Why I'm Avoiding AVCHD

Before heading off to the Detroit Auto Show in January, I bought myself a Panasonic HDC-SD5. At the time it was the world's smallest 3CCD HD camcorder. I loved the form factor and that it was entirely solid state, writing everything to cheap SD memory cards. I didn't take the time to think about how it saved the HD content. It used the relatively new Advanced Video Codec High Definition.

AVCHD is a high compression codec based on H.264, which has a proven track record for great quality and good file size. While H.264 is a standard, AVCHD is only supported by a handful of camcorder manufacturers and software applications. Not even Adobe's flagship Premiere Pro supports AVCHD without an expensive plugin. However, AVCHD is much more taxing on the editing computer than something like MPEG-2 or even regular H.264.

How much more taxing? Importing 1.5 hours of full resolution AVCHD footage took over 3 hours (not bad) but exporting took about 36 hours on a dual-core 2.2GHz MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM. I'll be the first to admit it's not the fastest machine but 36 hours for 1.5 hours of footage.. really? While exporting I had to keep a fan pointed at the MacBook Pro so it wouldn't melt. I'm not a video guru by far so the exporting process might have nothing to do at all with AVCHD since it was already imported and converted to a much larger format (as in 1 hour took 60GB of space).

Exporting AVCHD on MacBook Pro

For comparison, after the files were exported at full 1920x1080 resolution to an H.264 encoded .MOV file I was able to edit them much faster. Processing a 2 minute clip from that .MOV took about 6 minutes, compared to what would have taken 30, including importing, had it been an AVCHD-encoded file.

Now that I finally exported all my NAIAS 2008 footage, I'll eventually get around to posting it somewhere. The 90 minutes of HD footage, now in H.264 MOV files, is only about 6GB and looks fairly identical to the original source. Here's a clip from my footage: walking around the Nissan GT-R.

Verdict: It's a lot easier to process photos. I plan on selling the Panasonic HDC-SD5 and replacing it with something less AVCHDy.

Do any of you deal with video? What kind of camcorder do you use and how's the processing time?