VoltaicHD 2.0: Edit, Convert, Upload AVCHD / AVCHD Lite video

Shedworx‘ essential AVCHD tool VoltaicHD just took a healthy step forward in functionality with the recent release of VoltaicHD 2. Highlights of the new features in the update are the ability to preview AVCHD / AVCHD Lite clips, the ability to edit native AVCHD video and the ability to upload video to YouTube and output to presets like iPhone, iPod etc.

Native AVCHD / AVCHD Lite editing

Version 2 of VoltaicHD increases the scope of the app from simply being a tool to convert AVCHD format video footage to now include basic native editing of AVCHD footage. You can now preview AVCHD / AVCHD Lite video clips within the application and then set simple in and out points to define a section of raw AVCHD / AVCHD Lite video clips which can then be trimmed down and converted.

The interface is reminiscent of the new Quicktime X player that comes with the Mac OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard. It’s very easy to set the position of the start and end as the position in seconds within the movie is shown in a little tooltip when sliding them around. My own criticism with it is the same that I have with the new Quicktime X player in that you can’t use the mouse to fine-tune the position of these points. That’s a little thing that I miss from the old Quicktime Pro player’s editing capabilities.

Overall though the ability to trim down clips before conversion is a massive timesaver, instead of having to convert a whole chunk of AVCHD footage you can just roughly trim down to the section you want and then convert only the bit you want. Definitely a great and helpful improvement!

Upload to YouTube, output to iPhone / iPod and AppleTV.

Along with the new preview / edit capability there is also the ability to convert and upload trimmed clips to YouTube directly from VoltaicHD 2.0. There are also preset output options for iPhone / iPod and AppleTV.

One of the things you’ll notice when you run VoltaicHD 2 compared to the previous version is the new drop-down menu options at the top of the window. From this menu you can select the specific option that you want, then combine that with a little bit of previewing and trimming in the clip details panel and you’re ready to go.

Both of these options make it really easy to get footage off your camera and online or onto your devices, take it with you or watch it on TV. Shedworx make another application called RevolverHD which enables you to create AVCHD DVDs that will work on most blu-ray players, however I find the ease of exporting video that’s ready to go onto my iPhone really convenient. As blu-ray players become more commonplace then I think I’ll use RevolverHD much more as a perfect way to send HD footage to my extended family.

Worth the upgrade cost for existing users?

It’s most definitely an upgrade I’d recommend for any VoltaicHD user, it’s worth noting that this is the first paid upgrade to Voltaic since it was released in July 2007. Don’t forget that VoltaicHD is available for both Mac OSX and Windows operating systems too.

If you’re an existing VoltaicHD user then you can upgrade to version 2 for only $9.99, or if you happen to have bought the previous version since July 2009 then you’re eligible for a free upgrade to VoltaicHD 2.0. First-time customers can buy VoltaicHD 2.0 for $39.99 which is still a great deal for a great bit of software!

Budget AVCHD editing in Windows: VoltaicHD for PC and Windows Movie Maker!

I’ve previously written about How to edit AVCHD footage on Mac OSX, at the time of writing that article there weren’t many options for editing AVCHD footage on either Mac OSX or Windows operating systems. VoltaicHD is a great application that helped Mac OSX users in particular because at that time there was no way of editing AVCHD on Mac at all.

Many Mac users had purchased AVCHD cameras and were frustrated by the complete lack of software available for editing AVCHD on Mac and even Windows users had to wait quite a few months before Sony released a version of their Vegas software that supported AVCHD.

Since then though, there are quite a few options for Mac users: Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Express offered mid to high end products for the Mac platform. Also Apple’s own iMovie software had a complete revamp and amongst many new features was direct support for AVCHD based cameras, a perfect budget solution as the software was included free with any new Mac or as part of Apple’s iLife suite for about £55 / $79.

