With an ever-increasing number of camcorders now using the AVCHD format to write Mpeg-4 AVC/H.264 high-definition files to memory cards or hard disk drives, it’s necessary to consider the problems posed by the sheer volume of data associated with each raw clip.
While the H.264 ‘Long-GOP’ compression system that’s used at the heart of the AVCHD format is extremely efficient in the way that it crunches a 1920 x 1080-pixel picture and associated sound information into a very small space, it’s still asking a lot of the average Mac to process near-instantaneous thumbnail preview icons, let alone handle realtime playback of the format.
Even with Intel Macs, you are only presented with a blank thumbnail icon when displaying MTS clips within a folder on either the memory card or hard disk drive in the camcorder. Given that AVCHD is still being developed, Leopard doesn’t yet facilitate this, so users find themselves turning to thirdparty solutions.
HD Quick Look solves this problem with a plug-in that resides in the background of the Finder. It makes itself known only when you start to inspect a folder’s MTS clip file contents. The application is designed to give you a preview of a clip’s contents without you having to load the whole clip, which will result in delays as the data stream is processed.
To access its various view modes, you will need to add a Quick Look icon to the toolbar. Once you’ve done this, you will be able to display MTS thumbnails in a variety of ways. If you use it in conjunction with Cover Flow, you’ll be able to flip through each of the thumbnails in the normal fashion, view the image in a pop-out window or even full-screen. A Slideshow option is also provided in addition to Next and Previous buttons.
The less than satisfactory alternative to Quick Look – even for iMovie 08 or 09 users – is to wait while an application generates thumbnails as it skims the storage media. While iMovie will do this, Quick Look does the job much more quickly and efficiently – and it uses less system resources.
At just under $6.99 (about £5), Quick Look is a must-have application for AVCHD users looking for the quickest means possible to preview and organise their MTS clip files on an Intel Mac. Although still in beta mode and subject to near-daily tweaks, ShedWorx is offering a fully-functional two-day trial download. It’s another of the many useful third-party utilities available for the Mac – and if this isn’t worth a fiver of an AVCHD user’s money then we don’t know what is.
One of Quick Look’s partner utilities is an application called FlamingoHD. It’s designed to provide super-fast previewing of AVCHD video clips without first having to import the compressed clips into iMovie or Final Cut. Existing users of these programs will know just how frustrating it can be to inspect the clips while they are still in compressed form on their respective storage media, and on the other end of a USB cable or a memory card reader.
FlamingoHD’s big selling point is the way that it offers analysis of the contents of clips in their native state. That’s something you can’t do in iMovie – you have to import the selected clips and endure a time-consuming process of transcoding to either Apple Intermediate Codec or ProRes422 first. Such transcoding also expands the size of the file to the point where your drive will fill up very quickly, so FlamingoHD avoids this problem because it keeps the clips in their original format.
In much the same way that iMovie automatically generates thumbnails the moment an external device is connected or when the program is opened, so FlamingoHD will begin reading the storage device (in our case both an SDHC memory card and an internal camcorder hard drive) in order to generate thumbnails.