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Testing out .Mac, iMovie ’08, and the Panasonic AVCHD

I used PCs on a daily basis for about ten years, but over the last three or four years I’ve become a full-fledged Apple fanboy convert. I buy a new mac about once a year or so and have tried out pretty much every product they’ve released over the last few years. So when Steve Jobs debuted iLife ’08 and mentioned iMovie worked with the new AVCHD format available in $700 Panasonic cameras, I bought one to give it a go.

Today I put all this new software and hardware to the test. I carried the video camera around and shot a few things during a visit to the Oregon Garden. I came home, imported all the clips into iMovie, arranged a few and threw a song on top of it. Finally, I uploaded it to my “Web Gallery”.

Here is the resulting 3 minute movie

Quick review of each aspect

Panasonic HDC-SD1 Camera

This is a great camcorder. I’ve had and used a couple mini-DV camcorders over the last few years and this was easier to use and packed with more features than I was used to. My favorite thing is that it writes all video to a special 4Gb SD card (most card readers can’t understand it, so I just use the included USB cables with the camera). What is great about ditching tapes and simply using a memory card is the unit is much lighter than a camcorder that uses tapes, and if you’re reviewing ten previous recorded clips, say clip 1, and you hit the record button, it’ll start recording clip 11 in the right place (no more fast forwarding or taping over previous video).

It charges fairly fast and video looks fantastic on my 46″ 1080p LCD. I can’t believe a little $750 camcorder can do such nice high def stuff. About the only downside I’ve found in use is the microphone which is about what you’d expect (only works well if someone’s standing directly in front of it speaking) and if I really wanted to film a nice movie I’d need some external microphones.

So far in two weeks of using this, I’m finding that since I don’t have to fumble for tapes or worry if I’m taping over something, and since it’s small and light, I use this much more than my previous camcorders.

iMovie ’08

iMovie is completely different in the new iLife suite. David Pogue has written a scathing review because they changed everything compared to the old version and actually removed some functionality, but I followed the use-case presented by Jobs in the last Apple demo: I recorded some clips about a trip and assembled them really quickly in the editor. Compared with iMovie ’06, I’d say the new version is much easier and faster to make short videos. I used the previous version on a handful of occasions and found myself using the help files more than the iMovie tools themselves. With iMovie ’08, the things Steve Jobs did in his demo pretty much covers the entire application. I edited my movie in about 20 minutes total, which is at least twice as fast as me doing the same thing in the old version. The “skimming” feature where you mouse over clips is incredible and really handy for testing out sections of clips you want to cut.

.Mac and the Web Gallery

I’ve never been much of a fan or user of the .Mac service. I only had to pay for it once when coworkers used to share some tools and I let my membership lapse until today. So far it seems like a nice backup space to keep 10Gb of files but mostly I wanted it for the tight integration with iMovie. I have to say it’s really, really easy to upload something to your .Mac webspace by simply clicking a menu item and telling iMovie to do its magic. Time will tell if it’s worth keeping for more than a year but so far I really like the photo galleries and movie player pages.


  1. I wish they would have taken the .Mac Web Gallery just a *tiny* step further and tied the whole thing together with RSS. I’d love to subscribe to videos my friends and family put together, and just have them download to iTunes and sync with my iPhone.
    Maybe in iLife ’09, fingers crossed.

  2. That video needed a warning for sappy people because it might have made them tear up what with the sentimental song and all. NOT THAT I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE, I’M JUST GUESSING HERE, SERIOUSLY.

  3. Yes, iMovie8 is great. I also bought the HCD-SD1 and love it, but I do not have an Intel Mac computer or a PC. I have a G5 dual 2ghz desktop with 5 gb of ram, which is not compatible with the AVCHD format of the HCD-SD1in iMovie8 or anything else I can afford. So reader’s be aware of the lack of the software to edit the AVCHD format.

  4. When you edited the AVCHD file, did you find it was pretty smooth – that is, did it render quickly or did it stutter at all

  5. im thinking of getting this cam and you oregon video sure looks great and has influenced my decision.
    Ive just read that theirs some issues with avchd and imovie…is this not the case with the new imac?…
    Also have you tried the camera with imovie 06?

  6. The camera format won’t work with iMovie ’06 as far as I know, since it’s so new (it’ll only work with iMovie ’08).

  7. Thanks for writing such a clear, concise, simple review, and making it so easy to find. (Mentioning the keynote was important.) I bought iLife ’08 recently, and I’ve been loving iMovie, even with the videos off my digital still purse camera (Casio EXILIM EX-S600). But the videos from that require conversion to work with iMovie (they’re a weird hybrid MPG/AVI format), which is a pain, and the video bug has bitten me hardcore. Steve-o says this camera wins? I investigate. It’s good to hear it’s working for someone.

  8. A new Mac EVERY year? Oh ya, I forgot. Hard to upgrade…What happened to “they just work”?

  9. I bought iLife ’08 last weekend and I can’t understand the anger about the transition from imovie hd to ’08. I’m a recent switcher to Mac (and have been such a PC bigot for the last 20 yrs, obviously Apple is doing something right) and the new imovie passes the “just effing work” test with flying colors. Skim, cut, paste, add music, print, done.

