Home Movie Gotchas

Now that I’ve got a software Media Composer running at home, I’ve been trying to use it to edit some home videos. And therein lies a tale. The material in question was shot with a Panasonic PV-GS120, a nice little consumer three-chip DV camera, and I used the camera as a deck, as well. I’ll try to summarize what happened below. Relevant error messages and screen shots are included.

First problem: disk space.
There’s a serious bug (in the capture tool?) that can cause the MC’s temporary “creating” files to balloon and fill up your disk. One minute I had 20+ gigs available on the drive, the next minute it was completely full. I don’t know exactly what caused this to happen but it occurred several times.

Creating

This is a big problem in itself, but it’s compounded by the fact that the MC can’t cope with a full disk. When your disk fills up you’ll soon be looking at a perpetual spinning beach ball — but you won’t be able force quit. The first force quit doesn’t even make the Media Composer disappear. Repeated attempts eventually dismiss the interface, but something hangs around, because when you go to the Finder and try to delete the “creating” files you discover that they’re in use. The result? You can’t even shut down the computer. The only way out is to hold down the power button to force a restart. I had to do that four times this weekend, and believe me, it got old. This is with a 1.5 Ghz G4 Mac laptop. I can’t remember the last time anything crashed on it.

Force Quit

Second problem: sync.
I discovered that if I digitize without selecting the timecode light, when I play back a long clip, sync will drift. Hitting stop and start again during playback fixes the problem. If I digitize with timecode, things seem to be okay.

But even when I captured with DV timecode, media still came in slightly out of sync. In frustration, I finally grabbed a slate and shot some tests, examining the digitized media frame by frame against an audio waveform. Avid lets you introduce an audio delay during digitizing. If I set it to one frame, audio comes in slightly ahead of where it should be. If I set it to two frames, it comes in late.

Third problem: logging.
This being consumer DV, I naturally tried digitizing without logging the tape. When you hit the red capture button the MC does the right thing — it starts playing the tape and digitizing at the same time. But when video runs out, it acts like there’s been an error, tells you that your media may be no good, and asks if you want to keep it. Of course I do! Every tape runs out — this isn’t an error!

Capture Aborted 2

So I tried logging the tape and batch capturing, instead. But here the MC gets hung up on whether the tape has drop or non-drop code. If I just do a crash digitize it tells me the code is non-drop. But if I log a tape that way and try to digitize, it tells me the tape has drop-frame code.

Drop Vs Nondrop

The solution is to log the tape and then modify the clip to drop frame. But even then the MC has a terrible time finding the start point of a clip. I have to cue the tape by hand and get very close or it won’t cue up.

More Problems
When the MC sees the camera/deck it controls it just fine. The trouble is that it often doesn’t see it. Sometimes you can solve the problem by selecting “auto-configure” from the deck pop-up in the capture tool. But often you have to restart the MC. Not fun. Another glitch: the MC defaults to a maximum clip length of 30 minutes. Until I figured that out and reset it in capture preferences, I couldn’t digitize whole tapes.

There were other problems, too. Here are a couple of other error messages that I saw. I can’t remember the exact circumstances anymore.

Digdverror

Transfersamples

Bottom Line
The procedure I finally settled on was: turn the deck on and wait a bit before starting the MC (to make sure it sees the deck), set the maximum clip length to 90 minutes and the audio delay to one frame, and do a crash digitize with timecode. I ignored the error message that appeared at the end of the reel, and scrupulously checked the size of the “creating” file after every tape was captured. That worked fairly reliably. But it sure took a long time to come up with that formula.

For what it’s worth, lil ol’ iMovie does a whole lot better. It loads complete tapes every time without ever complaining and without any configuration hassles. But, of course, you get non-standard media and your editing controls are very crude.

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6 Comments on “Home Movie Gotchas”

  1. editblog Says:

    Those big creating files are nuts. I wonder if that would still happen if you switched the format back over to omf?

  2. Harry Miller Says:

    I used MXF media on one project and cannot for the life of me understand why it is any better / different than OMF. Any thoughts?

  3. Edit Says:

    I think somebody said that MXF provides more “overhead” for extra metadata tied to the clips when used in an Interplay environment.

  4. Kenton VanNatten Says:

    Why are you using a $2500 editing software to edit home movies?

  5. L.R. Pebler Says:

    A no-fuss-yet-powerful editing application, with Apple ease-of-use and a more standard NLE interface? Gee, if only such a miracle product existed ;)

  6. Steve Says:

    For whatever it’s worth, I was using MXF files only because they’re now the default.


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