However for Windows users, despite the availability of software like Sony Vegas, many people wanted a way to edit AVCHD without having to buy editing software that cost as much (or more!) than they spent on their cameras in the first place! There was no easy way to do this on a low budget, you could find articles on the web with instructions on how to use various applications or utilities to convert the AVCHD files into various formats, but nothing simple that would allow non-technical users to edit AVCHD footage. But now there is an easy solution.

VoltaicHD for PC & Windows Movie Maker: A low budget way to edit AVCHD!

The company that produced the VoltaicHD application for Mac OSX, Shedworx, has released a Windows version of VoltaicHD that is compatible with both Windows XP and Vista. You can convert your AVCHD footage into WMV or AVI format video which can then be used with Windows Movie Maker or other video editing application for Windows.

Windows Movie Maker is a video editing package that comes with both XP and Vista, and contrary to popular belief it is actually capable of working with HD video footage, but just not with native AVCHD footage. That’s where VoltaicHD fits in, by converting the footage to WMV format you can edit the footage from your HD video camera using just Windows Movie Maker!

Tips for converting / editing AVCHD with Voltaic and Windows Movie Maker

There are a few minimum system requirements to run VoltaicHD for PC but any reasonably modern PC should be capable of processing the AVCHD files. It’s worth noting of course that HD video is very intensive to work with and requires greater resources than editing conventional standard definition video footage. On a system with the minimum hardware requirements (as detailed below) it will take about 2 minutes to convert a 10 second AVCHD clip. It is obviously recommended to have as powerful a system as you can manage but even a slightly older machine should be capable of producing results – as long as you have a little patience and perspective! On the plus side the converted video files result in uncompressed HD video which can be played back more easily than the original AVCHD files on the minimum hardware spec machine.

Minimum Hardware requirements: At least 1GB of RAM, at least a 2Ghz P4 processor or equivalent processor and as much hard disk space as possible. AVCHD footage uses about 120Mb per minute of video footage, once this footage has been processed it uses about 500Mb per minute of video, so disk space is quickly used up.

Minimum Software requirements: Either Windows XP SP2+ or Vista, Microsoft Movie Maker 2.1+ and Windows Media Player v11+.

VoltaicHD can convert AVCHD footage to either WMV or AVI formats, however WMV is the preferred format as it keeps the aspect ratio correct no matter the resolution of your source AVCHD footage. There is no loss in picture quality when converting the AVCHD footage to either WMV or AVI. However, the audio track is affected during conversion, AVCHD can use Dolby 5.1 surround sound but only Sony cameras use this, Panasonic, Canon and JVC use stereo only. Any Dolby 5.1 sound is dropped back to stereo audio as this is all that Window Movie Maker supports.

Converting files using VoltaicHD for PC

You need set up the various preferences before using VoltaicHD for the first time, you can go back and change these preferences later by going to the Tools->Options menu option, or via the toolbar button.

  • Scratch file location: VoltaicHD creates temporary files during conversion, you can set where these should be created to a location of your choice. If you are converting large files from an external storage location, and want to preserve disk space on the machine running the conversions, you should set this location to be on the external storage device.
  • Output Directory: You can set where the final converted final files will be placed.
  • Extract 5.1ch Audio: The audio track from your movie can be extracted during the conversion process.
  • Output Format: WMV format is the recommended format for your converted clips.

Once you’ve got VoltaicHD installed on your system and Preferences all set up you are ready to go. Although it’s worth keeping in mind some suggestions for converting your AVCHD clips:

  • Make sure to copy all clips from your camera onto your hard drive before converting. It’s not worth risking trying to convert footage straight from your camera as it can be problematic.
  • Keep a VoltaicHD shortcut on your Desktop, this makes it easy to just drag AVCHD clips onto it ready for conversion, or just to open up the application ;)
  • Try closing down any unnecessary programs during the conversion process. Converting AVCHD footage is very processor / memory intensive so freeing up resources on your computer helps a lot.
  • Watch out when converting large AVCHD files if using a FAT32 formatted drive as the converted files may result in files larger than the 2Gb limitation of FAT32 will allow.

