FlamingoHD – Helping you manage your AVCHD media

FlamingoHD is a new application by Shedworx (the guys that make VoltaicHD), with the purpose of helping you manage all of your AVCHD video footage. Although AVCHD has greater than ever support these days it still presents a challenge when it comes to managing all of the video that you’ve shot, especially as the convenience of shooting straight to disk or card kind of encourages you to record a lot more than you would when using tape!

FlamingoHD provides a solution to this problem by enabling direct import from your AVCHD camera or alternatively importing AVCHD clips that are already on your hard disk. It does this by providing a preview thumbnail of the video footage before you import it, this saves a lot of time compared to iMovie or Final Cut Pro as you can choose only the clips you want without having to convert the footage first.

The user interface is easy to understand as it features a left hand menu very similar to iPhoto or iTunes which contains sections for Devices, Events and Projects, very similar to the iLife applications.

Importing AVCHD footage into FlamingoHD:

The basic process is to select the source of your video footage. You can either connect your camera to your computer which will automatically show up in FlamingoHD as a device, or you can select ‘Import Media’ from the File menu to select either a single clip or a folder containing clips from a location on your hard disk, once selected they will show as a device in the ‘Devices’ section in the left hand menu. It’s also worth clarifying that FlamingoHD will actually import video, audio and images from your source device or location and can manage all of these assets within Events and Projects.

Setting Preferences and Creating Events:

With a device selected ready for import you can then choose which clips you want to import into FlamingoHD, the imported files will automatically become an Event, or more than one Event if there are multiple clips shot on more than one day. This can be controlled by a preference which allows you to switch off this feature if you just want to import everything into one event.

The application preferences are worth checking out as there are a couple of other important preferences to consider. The first is ‘Hide media already imported’ which is enabled by default, this is useful when there are a lot of clips on a camera that you have already imported as it hides the ones you’ve already brought in.

The second important preference is ‘Copy imported media to Library area’, it’s important to set this appropriately because if it is ticked any clips imported from a folder on your computer will be copied to FlamingoHD’s Library which will take up more space and will result in duplicate files. Clips imported directly from a camera will be copied to the library regardless of this setting, the location of the Library for FlamingoHD can be set in the Base Location preference under the General tab.

Creating Projects:

Once you’ve imported clips into FlamingoHD you can then group clips together into Projects, these projects can then be sent to exported in via several methods, either ready for editing or as final output.

Projects are created by selecting ‘New Project…’ from the File menu, this adds an entry under the Projects section of the left hand menu which you can name to suit. Once the Project has been created you can drag and drop clips from any of the events that you previously created.

Exporting / Converting Projects:

After creating a project you can then choose to export or convert your files. FlamingoHD has options to send files to VoltaicHD, RevolverHD, iMovie and also to the assets folder of other editing applications such as Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro.

You can export by either right-clicking on the Project name or by selecting the Project and clicking on the ‘Media’ option from the main menu. The four options at the bottom of the menu allow you several choices for your project:

Send to VoltaicHD
This option will send your footage to VoltaicHD and it will be queued up and converted ready for use in whatever application you want.

Send to RevolverHD
Selecting this option will send your AVCHD files to RevolverHD where they can be burned as either AVCHD DVD or Blu-ray DVDs that can be played back on Blu-ray players such as the Playstation 3.

Send to iMovie…
This option is specifically for sending your project to iMovie, it creates a new project in iMovie and sends your clips to VoltaicHD for conversion, once converted you can open iMovie and all of the clips will be there in the new project.

Send to Editor…
Using this option will send files to a folder in the assets location of your preferred editing software, you can set this option in the Preferences of FlamingoHD. The AVCHD clips will be converted in VoltaicHD and copied to the folder. You can then open your editing software and bring in the files that are ready for editing.

In Beta and available now!

FlamingoHD has worked pretty well for me so far but it is worth pointing out that (at the time of writing) that it is a 0.1 version, as such it’s beta software and still being actively developed. However, the developers Shedworx have made it available to purchase now for the reduced price of $29.99 while it is in beta, the price will increase after the beta period.