  10. I too bought a new AVCHD camera, the Sony HDR-CX6EK. It’s a great camcorder, it takes 6.1M stills and shoots full HD with a 4GB card. I use iMovie 08 aswel, but it pisses me off that iMovie only exports 940×540 max rez. And when sharing with Quicktime Pro, it doesnt offer the capability to make a DivX file. I NEED DivX HD files. There’s no Mac player for the .MTS files my sony makes. There’s an app called Votaic that converts .MTS files to .MOV (apple intermediate codec), but that’s pretty much what iMovie 08 does… When importing footage from an AVCHD to iMovie 08, it creates .MOV clips in the movies / events folder… I can edit that with iMovie HD… but it’s time consuming…

  11. I have the same package and love it for all the good reasons. I had foolishly hoped the on camera mic would be some kind of magic mic, but alas, it is not.
    For speed and ease of use, this package is spot on. You can truly record great HD video and edit within minutes. The video rant I recorded is just poking some fun – love the whole setup.

  12. Matt, I recently bought a nice little sub-100 dollar HD cam. yea- under 100 bucks. It is the Aiptek A-HD. It is spotty in the microphone quality, but wieghs nothing and for 100 bucks, its in my pocket all day. Here’s a clip to see from this camer I took.

  13. I have a pro camcorder that shoots in 1080P resolution.If I purchase the iLife 08 will the iMovies HD in it be able to handle 1080P?
    The currentversion on my Macbook Pro only does 1080i
    Can someone please help!

  14. 1-2 year upgrade cycle is perfect for a mac!
    This is due to the slow depreciation of Mac hardware relative to PC’s. My last upgrade was from a dual 2.0G5 to a quad 2.66 mac pro, I sold my 1 year old G5 for $1600 which I had purchased used and amazingly only lost $200, and then sold my PC gaming machine for a measly $400 and walla, brand new mac pro
    and it only cost me $200 out of pocket.
    My current quad 2.66 mac pro is another crazy non-depreciating piece of hardware. I bought it new the day they were released and a year later I had upgraded it to 4GB of non-Apple memory and 1TB (much cheaper than Apple prices) and before the 8-core refresh I could have sold my Mac Pro on eBay for MORE than I paid for it due to the memory upgrade. If I had timed it right I could have sold my 4-core 2.66 mac pro with 4GB for $2700 and turned around and purchased the new 8-core 2.8ghz mac pro for $2700. The only thing I would have sacrificed was the memory and storage which I could have upgraded a few weeks later (3rd party): 4GB RAM $200 + 500GB HD $110. So, for under $400 I could have doubled my CPU power!
    If you’re smart about when you buy/sell your Mac’s you can upgrade every 1-2 years for very little money. Try that on an HP or Dell machine and you’ll loose every time. This myth about Mac’s costing more is BS when you factor in all the perks such as bundled software and slow depreciation.

  15. I just purchased a Panasonic AG-HSC1UP and I have iMovie ’08. Can you tell me how you “imported” your movie files into iMovie? Did you simply connect the camera? MIne won’t show up on the desktop.

  16. Well, with my Panasonic, I just used a card reader to mount it on the desktop and have iMovie ’08 read it. You might also have some luck with a firewire or USB connection to your camera.

  17. A very nice, clear post. You covered everything I was wondering about regarding iMovie 08 and AVCHD. Thanks!

  18. Hi. Could I ask how long it takes to import your AVCHD footage into iMovie 08? Is it real time (like in the tape days) off the camera?

  19. Hi, just saw your video of the Oregon Garden, it’s amazing. Just wondering, my video on my web gallery doesnt look as clear and detailed as yours. I have a canon HF10, I imported at the highest resolution. Im I doing something wrong when I upload to .mac? Maybe I’m using the wrong export settings, it’s just my video looks low res compared to yours. Thanks for any help you might give.

  20. Hi, great movie! I am totally confused about all these formats. What is the best hard drive recorder that will be compatible with my MAC? There’s gotta be one out there. I don’t want to mess with tapes anymore, I keep losing them. I need something that will be easy to put on the mac, edit and made into a dvd. Please help!

  21. I have the canon HF10 High Def camcorder + Mac 2.4 intel 4 GB ram. I like IMovie’s functionality overall BUT I think it absolutely sucks when they say it’s AVCHD compatible. I don’t consider the simple ability to convert 16 GB of .mts files on my camcorder into well over 160 GB of .mov files any kind of solution. I am using Roxio Toast instead. Takes half the time (to do simple HD DVD burn) and doesn’t chew up my 320 GB hard drive. It’s not as nice as Imovie or feature rich(although need more time with it, maybe is), but hello Steve Jobs, what I just described may be “compatibility” but is not usability. First disappointment with my Mac.

  22. Tim,
    I too am disappointed by the explosion of file size when importing into iMovie. I have the Sony HDR-11 camera and I thought that my drive on my laptop would be enough to offload my video during a extended vacation and now with this 10x file size explosion I am having to order an external drive. Do you know if I can just copy the files from the camcorder to save them for editing later. That way I can be back at home where I have a NAS device that should allow me to store all the video files in .mov format. I agree with you its a bit of a disappointment.

  23. Hey Tim! I am about to buy a HF10 this week and I just edited my first iMovie this weekend (from mini DV) so I am not that familiar with it. I have many editor friends who suggested I don’t buy final cut pro and stick with the simple iMovie because of its simplicity but your post has me concerned. Is the AVCHD not worth it if I am going to stick with iMovie. Is the importing and actual editing affected at all? I am not too worried about hard drive space, I also have a 2.8 8 core with 6 GB of ram…do you think I’ll be ok? Thanks for your help!
    PS- Matt great video

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