Next, add some AVCHD files to the file list and press Start. The converted files are created in the same directory as the source files by default, or to the location you set in your Preferences.

Setting up and editing in Windows Movie Maker

You need to set up Movie Maker to the correct video format for your region, either PAL or NTSC, and also to widescreen (16:9). Go to Tools->Options and click on the Advanced tab. You should then see a section called Video properties where you can set the correct format (NTSC or PAL) and also the Aspect ratio to 16:9. There’s no need to set the video format (NTSC or PAL) in VoltaicHD as this is auto-detected from the AVCHD clip.

You can now edit your HD footage just like you would with any other footage in Windows Movie Maker.

Exporting from Windows Movie Maker

VoltaicHD provides an export profile for Movie Maker 2.1 on Windows XP which ensures that the full HD resolution of your completed movie can be exported.

To Export from Movie Maker, select the File->Save Movie menu option. This starts the Save Movie Wizard. Use the following settings:

  • Movie Location: My Computer
  • Choose a name for your exported movie
  • Movie Setting: select Other, then VoltaicHD 1080 from the drop down.
  • Note: Select VoltaicHD 1080 PAL or NTSC, based on the format you are using.

If you are using Movie Maker in Windows Vista, then VoltaicHD provides an export profile to ensure that the full HD resolution of your completed movie can be exported. If your movies are in 1440×1080 resolution you will also need to manually apply an Effect to your clips to retain the full 16:9 aspect or Widescreen mode. Once your clips are in your storyboard or timeline, right click each of the clips and select “Effect”. On the next window under “Available Effects” scroll down and click on “VoltaicHD Widescreen” then select “Add >>". Then select OK. The preview window should now be showing your clip in widescreen mode.

To Export from Movie Maker, select the File->Publish Movie menu option. This starts the Save Movie Wizard. Use the following settings:

  • Movie Location: My Computer
  • Choose a name for your exported movie
  • Movie Setting: select Other, then VoltaicHD 1080 from the drop down.
  • Note: Select VoltaicHD 1080 PAL or NTSC, based on the format you are using.

Movie Maker will then create your HD movie! All thanks to VoltaicHD for PC!

Playing back your HD footage

If you want to watch your HD footage on something other than your PC then you can watch on XBox, PS3 or any Blu-ray player. You’ll need something like Nero to burn a blu-ray DVD (AVCREC format).

The makers of VoltaicHD for PC make some software called RevolverHD which can create blu-ray compatible DVDs. However, there’s currently only a Mac version available, so if you happen to have access to a Mac then you can use that. If you’d like a PC version of RevolverHD then get in touch with the guys at Shedworx and let them know.

Happy editing :)

Update – VoltaicHD 2 released in October 2009

Shedworx have released version 2 of VoltaicHD adding new features such as preview of AVCHD / AVCHD Lite clips, native editing of AVCHD video and the ability to upload video to YouTube. I’ve written a post with an overview of VoltaicHD 2.

Evidence of the hidden “features” of Vista and Windows Media Centre?

Way back in February 2007 I wrote a blog post called "Windows Vista: Beneath Aero’s transparency hides some future ‘surprises’" where I pondered some of the features of Vista designed to appease Hollywood’s desire to control how people use media on their computers.