FlamingoHD already provides a very useful application for managing all of your AVCHD media, but one aspect I haven’t mentioned is that it will also handle any video format that is supported by Quicktime so it can also be used for cameras that don’t use AVCHD as the video format. For me this is the key to the application’s potential, it fulfils a function that Apple’s own iLife suite doesn’t provide, that of being a specific video asset management tool.

The only criticism I can see is that it currently doesn’t provide direct playback of the video clips that are imported into it, instead the files are opened into Quicktime player. The biggest drawback of this being that Quicktime player doesn’t currently support AVCHD clips. However, Apple’s next release of Mac OS X, 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’, is supposed to support AVCHD so that will be one solution, but in the meantime perhaps enabling AVCHD clips to open in the open source VLC player could be integrated as this already provides playback of AVCHD footage. The next release version 0.2 will provide a film-strip view of clips which will at least make it easier to examine the clips in more detail without needing to open them.

Give it a try for yourself, there’s a demo version that is limited to a maximum of 2 events, 2 projects and 50 clips, this gives you enough to try it out and kick the tyres. There are also demo versions of VoltaicHD and RevolverHD so you can test out the whole workflow. Finally, don’t forget to give feedback to the developers via the FlamingoHD contact form, they’re keen to consider people’s ideas and to hear about any issues people encounter with the software.

BBC iPlayer launches for Mac / Linux using streaming Flash format

This week the BBC launched a version of the iPlayer that is compatible with Mac and Linux by allowing viewing of streamed movies via the Flash player rather than the Windows-only DRM based download method.

Screen shot of BBC's Stremaing iPlayer interface

First impressions are pretty good although I would have liked the quality to be a little bit better, or at least the video to be a larger dimension. The player uses a 512 x 288 pixel video format and offer the fullscreen playback option, however, playing full screen on my 1680 x 1050 pixel monitor resulted in fairly pixellated video. That’s a pretty extreme example of zooming I’ll admit but if the video was larger to begin with it would make the zooming feature much better. The recent addition of support for H.264 video within Flash Player 9 would potentially offer an big improvement if the video could be offered using that format instead of FLV video files.

Share iPlayer videos with other people

Nope, it’s not what you might think by reading that heading, you can’t share the actual files but there’s a nice little feature available via the ‘SHARE’ link in the player menu.

Picture of sharing features of the streaming BBC iPlayer

This offers the ability to either send a link to a friend via email:

Link to iPlayer 'Send to a friend' page

You can also post a link to the Social Networking sites Stumbleupon, del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook and Reddit:

Link to sharing page of BBC iPlayer

It’s nice to see those links to these sites, it would be great to see a larger range though to include sites such as Ma.gnolia, MySpace etc but perhaps these can be added.

All in all it’s a good start towards better cross platform support by the BBC. My daughter was especially pleased to be able to watch kids shows whenever she wanted! Like many people though I would still like to be able to download shows and watch these on other devices such as iPods etc, I’m looking forward to finding out more about the BBC’s plans for providing cross-platform downloads.

One more reason why there is no Flash Player on the iPhone – H.264 support in Flash Player 9

Adobe announced today support for the H.264 video codec in an update to their Flash Player 9 software. No longer will it be necessary to encode video files specifically using their FLV video format in order to allow playback of video using the Flash Player, which is pretty awesome news really. It will of course rely on people upgrading to the latest version of Flash Player 9 but as most people receive this via auto-update this should be reasonably fast.

Apart from the benefit of using an open standard for video it does also bring higher quality video, specifically HD format video into the realm of Flash Player. The only other mainstream way of playing H.264 video in a web browser is via Apple’s Quicktime player, soon Flash will allow you to play those same files without requiring Quicktime as a download.

Maybe that’s why there’s no Flash Player on the iPhone?

