Some Whining About Video Software

I’ve been working on editing video again lately. I’m struck by the same feelings I had last time I tried to do this way-too-complex and thankless task.

I appeared on the local cable access show “Paint with Lynn”, with my friend, comedian Lynn Ruth Miller. They gave me a copy of the shows on DVD. I want to edit each 30 minute episode down to something less than ten minutes so I could upload it to YouTube and so viewers wouldn’t have the urge to kill themselves out of boredom.

First, I thought I would use Final Cut Express. Of course, they don’t let you import the .VOB file format that DVDs use (which is just a renamed mpeg-2 file) unless you spend $20 for the Apple MPEG-2 Playback Component. Why Quicktime won’t play back one of the most important file formats out of the box is beyond me. Okay, it’s not really beyond me: it probably has to do with the cost of patents. It’s still frustrating though.

So I used Handbrake to convert to MPEG-4. This take an hour or so. Well, guess what… Final Cut Express would NOT import the MPEG-4 movies produced by Handbrake. Whaaat???

So after some tests, I used Handbrake to convert to AVI. Another hour. Why Apple’s Final Cut Express supports Microsoft’s container and not Apple’s is beyond the hell out of me.

After spending hours figuring out and getting used to Final Cut, I discovered that Handbrake transcoded the audio, and I suppose due to some weird bug, shifted the levels, causing a bunch of pops in the audio. I noticed this only AFTER I had spent hours assembling all the clips.

So I transcoded AGAIN, this time requesting Handbrake to not transcode the audio, but just it pass through. That’s generally better anyway: it takes less time, and it doesn’t involve conversion, which generally causes a loss in quality. Lesson #1: Avoid transcoding whenever possible.

Finally, I had something that Final Cut could read (an AVI file) and did not have audio popping. I had created the clips by settings marks on the large clip. Luckily, I was able to just switch the underlying AVI files, and since all the time offsets were the same in the new file, I didn’t have to recreate the clips. This is the rough equivalent of changing the tablecloth without unsetting and resetting the table. But it worked. Finally something was going right.

I decided that I hate Final Cut. It’s way overkill for someone who just wants to select sub-clips from a large clip. I thought I would try iMovie for the second episode to see if it was any better.

I was ecstatic to find that iMovie claims support of importing MPEG-2 without buying any additional Quicktime components. However, you can’t just import an MPEG-2 file off your disk: it will only import MPEG-2 from cameras. What?? So you have to trick it into thinking the MPEG-2 file is in a camera hierarchy. After poking around the internet a bit, I discovered an easy way is to image the DVD with Disk Utility, then when you mount the image, iMovie figures it’s a safe unprotected DVD created by a camera (never mind that the DVD I got was unprotected in the first place). It was a huge waste of time and temporary disk space, but the trick worked, and was faster and less lossy than transcoding.

But alas, there was still for one problem: there is something up with the first chapter of the episode I was trying to import, and iMovie would not import it. Of course, Apple’s DVD Player and my hardware-based DVD player both play it just fine, so it’s mostly correct. But iMovie is more picky than it needs to be, and it throws an error. Why doesn’t iMovie use the same MPEG-2 code as DVD Player.app? Who knows? I need some way to figure out what’s wrong with the MPEG-2 file and repair it. Offhand, I know of no such utility. Maybe VLC.app will do it. It does a fabulous job reading otherwise sketchy media files. But that will take at least 15 minutes, so I’ll skip that for now.

Then there is the little matter of rendering. Final Cut Express works very slowly with clips in AVI format (using the H.264 video codec), and for some reason just will not play “unrendered” clips. I believe that “rendering” the clips converts them into an internal DV format which, although incredibly huge, is very quick to decompress so it can scroll around in them. This rendering process takes unbelievably long: it seems to be 8x real time (so one minute of video takes eight minutes to render). And this is on a machine that has absolutely no trouble playing real-time. Why would it take so much longer to render than to play live?! And why does it have to be rendered at all?

I believe the most direct process would be to convert from MPEG-2 to DV format, which I assume would not have to be rendered except during transitions. I haven’t been able to find software that will do this though besides MPEG Streamclip, which requires the $20 MPEG-2 component.

Why doesn’t Apple do more code sharing between their various video codec projects (Final Cut, which won’t read MPEG-2 or .mov files; Quicktime, which requires an upgrade to read MPEG-2 files; iMovie, which can’t read some MPEG-2 files that DVD Player has no trouble with). I suspect that legal concerns with the DMCA enter into at least one of these redundant code disasters.

Video is a living hell. Yes, even on the Mac.

About Richard

Richard Kiss was born and raised in Canada. In 1991, he moved to California, ultimately receiving an (or is it "a") M.A. in mathematics. This goes a long way to explaining his obsession with numbers, structure and literalism. His personality is tempered with a heavy dose of wit and opinion. He enjoys donuts and writing in the third person. He also performs stand-up comedy.
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4 Responses to Some Whining About Video Software

  1. Richard says:

    Although it was cathartic writing this, reading it bored even me.

  2. EricS says:

    I have the same issues every time I edit video.

    I had a simple iDVD slide show I wanted to export to YouTube and I finally gave up after 5 different attempts to convert it. Sometimes the video was fine and the audio wasn’t. Other times the video transitions would get stuck. Even writing it to a DVD and attempting to use Handbrake and other tools back into an MPEG4 file failed.

    QuickTime had the ability to work with just about any file format and for some reason Apple just dropped the ball completely when they wrote their editing tools and decided that each would work internally in one format only. This might have been ok if that format was suitable for quick editing, but creating 12GB/hr DV files isn’t the solution.

  3. Kaytlin says:

    Reading this was like reading a article in which 1/4 of the words are in in Spanish. They looked familiar but I didn’t know what they meant.

  4. Adam Waddle says:

    Use iMovie if you want an easy alternative. It handles as much as you would ever need and it is very intuitive,

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