Wednesday, February 15, 2012

iMovie 11 and analog to digital videotape conversion by passthrough

it's been six years since I've had much good to say about Apple's OS X software (we miss you Avie). So I'm mildly surprised to say something good about iMovie '11.

I haven't paid much attention to iMovie since the iMovie HD debacle, but after Final Cut Pro X and QuickTime Pro failed me I turned to my free copy of iMovie [1]. Short of Adobe Premiere, it was the last tool to use for my family video consolidation project ...

Gordon's Tech: How should I transcode my home analog video?:

... Emily picked this project for her Valentine gift, so we're off. I found a 300GB drive and LaCie firewire enclosure I'd forgotten about. So far video capture seems to be proceeding well from a 12 yo Hi8 analog tape; there's a thin sliver of artifact at base; I think capture frame is bit taller than the image frame. Setup at the moment:

  • SONY Hi-8 TRV65 (1997) with S-video and RCA audio out to ...
  • Canon Optura 50 (2004) with firewire out via secondary port on LaCie to ...
  • iMac i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM
  • Final Cut Pro X (trial version. There's no more academic pricing for Apple products distributed through app store. I expect I'll buy full version. So far this is the big expense) saving project to ...
  • External firewire LaCie drive (300GB)

I started with FCPX, but it only seemed to be capturing video. Video streamed to FCPX, but was not recorded. FCPX can't handle non-timestamped video streams:

So, after reading about 10GB import limits for QuickTime Pro, I tried iMovie 8 (iMovie '11). These were the steps I followed:

  1. Connected the Hi-8 camcorder via S-Video and RCA to the Optura
  2. Set Optura to Passthrough mode (most people now would use a Canopus device or the like to do A/D conversion - workflow is very similar)
  3. Turned off Time Machine -- I don't want the 30 GB videos going to my backup drive [2].
  4. Start iMovie. It's safest to create the Event (will hold the video, analogous to Events in iPhoto) first so you can choose what drive the event will go to (there's a small icon that lets you see how Events are distributed over media).
  5. Start Import in Manual mode and direct to the Event desired. Push Play on camera.
  6. iMovie will give you a few seconds to get the video in. It shows the Canon as no tape and displays 'Ready to Record'. If the stream doesn't start iMovie will quit.
  7. If recording is working the counter will increment and a small red dot will show. The 'Ready to Record' message never changes.
  8. When recording is done iMovie stops (1 minute delay)
  9. Then thumbnails are supposed to be created (but see below) ...
  10. After all is done, move the Event to an external drive (Cmd-Drag and drop within iMovie.)

I start the when I get home from work then let it run. A 1.5 hour tape produced a 25GB .DV file and 1.5 GB thumbnails.

To export to .m4v (MP4 variant) you first create a Project. I edit my .DV by selecting the parts I don't want and tapping the 'R' (remove) key. Use Shift-Command-A to undo select all; it's easy to select all and not clear how to undo. Study the keyboard shortcuts, I don't like iMovie's standard or context menus. Editing was easier than I'd expected, even for a project this size. I'm just getting rid of the obvious junk.

When done select all and drag to Project window. Then add a title slide.

After the Project is done choose Share and large size. On my iMac compression to 960x540 took about 1 hour and produced a 1.5 G .m4v (mpeg) file; it uses "270% of CPU". I'd prefer a bit less compression, maybe a 3GB output. I'm studying my options. It's ok to save the .m4v to an external drive.

I then move use iMovie to move the entire Event to an external drive for storage (see update, these directions are wrong). Empty trash and restart Time Machine.

The Events, for now, are staying on my external store (1TB+, so should handle about 8-9 of my media. I don't want to keep the .DV files, when I'm satisfied I can produce a high quality .mpeg movie with reasonable compression I'll store that alone. Three 1.0 TB drives should manage all of our video - one onsite, one offsite backup, one rotation [3].

Of course there are bugs ....

  • iMovie crashed twice (kernel exception -- it really doesn't like the cheap external drive I'm using until the better ones come along [3]
  • iMovie always hangs at the end of thumbnail generation, no matter how short the event. This is a replicable bug. I've tried deleting preferences; this may also be a sign these Project are too big for iMovie. I'm hunting around for an old copy of Final Cute Pro or Final Cut Express. (By Darwin, Apple screwed the video market.) [UPDATE: With my firewire drive unmounted, thumbnail generation does not hang.]

