Importing AVCHD Into Final Cut Express

There are a number of ways to import AVCHD video clips into Final Cut Express and each has pros and cons - by David R. Beebe
Importing AVCHD:


I first tried Flamingo to catalog and Voltaic to create an Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) version of selected .mts files. These files are suitable for editing in FCE not for direct playback.

Voltaic output resolution - same as source, AIC 1920x1080i. Voltaic states deep in their online documentation that it is most useful for converting AVCHD into other distribution formats directly. It uses the same method to create AIC as FCE does directly but contrast and color saturation appears better. It also does a better job of naming the files in the proper sequence. FCE shows clips 1, 10, 11, etc. FCE’s Log & Transfer has a better preview option and is probably faster at transcoding. Voltaic only shows 2 frames per second. Note: Set destination folder before starting conversion. Clips are named exactly as they are on camcorder with 4 significant digits. I’ve not seen an option to exclude audio from the conversion which means if you don’t want it, it has to be deleted in FCE’s timeline.

Elgato’s turbo.264 HD

I have also experimented with this software and dedicated hardware combination to accelerate video format conversions. The only real override needed to work with 1080p is to change the Data Rate from the default max of 10Mbps to the software max of 20Mbps (20000 kbps). Elgato also shows forcing the H.264 profile from Automatic to High. Save this as a custom configuration - which can only be done if you have a clip in the queue (you can drag any .mts file from Finder). FCE can use it as long as it was saved before starting FCE.

For input to FCE, Elgato creates .mp4 (H.264) files which take additional time to render on FCE’s timeline. These files also seem to have 4 audio tracks in FCE. I find it faster overall to keep the input as AIC but am getting very good results using turbo.264 HD on the output side.

More advanced dedicated hardware converters like Matrox MXO2 Mini only work with Final Cut Studio.

Final Cut Express

Running very nicely on the new iMac i7 quad core with 4GB memory. FCE maxes out at 2.5GB allocation so the only need to consider an upgrade would be for parallel processing to reduce page swapping between other concurrent applications.

Start with a new Project as Apple Intermediate Codec 1920x1080i60 with audio at 48KHz. I’ve gotten pretty good results downgrading to AIC 720p30 but the camcorder is shooting 1920x1080i60 so might as well keep it the same.

FCE can easily import the .mts files but you need the full SDHC card’s data structure. You can mount the camera directly, use an SDHC card reader with the card, save the full contents to a folder or make a disk image of the card with Toast and mount it. What is required for Log & Transfer in any case is that the full hierarchy of files be present, not just individual .mts files.

With the files available, use FCE's Log & Transfer. You can preview each clip and set in and out points and disable audio before importing. You can deselect audio for selected clips in the Import Settings tab. When you play each clip to set in and out points, you will still hear audio and you can reselect audio for that clip if needed. I’ve found a problem with scrubbing the preview timeline that causes FCE to lock up forever. To avoid this, click on the timeline, don’t drag the cursor in it.