Videobloggers Beware: iMovie’s MPEG-4 editing is terrible…

iMovie's mpeg4 bullshit!
I’m writing this since there’s little said about it on the web…

As you know I’ve always enjoyed producing video reviews and short documentaries to compliment articles here, so it was only natural that I set my eyes on a digital video camera small enough to carry everywhere, yet flexible enough to whip out for quick clips to long presentation recordings. After using various flash-based digital video cameras such as the Sanyo Xacti C5, Sony M1 and even some horrible knock-off brands from Asia (fortunately I could return it!), I finally decided to go with the Sony M2 (see photo set / full camera review soon).

I’ve been playing with these cameras a lot and learnt a great deal on how this new technology still needs time before it can become ubiquitous (i.e. for citizen journalist). Apart from the portability advantage, there are some video editing pitfalls that make the process not much less easier than working with DV format videos from our regular mini-DV cameras.

Most of these hybrid cameras use MPEG4 as a video recording format. While this gives great quality, it also takes up less storage space than traditional codecs such as DV and MPEG1. Try bringing this mpeg4 recording into iMovie… you’ll see that iMovie HD now allows you to import MPEG4 video aside from the usual DV format. This was a feature that sold me on investing in these new cameras. Sounds good right?

MPEG4 import taking forever in iMovie

Wrong. Look at the screenshot above and you’ll see that importing and editing videos in MPEG4 mode in iMovie takes an incredibly long time. The time shown is always a pessimistic estimate, but it still took a day to process on my 1.5Ghz 12″ Powerbook with 1.25GB RAM. iMovie seems to re-encode the video for some reason instead of working with it natively. I was so disappointed with this that I went to find out if I was doing something wrong. My post on the Apple iMovie discussion forum entitled “Fixing slow MPEG4 import/export in iMovie HD” yielded one reply which suggested working in DV format instead.

How I got around this…
I found that advice so true. Now iMovie is much faster when importing, editing and rendering previews. As a bonus, video quality is better retained since no lossy mpeg4 re-encoding is involved. Instead of having iMovie edit your video in MPEG4, start a new project in DV format. Now drag your mpeg4 clips into the Clips Bin in iMovie and let it encode them in DV streams. When you work in DV, iMovie seems much happier and gives you better results, faster. Working with the new Themes feature in iMovie HD (iLife ’06 edition) was tremendously faster too. When you’re done editing, you can always export your videos into any format, including MPEG4 again if you have to. As a result, I’m a happy camper hoping to bring you more interesting content in a more timely fashion.

Frankly speaking, I don’t know why Apple bothered to add MPEG4 as an editing option in iMovie since it performs so badly. Since there’s little said about mpeg4 cameras on the web, do share experiences you might have. I’d love to hear from videobloggers who use Macs and Windows video editing platforms.

13 thoughts on “Videobloggers Beware: iMovie’s MPEG-4 editing is terrible…

  1. Video encoding, to me, is a always a real pain in the ass. I had encoded MPEG4 video myself as part of my media player’s demonstration, and it takes FOREVER – sometimes even up to 6 hours for a good quality video (ala’ near-DVD).

    Thing to keep in mind is the faster you want your movie encoded, the poorer the quality would be. Added RAM and processing speed wouldn’t make much of a difference, unless you run a dual-processor setup with lots of RAM (probably 4GB++??).

  2. And I was thinking of selling my DV camera and still camera. I figured if I get a Xacti, it would be one less thing while travelling.

  3. Make no mistake guys, owning a hybrid camera rocks. It’s so portable, I carry on my belt everywhere I go with the peace of mind knowing that I’ll always be able to capture 5 mega-pixel stills and high quality video at the same time. I’ve owned so many cameras, and nothing beats being able to whip one like this in a flash! 🙂

  4. Thanks for posting on this, I was amazed at how fast iMovie imported a 2 hour MPEG 4 clip that I had generated using Handbrake, but was dismayed to see that when I tried to do a simple thing like scroll through the clip so I could put some chapter markers in it, the spinning beachball got busy with it. Very frustrating. Hopefully the DV idea works.

  5. If you want super fast editing for your mp4 files do it all cut and paste style in quicktime pro. Then, if you want to add a soundtrack, title screens, transitions, etc. dragthe mpeg4 into an iMovie dv project.

  6. Dammit! I wish I’d found this page two hours ago BEFORE I started trying to edit a 15 minute mp4 video.

  7. I converted a few DVDs to MPPEG 4s using MPEG Streamclip. imovie HD won’t let me import them at all for editing. It says – unknown error.
    Very frustrating. I don’t want to go through the DVDs again and put them in a different format. Any ideas?
    I am going to try one of them and convert it into DV and see.

  8. Great post Kevin, I just got this link from you on Yahoo videoblogger list. Now I know I wasn't kooky editing mpeg files. Better late than never.

    1. Iconjohn, glad you found some peace. I'm not sure how the mpeg4 video editing mode in the latest iMovie performs. Apple could have improved it, but I'm still sticking to DV conversions just to be safe. 🙂

Comments are closed.