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Chapter 4. Importing Video > Importing from a Tape Camcorder

4.3. Importing from a Tape Camcorder

If you have a MiniDV tape camcorder, high-def or not, transferring your recordings to the Mac for editing is straightforward. All you have to do is connect your two machines—the camcorder and the Mac—with a cable.

It's called a FireWire cable, and it looks like the one in Figure 4-3. The big end of the cable goes into the FireWire jack on the front, side, or back of your Mac; it's marked by a radioactive-looking

symbol.

Figure 4-3. Plug the larger end of the FireWire cable—the six-pin end, as Apple calls it—into the corresponding jack on the Mac. The tiny end may look almost square, but it fits in only one particular way, thanks to a little indentation on one side. Be gentle with it.


On the other end is a much smaller, squarish plug (the four-pin connector). Plug this tiny end into the FireWire connector on your camcorder, which, depending on the brand, may be labeled "FireWire," "i.Link," or "IEEE 1394. "It's almost always hidden behind a plastic or rubber door or flap on the camcorder.

This single FireWire cable communicates both sound and video from the camcorder to the Mac. Once it's connected, proceed like this:

  1. Turn on the camcorder. Switch it into Play mode (Figure 4-4).

    The camcorder's playback mode may be labeled Play, VCR, VTR, or just

    .

    At this point, iMovie's big blue Import window is supposed to open automatically. If it doesn't, run through the troubleshooting checks described on Section B.3.2.


    Tip:

    You'll probably want to open the camcorder's LCD screen, which also turns on its speaker. Otherwise, you'll have no way to hear the audio as you play back the tape.


  2. Specify what you want to import.

    If you want to import the whole tape, make sure the Automatic/Manual switch (lower left) is on Automatic, and then click Import. This is a convenient option, since you can walk away and do other things while iMovie works. The "Save to" dialog box appears (Figure 4-5); skip to step 3.

    Figure 4-4. Your camcorder's Play Mode should be a fairly prominent knob or menu setting. If you can't find it, check the manual.

    Figure 4-5. This dialog box wants to know: Where do you want to save the incoming clips (which hard drive)? What Event do they belong to? And how big do you really need hard drive footage to be?

    If you want to import only some of what's on the tape, set the Automatic/Manual switch to Manual. At this point, the window sprouts a set of playback control buttons (Figure 4-6). You can actually use the

    ,

    ,

    and

    buttons on the screen to control the camcorder.


    Tip:

    You have to keep the mouse button down on the

    and

    buttons continuously to make them work. If you use these buttons while the video is playing, you scan through the video; if you click Stop (

    ) first, these buttons zoom much faster through the tape, but of course you can't see where you are until you hit

    again.


    Figure 4-6. There are no keyboard short-cuts for these buttons. Use your mouse to operate the camcorder by remote control, or just use the playback controls on the camcorder itself.

    What you're doing now, of course, is scanning your tape to find the sections that you want to include in your edited movie. When you find a shot that's worth bringing onto the Mac, click the Import button at the lower-right corner of the window. The "Save to" dialog box appears (Figure 4-5); read on.

  3. Indicate where you want to save the imported video clips.

    Most people, most of the time, save incoming video onto the main Mac hard drive. But true iMovie addicts wind up buying additional hard drives to hold their movies. That's why the "Save to" pop-up menu appears here—so that you can choose a different hard drive to hold your video.

  4. Specify an Event.

    The pair of choices shown in Figure 4-5 let you answer these questions: Were the scenes you're about to import filmed at a new Event? Or should they more properly be filed along with scenes you've already imported as part of an existing Event?

    Answering this question, of course, requires that you know what Apple means by an Event. See the box on Section 4.3.


    Note:

    What you see in the "Add to existing Event" pop-up menu depends on which hard drive you've selected. That's because iMovie only "knows about" the Events on the currently selected hard drive.


