what i usually love about Apple. I will be watching for anymore updates or tips... Thanks again!

David Portela said...

Just want to say thank you for this blog post (which I found via Google). I had heard about problems getting video into iMovie '08 from the Flip Ultra, and it never occurred to me to just try a straight import since I had already been forewarned! I had tried the export from QT Pro option already but was wondering if anyone had worked out a better workflow. Now it's working great and if I use column view when choosing the file to import in iMovie I can see exactly which clip I want to import, too.

John Gordon said...

I haven't tested yet on my PPC machine (just too busy, I'd have to reinstall the codec I removed) but in light testing it's working on my Intel machine.

That was one heck of a struggle!

Bets said...

Hello: I just downloaded iSquint based on these comments. Works like a gem! Thanks for the tip and thanks for the blog entry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gordon! Have you tried teh mino HD as well? Might buy it and give the mino to the kids :-)

Anonymous said...

I can confirm iMovie '09 works correctly with the Flip MinoHD on Leopard 10.5.6.

safkow said...

I have a unique situation, somewhat of the inverse that's discussed here. I'm trying to transfer a video to the new Flip so it will appear and playback a promotional message. I was able to do it on the old Flip, but not so with the new ones. Any suggestions on how best to convert the video first? I'm on a PC. Thanks

Anonymous said...

For whoever suggested Final Cut--don't spend the money expecting it to cut the steps.

We installed Perian because the 3ivx codex that ships with the Flips was crashing Final Cut. Then we had choppy video.

So we installed MPEG Streamclip 1.9.2 to convert the files into .mov. Then we had no audio.

I finally dug up a copy of MPEG Streamclip 1.9.1. Using THAT to convert from the AVI files off the basic Flips into .mov works. Final Cut can *finally* edit them.

Unfortunately, it looks like the same thing to get the clips into iMovie '09 (NOT '08). I don't mind making the video class do a conversion (even if I think they shouldn't have to)--but I am NOT happy at all about the younger grades having to run through multiple programs to do minimal editing on their short little clips.

John Gordon said...

I think with iMovie '09 "it just works" - Perian and other fixes aren't needed.

If you test, let me know. If I remember I'll give a try (don't use our Flip much at the moment).

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion makes me thank Jeebus I bought a DXG camera. Oh no! it doesn't have a nifty flippy USB thing (That will break soon) so it's not as cool. But wait! It works perfectly, has easily manageable software and video, and it costs less for a better product. Flip you, Flip.

Gordy said...

I don't know if this is useful or not, but I just bought a flip Mino HD and tried to use it with my Macbook Pro by importing to i-movie HD 6.0.3. it would import the .dv files from the Flip into the 'clips' section of i-movie, but NOT onto the timeline. So I just dragged the file onto my desk top, double clicked on the name of the file, and changed the suffix to .avi - Then I dragged the file back into the 'clips' window, and then onto the timeline, and it worked. It sounds a lot more long winded that it was, and took only seconds to complete. Hope that helps someone. Gordy