UPDATE: iMovie ’08 now supports AVCHD.

Just in time for the holidays, our old JVC miniDV camcorder broke. We used it just a handful of times in the years since we purchased it, but we’re convinced that now we’re finally ready to start recording all those home movies that friends and relatives love to watch.

As we pondered a replacement, I noticed that Amazon is selling Sony’s new HDR-UX1 HD camcorder for an amazing 44% off: $850, a steep discount off the $1,500 retail price.

Sony's HDR-UX1 Camcorder

Wow. I did some research and found that this camera uses the brand-new AVCHD file format, currently unsupported by nearly every application on every platform. Only a couple of Windows programs — Sony’s viewer and PowerDVD 7 — can even play it back. However, the camera doubles as an SD camcorder — but recording in an MPEG2 format that’s also not compatible with iMovie. And, iMovie and other Mac programs can’t use the camcorder for video input like they can with miniDV. Hmm…

We took the leap and bought it. The quality of the HD video recorded by this device is astounding. I’m not a videophile, but it seems to rival equipment in the $3,000 range. However, using the HD video footage on the Mac is painful. You currently have to down-size it to SD sizes through a multi-step process (down-convert to MPEG2 on the PC using Sony’s tools, convert to DV format using the free MPEG Streamclip on the Mac, import into iMovie manually), but we’ve found that the quality of the final product in iMovie is just as good as any other DV / SD device (some find Sony’s downsizing algorithm too crude for their tastes). Of course, you can skip HD entirely and just record in SD with the device, but you still have to convert the output files using MPEG Streamclip for iMovie to use them (and Final Cut, too).

Since AVCHD is just H.264 in a different format than Quicktime’s H.264 movies, and given its use by both Sony and Panasonic, I’m hoping support for AVCHD by Apple is just around the corner. Regardless, I’m sure as AVCHD devices gain more traction in the marketplace, an easy workflow that converts this stuff to HDV footage for use with iMovie (as opposed to down-converting it to SD res) is around the corner. In fact, some folks report already doing it by a combination of custom C code and command-line video file format converters.

So the pain of the current editing process notwithstanding, we’re very happy with the HDR-UX1 and have given it quite a workout over the holiday season. It’s twin, the SD1, has a built-in hard-drive, but it goes for something like $1,400 on Amazon.

10 thoughts on “Sony HDR-UX1 Camcorder

  1. Hey, your blog was some help for me. We picked up the hdr-ux1 before christmas and ya, i was dumbfounded on how to import those stupid .vob files. So i am now trying the streamclip. Hopefully something is released to supposrt avchd but for now ill record in sd.
    Take care.

  2. We bought the HDR-UX1 with miniDVDs to take on a trip to Antarctica. The videos are great on our Sony HDTV. I have installed the Picture Motion Browser and AVCHD software, but really didn’t have enough room on my computer’s C drive to archive the videos, so I added a second 2GB hard drive. The videos sent to the second drive will not open or play.
    Does anyone know how to get around this problem? Sony support just blew me off.

  3. Does anyone know of a way to log and capture video off the HDR-UX1 directly to a Mac? I don’t own a PC and was just wondering if it can even be done. Thanks.

  4. Ben
    You are (potentially) a lifesaver. I just bought the HDR-UX1 only to discover it doesn’t work with iMovie or Final Cut. I googled ‘AVCHD and iMovie’ and your page came up.
    Per your suggestion I downloaded MPEG Streamclip but I’m even less of a technophile than you and I haven’t a clue how to use this.
    I don’t suppose you could send me a step by step idiot’s guide to everything from connecting the damn camera to my Mac through to actually being able to work with the output in iMovie….?

  5. Ben, you may need a 2-step approach, using MacTheRipper

    to create an intermediate file, then MPEG StreamClip. You will need the QT MPEG2 plugin as well

    as explained in StreamClip’s help file, or on their website.

  6. Reaction op 4: The Sony software works with a database. If you use another disk, you have to update the database first with the new disk and.or directory. The software doesn’t work well on the Mac. Not even with “parallels”. The videoplay is not working.

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