It's early days, but I'm less displeased than I'd expected. I think if iMovie fails I'll try Adobe Premiere Elements next.

[1] When Apple introduced the App Store, they also turned to iOS style licensing. iLife '11 came with my MacBook Air, and was registered with my Apple Store ID. That meant it showed up in "purchases" on my iMac and I could download and install it.

[2] Trick is to remember to turn it on again after the iMovie Event has been moved to an external drive. Streaming capture to my old external firewire enclosure did not work. Not only were frames dropped, but iMovie crashed as well.

[3] Future post pending on the external storage/backup system I'm going to use.

Update: Possible export options (ref)

  • MPEG-4
  • frame size: largest possible (when I set to be the source size however, the output still omits about 3% of the frame)
  • key frames: <10
  • data rate: DV data rate is 25Mbit/s for video and 1.5 Mbit/s for audio. The default on .mp4 is about 4Mbit/s.

There's surprisingly little quality information on these settings. Reading the Final Cut Pro 7 documentation makes me envious.

Update 2/17/2012: Apples directions for moving Event's are incorrect. If you drag and drop the Event is copied. To move you have to Cmd-Drag, just as in the file system.

Update 2/18/2012: I realized that, by accident, I was using a low end firewire 400 cable with a 400/800 converter to my external drive. That is a bad idea! I would expect it to cause issues. I switched to my LaCie 400/800 cable. I've also given up on the idea of using .MP4 as my archival format.

I've also experimented with capturing via QuickTime 10 at 'highest qualilty'. That created a .mov file that is almost exactly the same size as the .dv file that iMovie crated from the same source; at heart it's a DV file. There's a trick to get this to work with passthrough video. I had to start the stream, then click the record button. When I move these into an iMovie Event library iMovie simply moves the .mov file then creates thumbnails.

I've read FCPX will import these. I'm experimenting more with this.

Update 2/18/2012b: OK, the QuickTime method doesn't work with this particular video stream. I didn't run into any time limit, but there's no sound on playback -- even though there's sound during the capture process.

Update 2/19/2012: I was able to complete a video capture without the thumbnail hang. Two things were different. My external drive (firewire 400) was not mounted, and I stopped the stream manually rather than let it self-terminate when the video stream stopped. I have another post pending on why I gave up on the idea of .mp4 export. For now I'm collecting 30GB .DV files for each tape. Update: It's not the manual termination. it's that my firewire drive was accidentally unmounted. I've replicated this.

Update 2/20/2012: I tested importing one of the analog to digital projects I created in iMovie 11 into FCPX. FCPX seemed to import the modest project and very large clip without obvious problems.


KimH said...

If the Final Cut Pro 7 documentation makes you envious, consider buying Compressor:

John Gordon said...

Good point that FCPX + Compressor takes export back to FCP 7.

If FCPX supported streaming digital capture I'd probably go this route, though FCPX built-in options might suffice.

Since FCPX didn't work when I tried it with this streaming input, I have to use iMovie. I don't think I can use Compressor with an iMovie project.

KimH said...

I believe Compressor accepts standard formats. So you could just export from iMovie as lightly compressed, and run that through Compressor for fine-tuning.

Or, if you get FCPX, remember that FCPX opens iMovie projects, so you could ingest/edit in iMovie, and use FCPX/Compressor for the last step.

JGF said...

I think I'll end up with FCPX, waiting until reviewers stop finding big bugs and crashes...

KimH said...

FCPX at 10.0.3 is already stable, although some editors who really stress it have found some issues.

But for most, it's already eminently usable, and especially for someone like you- who's just using it as a workflow way station — stability is a non-issue.

JGF said...

I'd started out with FCPX (trial, expecting to buy) but gave up because FCPX couldn't handle the .DV stream from the 2007 Optura 50.

Your vote of confidence is important though. It means that once I get through the painful process of building out my family video archive, I might take another look at FCPX for the task of managing it.

Alas, I'll have run out my 30 day free trial by then, so unless I can figure out how to reset the clock I may struggle a bit! (I don't know if the clock is machine specific or user specific.)