When the iPhone launched recently the ‘great ommission’ as some saw it (apart from copy and paste!) was that there was no Flash Player support in the iPhone’s Safari browser. A few different theories have abounded as to why this is, one of the main theories being the impact the Flash player would have on the iPhone’s battery life, this is probably quite true and Apple’s own Quicktime framework is undoubtedly optimised better for playback on the iPhone. Another reason was that YouTube, probably the largest provider of Flash video format files, have their own application on the iPhone. This YouTube application actually plays video that has been re-rendered into H.264 instead of the Flash FLV format, thereby doing away with one of the reasons for FLV support in Safari.

The addition of H.264 support to the Flash Player means that this same YouTube footage as used by the iPhone could now be played in the Flash Player too. It’s quite likely that Apple would have knowledge that Adobe were working on H.264 support in the Flash player and this made it even less essential to include Flash Player.

A win-win-win-win situation for Apple, Adobe, YouTube and Us (the content consumer)

This does of course still leave the many interactive Flash content providers out in the cold but as Flash has become so ubiquitous in regards to video playback then I think this still represents a great win-win for both Apple and Adobe, and I guess YouTube too really. If content creators choose to use the open standard of H.264 for video instead of the FLV format then any Mac, PC or iPhone user using Quicktime to play movies can view the content, as can anyone using the new Flash Player. This does appear to represent a good move towards open standards, it will take time for the new Flash Player to get more widespread support so I don’t think FLV format will go away anytime soon, but it is a step forward at least.

One win-lose aspect though – Flash Media Server for streaming H.264 only

There is only one negative aspect of the Flash Player support of H.264, and that is streaming support of H.264 will only work if it’s being served by Adobe’s own Flash Media Server software. This is due to the files being streamed via Adobe’s own RTMP streaming protocol rather than the RTSP protocol supported by Apple’s Quicktime / Darwin Streaming Server or Real’s Helix servers.

This is a shame, but hopefully Adobe will see fit to change tack on this, perhaps it is just a technical issue in that they don’t yet have support for RTSP inside Flash player.

More information about H.264 and Flash Player 9

To get a great explanation about all the new changes then go and read Tinic Uro’s post "What just happened to video on the web?". Tinic Uro is one of the main Flash Player engineers at Adobe, in his post he introduces all the changes as simply as he possibly can. There’s also some information on Ryan Stewart’s blog – "The H.264 Announcement in Black and White".

~Rick

Google stops Videos for Sale / Rent: A blessing in disguise?

There was an interesting article on TechCrunch the other day highlighting the fact that Google has closed it’s video marketplace.

If there ever was an example of why DRM’ed files are a bad idea then this is it, a key statement in emails sent out to previous purchasers / renters is:

After August 15, 2007, you will no longer be able to view your purchased or rented videos.

So, plain and simple. Movies that people purchased will no longer be playable because the Google video store won’t be keeping its DRM system going. The notion of purchasing to permanently own doesn’t really apply when DRM is in the equation.

This situation happens because Google’s video DRM requires an internet connection so that everytime you play back your purchased or rented movie it calls back to Google’s servers to check you have rights to play it back. Now that Google have disabled their DRM server there’s no way for your video files to be checked so basically your purchased video files become useless.

It’s true that Google are compensating people by giving vouchers for use with Google’s Checkout payment system, there may also be the possibility of an actual refund, but many people are unhappy about the fact that their purchases will no longer play and that there is nothing they can do about it. At least nothing legal anyway, it’s not difficult to see why users having made purchases through this system and having their fingers burned might just decide to get it by some illegal means instead.

"Why is Hollywood more important than users?"

Back in February 2006 BoingBoing.net published an article called "Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?", in it the risks of Google’s then newly launched video store was described and how it was a real break in tradition for Google who have always tended to put the interests of the user first. In the article the author, Cory Doctorow, asked:

The question is, why has Google done this? There’s no Google customer who woke up this morning looking for a way to do less with her video. There’s no Google customer who lacked access to this video if he wanted it (here’s a tip: enter the name of a show or movie into Google and add the word "torrent" to the search, and within seconds Google will have delivered to you a link through which you can download practically everything in the Google DRM catalog, for free, without DRM.