  5. If you have a high-definition camcorder, choose either "Large–960x540" or "Full–1920x1080."

    This final option (Figure 4-7) appears only when you're importing video from a high-definition camcorder, one that captures video in the so-called 1080i format. (That term refers to the fact that it reproduces a scene using 1,080 fine horizontal lines, which is very sharp indeed. Actually, the "i" means that you see two sets of 540 lines, odds and evens, interlaced with each other, flashed alternately on the screen.)

    iMovie is offering you the chance to import a quarter-scale version of that gigantic video canvas, for the purposes of saving hard drive space. For assistance in making the Large vs. Full decision, see the box on the facing page.

    Figure 4-7. When you're importing high-def video, iMovie offers you an opportunity to suck in a quarter-scale version of the original. You'll save an immense amount of hard drive space, but you probably won't see much difference in the picture quality.

  6. Click OK.

    If you chose the Automatic option, iMovie now rewinds the tape to the beginning, then commands the camcorder to begin playback. As it plays, iMovie captures the video and stores it on your Mac. You can interrupt the process by clicking Stop, if necessary; at this point, iMovie displays a little congratulations message, revealing how many minutes' worth of video you imported. You can click OK and then import some more, if you like, starting from step 2.

    Or you can walk away while iMovie works. You can even surf the Web, crunch some numbers, organize your pictures in iPhoto, or whatever you like. Since iMovie is a Mac OS X program, your Mac doesn't have to devote every atom of its energy to capturing video. It continues to give priority to capturing video, so your other programs may act a little drugged. But you can get meaningful work or reading done while you're dumping your footage into iMovie in the background.

    If you let the Automatic importing proceed without interruption, iMovie auto-rewinds the tape when it reaches the end.

    If you chose the Manual setting, you can use playback controls to operate the tape, shuttling through it to find the parts you want; use the Import button (and its alter ego, the Stop button) to capture only the good parts.

    UP TO SPEED
    Large vs. Full

    High-def is great and all. Truly it is. It's mind-blowingly sharp, clear, and colorful. One frame of a true high-def 1080i picture is made up of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. (Compare that with the pathetic dimensions of standard TV: 640 by 480 pixels.)

    But high-def video also takes up a ridiculous amount of hard drive space: 40 gigabytes per hour. (Standard-resolution DV video takes up less than a third that much space.)

    If your 160-gig hard drive is already half full with programs, photos, music, and other software, then you've got room for only 120 minutes of high-def video. And depending on how trigger-happy you are as a videographer (and how cute your kids are), that's not very much at all.

    Apple is pointing out here, though, that 1080i video is actually overkill for most of the things people do with their home movies. It's much too big for a standard DVD, for example, whose picture is only 640 by 480 pixels. It's way too big to watch from a Web page. That size image may even be too big to fit on your monitor (an Apple 20-inch screen has a maximum resolution of 1,680 by 1,050 pixels—too small for a full 1080i movie).

    So Apple is offering you the opportunity here to import your video at a scaled-down size: 960 by 540 pixels. If you do the math, you'll realize that that's actually only one-quarter the area of the original high-def picture (half in each dimension), which makes Apple's name for this—"Large"—a little suspicious.

    Still, importing your high-def video at the Large (quarter-size) setting means that each hour of video takes up only 13 gigabytes per hour instead of 40. You'll also get smoother playback on slower Macs. And for most end-result showcases—like the Web, a DVD, or computer-screen playback—the resolution is still sensational. It's unlikely that you'd see any difference between the Large and the Full settings.

    There are times when the Full setting is appropriate, however. You'd want that setting when you plan to export your edited version to Final Cut Pro (Apple's professional video editing program); when you intend to broadcast it on TV or use it in an actual, professional movie; or when you hope to burn it to a high-definition DVD someday (when such burners become available on the Mac).

    Furthermore, as you weigh this decision, just remember one thing: You're making this choice forever. Hard drives will get bigger and cheaper. High-def DVDs will eventually become commonplace. Computer horsepower will someday double or quadruple. If you're working with precious, important video that you expect to be watched for decades to come, it might be worth keeping the full resolution just in case.

