A few years ago I produced some short videos for a client. They had their own video camera and a copy of Final Cut Pro but we agreed that in order to meet a looming deadline I would use my own equipment. Before shooting began we agreed on the deliverables and when they would be received. Included was all the raw footage shot for the project. Since we were both using FCP I gave them the QuickTime files I had exported directly from the camera. I figured if it worked for me it would work for them.
The project met the deadline and was a success, but the raw footage was a sore point. I hadn’t taken into account that their copy of FCP was two versions behind mine. The problem was the codec used by the camera to digitize the captured video. It was incompatible with their older version of Final Cut. It would have been wise to have delivered it in an intermediate format that would be recognized by all versions of FCP.
A codec (compression/decompression) is software that compresses the video as it is captured into as small as a file as possible (so the camera can continue to capture and store media as your record) and then decompress the video when you play it back.
This piece of history came to mind recently because someone else was talking about having this same problem with media they received from a TV station. It came in as a .MOV file (QuickTime wrapper), but they were unable to load it into Final Cut Express and had no idea why.
You can be easily be fooled into thinking that if a video file is in Quicktime format it’s viewable by any Apple product, such as iMovie, FCE or Final Cut Pro. Not so. It’s important to remember that the codec used by the camera is in the digital video. Even if that video works in Final Cut on one computer, there’s no guarantee a copy of the same version of FCP on different computer will be able to read it. The codec for the camera’s manufacturer has be loaded on the second computer as well.
Of course there are a lot codecs that are already loaded as part of each installation of Final Cut Pro, Express or iMovie, but Apple doesn’t take responsibility for providing codec updates for every camera that is released. They take the position that it’s the camera manufacturer’s responsibility to make their camera codecs available to their users. And of course the user has to be aware of what video editing applications can use the codecs required by their cameras. Adobe, I think is a little more helpful in providing updates to codecs in their software. Avid and the rest, I have no idea.
Just be aware that, if you’re not careful, you can be locked out of the video you’re editing if you move it to another workstation and the codec isn’t there to interpret it.
Every time a new model of a camera comes out, the codec it uses may be revised in ways that make it incompatible with preexisting software. And if you have older software, there will come a time when no one is writing compatible versions for it.
Finding a solution to this kind of problem has become an important need since I’ve become responsible for supporting legacy versions of Final Cut Express and iMovie in an academic environment. Footage used in the classrooms comes from a wide variety of sources and often is unreadable because of this codec issue. I think Apple’s ProRes codec is the solution.
When HD first came out it was heralded for having high quality images at really small sizes. That was due to an aggressive codec that schmushed the video down small when it was recorded to tape. Playback on the camera was fine, but there were all kinds of problems in edit because a codec that creates small, high resolution video in the camera is not a good codec for the editing suite. The solution was to use an intermediate codec, which completely converts from one codec optimized for video capture to another that is optimized for editing. If you used the Apple Intermediate Codec you would be a happy editor.
BTW, the term intermediate refers to the codec used to encode the video in-between the initial camera capture and the final export for consumer devices.
In the past few years Apple has developed a new intermediate codec called ProRes. It comes in a variety of flavors depending on your needs. The important thing is that Apple has done a very good job getting from camera manufacturers and software companies to recognize it as the defacto standard for video editing software.
ProRes is an ideal solution for two reasons.
One: As I said earlier, when you convert a video file into ProRes it completely alters the video, flushing out whatever variety of codec it was originally captured in.
Two: ProRes can be read by a wide range NLE packages such as Final Cut Pro X, Final Cut Pro (Classic), Premiere and Avid. And for my purposes, Final Cut Express and iMovie.
You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. The important thing is that everyone supports it.
I’m going to quickly describe how this works for the following software. Follow the links for more details:
• Avid exports ProRes on the Mac, as well as importing it.
⁃ on Windows it only imports ProRes
• Adobe Media Encoder can export video to ProRes
⁃ but only the first two audio channels
• iMovie can read ProRes, but it’s a clunky workaround
⁃ it involves creating a Project and Events folder in iMovie, moving the media files into the appropriate Events folder on the Desktop and then opening the Project in iMovie
• FCE doesn’t read ProRes, it reads only AIC or DV, but:
⁃ you can convert ProRes to AIC, which is still a win.
⁃ Once you receive the ProRes files, open it in MPEG Streamclip, which can read ProRes and export it to AIC
⁃ MPEG Streamclip can also convert footage to ProRes 422
⁃ FCE is now end-of-Life, because of Final Cut Pro X, so it’s unlikely any other options for reading ProRes will be available.
- If you don’t have an Apple Pro App like Motion or Compressor, etc, you may need to download this software to unpack the codecs, then copy them into the Library/QuickTime folder
If you are using the Adobe Media Encoder it will recognize and use the codecs once you’ve completed the install. (works only on a Mac)
If you’re interested in using ProRes in an Adobe product, here’s a great post about the workflow from The Video Road.