The article proposed the unlikely event that if Google went bust that the DRM system would stop working, although the situation is far from that they did foresee what would happen if Google closed it’s video store doors.

Maybe Google gets it after all?

Reading the previously mentioned Boing Boing article gives you the strong impression of how ill-received the Google video store was by fans of Google. But I wonder if dropping the Google video store, despite being disappointing and frustrating for many, is actually a blessing in disguise? Given the dangers of DRM systems perhaps Google just needed to drop this venture and move on to what they are really focused on and put it in the past? The closure is a bit of a harsh move but if they’re going to stop perpetuating the DRM juggernaut then they might as well do it swiftly.

There’s obviously growing competition between the likes of Google and Microsoft. Whereas Microsoft has put itself whole-heartedly behind the DRM / Proprietary software juggernaut, Google on the other hand has focused on embracing Open Source software through things like Google Apps and Google Pack software downloads. Perhaps the Google store closure just highlights the difference in mindset between Google and Microsoft? Maybe they are not turning so evil as some people have accused them of becoming?

Cory Doctorow finished off his article on Boing Boing by saying:

There’s no way Google can win the DRM wars. The end-game for the entertainment companies is to use the sweet lure of content to turn Google from an unmanageable giant into a biddable servant, dependent on long-term good relations with its licensors to preserve its customers’ investment in its video.

The only way Google can win this game is not to play at all. The only way Google can win is to return to its customer-comes-first ethic and refuse any business-arrangement that subverts its customers’ interests to serve some other industry’s wishes.

I think he nailed it good and proper.

How to edit AVCHD footage on Mac OSX? Final Cut Pro 6.0.1 and Voltaic to the rescue!

I’ve written a few times recently about the difficulties people have had editing video footage in the AVCHD format that is used by the new generation of Disc-based HD Cameras such as Sony’s HDR-SR7 and HDR-SR8. The main issue when I first wrote about it was that there wasn’t really *any* software available to edit the footage regardless of whether you were using a Mac OSX or Windows based system. Although the cameras had been out since mid 2006 the first fully capable software for editing the footage only became available with the recent release of Sony’s Vegas 7 editing software for Windows.

Ok, so you can edit AVCHD on Windows, but how do you edit AVCHD on Mac OSX?

So things were looking up at least for the Windows using owners of AVCHD capable camcorders, things weren’t looking nearly so bright for those of us wanting to edit AVCHD footage on Apple Mac OSX. Fortunately there are at least a couple of options now for Mac OSX systems. The first option was a bit of a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one!

Final Cut Pro 6.0.1 update adds AVCHD transfer capabilities

Apple’s own Final Cut Studio 2 suite had a minor update for Final Cut Pro to version 6.0.1 which added the capability to transfer the AVCHD footage. The reason why this update was a little bit of a surprise is that Apple were not listed on the Official AVCHD Consortium website, at least not until recently. The transfer process converts the AVCHD footage into either Apple’s new ProRes 422 codec or the Apple Intermediate codec. One very important point to keep in mind here though is that the AVCHD transfer on Mac OSX only works on Intel processor based Macs!

Apple has posted a few technote articles regarding working with AVCHD in Final Cut Pro which are worth reading, here’s a few key points to keep in mind:

  • AVCHD support is available only on Intel-based Macintosh computers.
  • DVD-based AVCHD camcorders are not currently supported in Mac OS X.
  • Standard definition video recorded with AVCHD camcorders cannot be accessed in the Log and Transfer window.
  • AVCHD footage is transcoded to the Apple ProRes 422 codec or Apple Intermediate Codec.
  • When you choose to transfer AVCHD audio in the Logging area, audio is automatically mixed down to stereo.
  • AVCHD files are transfered as entire files from beginning to end.

You can find further information in the following Apple technote, Technote 305997: About transferring AVCHD footage.