    Note: Check your camcorder's manual. Not all camcorders advertised as "1080i high-def" do, in fact, record at the full 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. And if yours doesn't, there's very little downside to using the "Large" option here. up to speed



    Tip:

    When you come to a scene you want to bring into iMovie, capture 3 to 5 seconds of footage before and after the interesting part. Later, when you're editing, that extra leading and trailing video (called trim handles by the pros) will give you the flexibility to choose exactly the right moment for the scene to begin and end. Furthermore, you need extra footage at the beginnings and ends of your clips if you want to use crossfades or similar transitions between them.


    Unfortunately, the process isn't the speedy joyride it was in the previous version of iMovie, where you could just tap the Space bar (or click Import) every time you wanted to start or stop importing during playback.

    In iMovie '08, each time you click Stop, iMovie locks you out for a minute or two while it displays the "Generating Thumbnails" message. That's iMovie's way of saying, "I'm processing this video and making some live, ‘skimmable' filmstrips" (which are described on Section 6.1.2).

    Once that message disappears, you can use the playback controls to find the next bit of video that's worth importing—but you'll have to fill out the box shown in Figure 4-5 all over again, every time.

    These frequent "Generating Thumbnails" and "Save to" interruptions are, for many people, a pretty strong argument for avoiding the Manual settings. The Automatic setting winds up saving you a lot of time—and doesn't cost you any extra disk space. (See the box on the facing page.)

  7. When you and iMovie are both finished, click Done.

    UP TO SPEED
    The Definition of an Event

    In iMovie terms, an Event is an organizational tool, like a label or a filing folder.

    Sometimes, what constitutes an Event is obvious. A wedding, a graduation, a birthday party, and a ski trip would all be considered individual Events. You'd want all of the video scenes for somebody's wedding filed under a single heading, even if they were filmed over the course of a whole wedding weekend.

    Sometimes, though, "Event" is a little nebulous. What if you film little scenes of your new baby every other day for a couple of months? Would they all be one Event called "August"? Or would you have a lot of little Events like "Overturned spaghetti bowl" and "First steps"?

    Or what if you take a 10-day cruise, featuring a stop every other day in a different port of call? Would the Event be "Mediterranean Cruise"? Or would you create individual Events for "Naples," "Monaco," and "Tunisia"?

    The answer is, of course, "That's up to you." And that's why the options in Figure 4-5 appear at this point. If you want to create a new Event, type a name for it into the "Create new Event" box. But if you're importing more footage into an Event category you've already created, click "Add to existing Event," and then choose which Event from the pop-up menu.

    Note: If you opt to create a new Event, you're also offered a checkbox called "Split days into new Events." If this option is turned on, then each day's worth of shooting becomes an Event all its own, even if it was all shot on the same vacation or wedding weekend. iMovie automatically adds day numbers to the Event names, like "Wedding–Day 1" and "Wedding–Day 2."


    The Import window goes away. You return to the iMovie screen, where you can click the name of the Event you specified in step 4 to see the newly imported clips within it. Proceed to Chapter 5.

4.3.1. Automatic Scene Detection

You'll notice a handy iMovie feature when the importing is all over: It automatically creates an individual filmstrip (clip) for each scene you shot. An hour's worth of tape doesn't wind up as a single, mega-chunk of video—instead, you wind up with 30 or 40 individual clips, just the way you shot them.

What iMovie is actually doing is studying the date and time stamp that digital camcorders record into every frame of video. When iMovie detects a break in time, it assumes that you stopped recording, if only for a moment, and therefore that the next piece of footage should be considered a new shot. It turns each new shot into a new clip.

In general, this feature doesn't work if you haven't set your camcorder's clock. Automatic scene detection also doesn't work if you're playing from a nondigital tape using one of the techniques described on Section 4.8.

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