More evidence of these features were revealed recently when users of Windows Media Centre in the US who intended to record an episode of Gladiators found that the recording was blocked because of a broadcast flag known as CGMS-A in the TV signal which WMC understood to indicate it should not be recorded. NBC, who aired the show, said it was mistakenly added and that it wouldn’t happen again. Microsoft have claimed they will work to make sure this doesn’t happen again. However, many people are skeptical about this, in an article on Ars Technica Eric Bangeman wrote:

There is technically no reason why Microsoft should support CGMS-A in Windows Vista and Windows XP MCE, and the screwup is evidence the software giant has decided to align itself with the interests of broadcasters and movie studios rather than those of its customers. Yes, this was a mistake by NBC, but the technology is there for such mistakes to be turned into policy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also have a few interesting things to say about why Microsoft have support for broadcast flags that were rejected by the courts:

To be perfectly clear: Microsoft is under no legal obligation to look for and respond in any particular way when it sees the broadcast flag being sent by NBC’s digital stations. Any DTV-receiving software technology or device – like MythTV – is free to take the same stream from HDHomeRun and ignore a broadcast flag transmitted with it. In other words Microsoft did not have to build its PC to look for and refuse to record a program which has its flag turned on.

Had consumers not stood up against the FCC’S mandatory flag rule three years ago, alternatives like MythTV would no longer be available. Back then, the FCC tried to force tech companies (and open source developers) to obey the entertainment industry’s remote TV control. A coalition of librarians, public interest organizations, and consumer groups successfully challenged the FCC’s jurisdiction to impose such a broad regulation in Federal court. After the rightsholders lost in court, they spent millions lobbying Congress to pass a law forcing receivers to obey their command. Your letters and calls stopped that bill.



Windows Vista: Beneath Aero’s transparency hides some future ‘surprises’

It’s well known that Microsoft were way behind schedule with the launch of Windows Vista. The problems with security in Windows XP required Service Pack 2 to be developed which took a huge development effort for Microsoft and slowed development of ‘Longhorn’ (Windows Vista’s development codename). These delays meant that features were dropped by the wayside in order to get it launched. Two features in particular that were apparently dropped were:

  • WinFS – Windows Future Storage
  • NGSCB – Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (formerly Palladium)

WinFS – Windows Future Storage

WinFS is described on Wikipedia as:

…a data storage and management system based on relational databases, developed by Microsoft and first demonstrated in 2003 as an advanced storage subsystem for the Microsoft Windows operating system.
When introduced at the 2003 Professional Developers Conference, WinFS was billed a pillar of the “Longhorn” wave of technologies.

So, an interesting feature dropped for the time being perhaps and one that may be added in a future version of Windows or an interim update.

NGSCB – Next-Generation Secure Computing Base

Wikipedia describes NGSCB as:

…a software architecture designed by Microsoft which is expected to implement parts of the controversial “Trusted Computing” concept on future versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system. NGSCB is part of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative. Microsoft’s stated aim for NGSCB is to increase the security and privacy of computer users…

Interestingly if you read through the Wikipedia entry for Windows Vista it talks about how both of these features were dropped:

Faced with ongoing delays and concerns about feature creep, Microsoft announced on August 27, 2004 that it was making significant changes. “Longhorn” development basically started afresh, building on the Windows Server 2003 codebase, and re-incorporating only the features that would be intended for an actual operating system release. Some previously announced features, such as WinFS and NGSCB, were dropped or postponed, and a new software development methodology called the “Security Development Lifecycle” was incorporated in an effort to address concerns with the security of the Windows codebase.

So, on that page it does talk about NGSCB being dropped from Vista, however, back on the NGSCB page under the heading ‘Availability’ it states:

When originally announced, NGSCB was expected to be part of the then next major version of the Windows Operating System, Windows Vista (then known as Longhorn). However, in May 2004, Microsoft was reported to have shelved the NGSCB project [12]. This was quickly denied by Microsoft who released a press release stating that they were instead “revisiting” their plans.

The interesting point is that Microsoft denied it, and for good reason. An important part of the NGSCB, or ‘Palladium’, initiative is alive and well and active in Windows Vista. Known as Protected Media Path or Protected Video Path it is a technology present in Vista that is intended to provide a protected environment for viewing content on PCs. The technology basically provides encryption throughout the hardware components of the system, this prevents any other software or hardware outputs on the system being used to copy the content being viewed, played or read etc. It determines whether the components in a PC can be trusted to play back the content without risking it being copied, hence the other term used in relation to the NGSCB initiative, Trustworthy or Trusted Computing.