VoltaicHD from Shedworx.com

Final Cut Studio is a great solution for editing AVCHD footage on Mac OSX, however, if you don’t have Final Cut Studio and can’t afford the £849 to buy it, or if you’ve got Final Cut Studio but you’re using a PowerPC based system (in case you missed the two references above, AVCHD support in FCP is only available on Intel processor based machines!) then there is an alternative – VoltaicHD.

VoltaicHD is a $30 utility that converts AVCHD footage into HDV 1080i Apple Intermediate Codec format Quicktime movies. The Voltaic website sums up it’s purpose clearly: "VoltaicHD converts your HD movie clips into a Mac-friendly format, ready for editing in iMovie HD and Final Cut Express HD". This shouldn’t be taken as a limitation, the converted footage can be used on any video editing application.

The purchase price of $34.99 is a lot less than the cost of Final Cut Pro and the advantage of working with both Intel and PowerPC based Macs is also pretty awesome. It’s a pretty new application but it is at least past the version 1.0 mark and is fairly stable, although the Voltaic FAQ page does list a few common technical issues that they are working on.

It’s worth reading through the VoltaicHD FAQ as they answer quite a lot of common questions about the issues encountered converting AVCHD footage using Voltaic. Some of the questions answered are:

  • How long does the conversion take?
  • How big are the output files?
  • What is the output format
  • Is there any quality loss in the conversion?

The VoltaicHD development blog is well worth reading as it gives the background to the past and future development of VoltaicHD. There are also some screencasts which are very useful, and finally there is a demo version of Voltaic available to download so you can try it out before paying any money for a licence. The only limitations in the demo are that it will only convert a single file less than 20mb and a limit of up to 10 conversions. However, for $35 buying a licence isn’t going to break the bank!

So which is best, Final Cut Pro or Voltaic?

Well, at the moment I can’t say, I haven’t tried either of these options at the time of writing. I have just purchased Final Cut Studio so I am now in a position to do a bit of a comparision between these two applications, I’ve had a fair bit of footage sitting waiting for the time that I would be able to edit it without having to resort to a Windows PC running Vegas 7! ;)

I’ll hopefully post a bit of a comparison once I get a chance to try both applications out.

But what about Adobe Premiere Pro CS3? Doesn’t it edit AVCHD?

Although Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 has now returned to the Mac platform neither the Mac or Windows versions supports the AVCHD format. There were quite a few rumours and unofficial statements by Adobe employees that indicated that it may have support for AVCHD but I have had it confirmed that there is definitely no support for it in Premiere Pro CS3, although it does look likely that it wil be in the next version. Perhaps there will be an incremental update to bring some kind of compatibility there in the way that Apple have added it to Final Cut Pro? Until that happens Voltaic is the best option for Premiere Pro CS3 Mac users.

Update #1 – Sony HDR-SR1 / SR7 Apple Tech Support Article

Someone posted a link in a comment below to an Apple tech Support article called “iMovie ?08 and Sony HDR-SR1 and HDR-SR7 compatibility” which is worth reading if you’re using one of those cameras, especially if you’re using a G5 processor based system rather than an Intel processor. It just goes to show that Voltaic is definitely a very useful application for those on non-intel, older machines who want to work with AVCHD footage.

Update #2 – VoltaicHD now on Windows! Convert AVCHD for use in Windows Movie Maker

You can now get VoltaicHD for Windows, so if you’re a PC user looking for an easy way to edit AVCHD footage and use it in Windows Movie Maker then go check out VoltaicHD for PC or read my more recent post Budget AVCHD editing in Windows: VoltaicHD for PC & Windows Movie Maker!

Update #3 – Burn Blu-ray compatible and AVCHD DVDs using RevolverHD for Mac

Once you’ve edited your HD footage then what do you do with it? Well, if you want to put it onto an blu-ray compatible DVD then now there’s an easy way! Find out more about RevolverHD.

Update #4 – VoltaicHD 2 released in October 2009

Shedworx have released version 2 of VoltaicHD adding new features such as preview of AVCHD / AVCHD Lite clips, native editing of AVCHD video and the ability to upload video to YouTube. I’ve written a post with an overview of VoltaicHD 2.

~Rick