How To Fix Choppy Playback From AVCHD Video Cameras

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Just about every consumer level HD video camera these days shoots in the AVCHD format.  AVCHD is a highly compressed format that produces video files with a .mts file extension.

Anyone who has tried to edit these files in video editing software has quickly found out that they almost never playback smoothly within the software.  Instead, the playback is very choppy and the audio doesn’t match the video.

As a result, people think something is “wrong” with the video or the camera.  Actually, both are fine.  It’s just that your computer doesn’t have the horsepower to playback your AVCHD video file in real-time.  AVCHD video requires heavy decoding (i.e. a lot of computer resources), more than most computers can handle while simultaneously providing real-time playback.  So you get choppy images and mismatched sound.  Again, the actual video is fine…your computer is just struggling to decode and play it back simultaneously…which can be very annoying while editing.

One solution is to throw more hardware at the problem…a faster, multi-core processor, more memory and a high-end video card.

But a simpler solution is to take the AVCHD footage and convert it to another HD format that is much easier for your computer to handle.  And that format is high-quality MPEG, or .m2t files.

You have a few options in doing this.  One is to place your AVCHD footage in the timeline of your video editing software and render that footage out as a .m2t file.  Then you get rid of your AVCHD file, bring the .m2t file into your video editing software, add it to your timeline and start editing.  In many instances you’ll have the same/similar quality video, but without the playback hassles.

This is very easy to do in Sony Vegas…just add the AVCHD footage to the Vegas timeline and render out using one of the .m2t presets that Vegas provides:

blog_vegasm2t

Another option is to use a product called AVCHD Upshift from NewBlueFX.  This is standalone software (Windows only) where you just give it your AVCHD video files, select a preset and it will batch convert everything to .m2t files for you:

blog_newblueavchd

In my tests, AVCHD Upshift converted video files to .m2t anywhere from 2 to 3 times faster than Vegas did.  However, there was a slight change in the coloring of the videos converted by AVCHD Upshift (nothing major, but the difference is noticeable to a good eye).

With that said, if I was forced to choose between AVCHD Upshift and my video editing software (Sony Vegas) to convert AVCHD video to .m2t, I’d choose AVCHD Upshift.  It’s much faster and I can easily take care of any color correction needed while I’m editing the .m2t footage.

A special note to Final Cut (Mac) users. You typically won’t have these AVCHD playback issues because when importing AVCHD footage from your camera, Final Cut will automatically transcode the video (convert it) to the ProRes 422 format…which is a high-quality Apple format that doesn’t have timeline playback issues either.  Your AVCHD videos will take longer to import into Final Cut because of this though.

13 comments

  • The big issue I have with HD 1920 when viewed using a PC Monitor is the double vision effect you get whenever there is movement on the screen. However, as soon as you play the same HD video through a Hi-Def TV it has none of the issues that you see on a PC. I have tried several PC’s with HD facilities etc., all producing the same identical double-vision problem.

    Today I found a solution using a trial version of ImTOO HD Video Converter. By down converting the 1920 HD to 1280, the double vision
    problems I was getting with my own HD videos as well as commercial stock disappeared completely. I tried several other HD software converters but the ImTOO seems to be the best so far.
    Regards
    Dave

  • My computer specs are Windows XP Home Edition, AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4400+ 2.3 GHz Processor, 2 GB’s of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT Graphics card. My camcorder is a Canon Vixia HF S100. Although, I’ll probably purchase Adobe video editing software, I’m currently using a trial version of Corel Video Studio 12.

    I’m here posting b/c the playback is choppy when I try to edit the AVCHD file(s) in Corel. I downloaded a free HD converter, but it didn’t work. I can’t remember for the moment, however, I think the issue was that I could convert the files but I couldn’t play them. So, for the moment, I was forced to edit the [choppy] video as is. I used the pause button and the wheel that advances the video. That method made things more fluid and really helped me to get the cuts that I wanted. So the choppy playback wasn’t as much of an issue, once I figured that out. Another issue is that I had to render the video as “HDV 1080i-60i for PC.MPG”, otherwise, error messages would immediately result. The “HDV for PC” footage looks just as good as the AVCHD footage to me. Oh well, at least I figured something out to get it on youtube. Speaking of which 6 mins of HDV footage is going to take 6 & 1/2 hours to upload. So, as you see, the editing and uploading process is insane, but hey, what can I say, I’m “crazy” about my Canon Vixia HF S100. It takes amazing footage. I viewed my first shoot and it looks like as if the human eye captured and processed it… very vibrant, realistic and natural looking.

  • *No add’l comments for the moment. However, I forgot to select the “notify me of followup comments via email button”, so I posted this so I could select that option 🙂

  • Thanks for suggesting I read this. I have one question, I do not have an issue buying the AVCHD Upshift from NewBlueFX. But you said the color was a noticable differnace. Is there any other solutions? Seems like we spent a lot of money on this camera to not be able to edit the recording. I would have thought the included software would have been able to do this.
    Thanks
    Carl

  • @Carl – You can still edit the video, you just won’t have real-time playback of the video from the timeline. It’s simply an annoyance more than anything. Converting the video to a format more suitable for editing is your only option.

  • I edit a LOT of footage from my Canon Vixia HF20 using Sony Vegas Pro 9.0, and I have come up with a neat trick to avoid the quality hit you take whenever you convert formats, but still edit with very smooth video preview.