WinFS and XP Service Pack 2 were not the only things delaying Vista’s launch

Vista’s original WinFS feature and the development of Windows XP Service Pack 2 might have contributed to delays in the development of Vista, but the inclusion of the Trusted Computing technology surely contributed to a major aspect of the entire codebase of the operating system. It really has been built from the ground up to provide Trusted Platform, a protected, or Digital Rights Managed environment that neatly fits the demands of Hollywood and future digital content such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD disk formats.

What’s ‘Hollywood’ got to do with it?

Everything. Trusted Computing is all to do with protecting or preventing content from being copied that the originators or copyright owners don’t want you to copy. Hollywood, used here as a generic term to represent the movie, tv and large media industries, are driving the whole initiative.

The music industry was caught completely unaware by the digital revolution, the unprotected CD audio format meant it was very easy for people to copy CD’s onto their computer’s hard drive. Couple this with a complete lack of forward thinking by the music industry or provision of easy ways to buy audio tracks online and the end result is a huge surge in file sharing. The Music industry have tried hard to patch up the leaking dam but it has been largely fruitless, the advent of Apple’s iTunes Store brought a great legal alternative but this still didn’t stop overall music sales declining. However, the music industry is still by and large convinced that piracy is the root cause of this decline.

Hollywood, on the other hand, weren’t quite so unaware. VHS movies and DVD disks have come with copy protection methods form quite sometime. the problem was that they could be easily circumvented and it’s not a difficult task to copy a DVD onto your hard disk with any number of freely available pieces of software. So, despite these attempts to protect copying, they have been unsuccessful. What Hollywood were worried about was the possibility that the new Hi-Definition formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD would be as easily copied. So in order to prevent this copying we are now entering the era of Trusted Computing, and Hollywood have their hopes pinned on it.

How does Trusted Computing affect me?

Blu-ray and HD-DVD disks will only play at full quality if the equipment it is being played on is guaranteed as a trusted platform, if not you are either going to get a lower-quality version of the content on the disk or perhaps find it can’t be played at all. The reason it may not play back at full quality could be caused by any number of factors in your system, your graphics card, your monitor or your soundcard could be considered ‘untrustworthy’ and therefore limit the experience of content that you have paid for the privilege of watching.

The only way of being sure that you can see the content at full quality is by making sure the components are running software drivers that are certified as trusted by Microsoft, as such upgrading components may be necessary to achieve this. Upgrading to Vista may suddenly seem an even more costly move. Additionally, the demands placed on the system in order to do the additional checks on the various sub-system components add to the overhead placed on the system, it’s not really surprising that Vista requires new hardware in order to run well.
Also, requiring people to upgrade older computers to new ones containing hardware that "plays for sure" with Vista is a great way to make sure all of the pieces of the DRM puzzle fall into place for Microsoft and content producers such as the movie industry.

Your PC may be Vista compatible, but is it Trustworthy?

Your current PC or even your brand new PC may be Vista compatible now, but once the use of Blu-ray, HD-DVD and other forms of Hi-Definition digital content replaces DVDs and becomes the norm will it meet the requirements necessary to be viewed as trusted?

You might just find that you’re suddenly locked out of what you’ve legally purchased until you go and buy the necessary upgrades!

Not just your PC either…

It’s worth noting too that it’s not just PC’s that are affected by this notion of Trustworthiness, all of the new wave of HD TV’s and Blu-ray or HD-DVD players support a similiar system of copy protection that is built into the very hardware itself. If you’re TV is not considered trustworthy you may find the content does not play back at full quality.

That shiny new HD-ready TV you just bought probably provides the same hidden surprise ‘features’ that are lurking behind the transparent clouds of Windows Vista.

Further reading