    First off, people need to understand that whenever you convert video, and I mean WHENEVER, you lose quality. You damage the video. It’s like the old days with a tape recorder and you make a copy of a copy of a copy – they each sound worse and worse. Converting digital video files to another format will always cause a degradation to the video quality, due to the different ways compression algorithms handle video information such as color, motion, etc. Sometimes it may be minor enough that most people can’t easily tell the difference, and sometimes it will be worse (such as the noticeable color shift mentioned above). It’s best to avoid this as much as possible.

    The ideal is to work with your original camcorder’s video files throughout the editing process, and then only when you’re all done, render to your desired output format(s). That way there is only ONE conversion happening, during final rendering.

    Of course, editing with less than 1 frame per second choppy video preview is difficult if not impossible, so many people are willing to take a layer of conversion damage if it means they CAN edit. But I found a way to have my cake and eat it too.

    Here’s a brief nutshell of what I’m doing:
    First make a Sony AVC super-low-res render MP4 file (using a custom “240-30p 384k” setting I made works well). Then use it to do all the editing with smooth video previewing all the while. Then close Vegas, move the small MP4 away, open Vegas – it can’t find the files, you then supply it with replacement files, using the original videos, which now have all the edits in place!

    I can even do this in “batch” by loading many clips, then douple clicking each clip and hitting “R” to make a “region”, then in the menu “Tools” – “Scripting” – “Batch Render”, select “Render Regions” at the bottom, select naming convention, select encoding format (such as my custom tiny Sony AVC “240-30p 384k”) and let it “cook” overnight.

    Here is a longer step-by-step version:
    1 – Open Vegas, load the HD “MTS” videos into video track
    2 – One at a time, double-click on each video segment and hit “R” to make a “Region” above the track, and repeat for all the videos
    3 – In the menus select “Tools” – “Scripting” – “Batch Render”
    4 – Select naming convention, select a small encoding format (such as my custom Sony AVC “240-30p 384k”), and select “Render Regions” at the bottom
    5 – After all the parts are done rendering, start a new project in Vegas (don’t bother saving the current project)
    6 – Load the new small videos into the video track, and save the project with whatever name you want
    7 – Edit your movie, using the small videos which should work smoothly and easily all the while, then save your final version.
    8 – Close Vegas, and move the small video files away (such as into a separate folder for temporary holding)
    9 – Open your saved final version of the project – Vegas will complain about missing files:
    10 – Supply Vegas with replacement files, selecting your original HD videos (in the correct order if there are more than one)
    11 – Save the final version of the project, perhaps with a new name this time
    12 – Render your HD video!

    It works beautifully! I avoid doing an extra video conversion, thus retaining the perfect original quality of my camcorder files, but I also am able to edit with perfectly smooth video preview, even during transitions and effects. It’s definitely a “hack” or trick method, but it works well.

    Hope that helps.

  • Hi guys just a thanks i have a lovely new xr200ve from sony and a dual core lappy from HP the video was playing choppy even when converting the video to AVI.

    Now i know to get proper HD i will need to upgrade my pc etc, but the trick i saw here (render the .mts to .mpg in vegas), worked superbly and i have no lag, no choppy ness no thick lines around the edges or stripey video.

    Obviously i can then convert the .mpg or edit it.

    Many thanks and now i can get some editing done on perfectly acceptable video.

    Anyone with a AVCHD file, just drag it into vegas and render as .mpg and you will have a clear video. For true HD the original file will play perfectly through your tv but to get it to play on your lappy or pc and be able to edit it then just convert the .mts to .mpg.

    Works a treat.

  • This works very well in smoothing out and showing my preview with audio and video in real time.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Thanks for this usful post.
    But the way I make my AVCHD files from camcorder playable or ediatble is converting them to some common video formats, like AVI and MOV are my widely used.

    As for AVCHD Converter, I am using Aunsoft MTS Converter which helps me convert MTS and M2TS video files to MP4, MPG, WMV, AVI, and enables you to enjoy movies on computer or WMP, to further edit video for creation, to present video on HDTV, and to publish video online in web-friendly format. It makes your AVCHD camcorder videos editable on Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, Window Movie Maker, DVD Maker.

  • For those of us with Vegas Studio (not Pro) which doesn’t include scripting, then use MPEG Streamclip to downgrade your temp files in batch.

    I’m doing it now and it works great. Big thanks to Ben for the idea and much stress relief

    MPEG Streamclip’s site…
    http://www.squared5.com/

  • G’Day people, have been browsing these very interesting comments. I am a complete amateur “documentary” film-maker, I have no training at all,just bought a canon xm2, sony Vegas 7 and went of filming – love it! However,

    I now want to upgrade all round and am looking at Vegas 11 on high spec p.c. and canon xa10.

    I have never used HD or AVCHD files so was looking for two possible re-assurances

    1). Vegas 11 does the job, and not to huge a learning curve from V.7

    2). Camera choice o.k. for simply documentary indoor/outdoor filming, or am I missing a better option?

    Any thoughts would help an amateur avoid making an amateur decision!

    Regards,

    Trolley Ronnie

  • @Ron – Vegas 11 would be fine (you could even use one of the Movie Studio versions instead of the Pro version). The software still works the same as it did in version 7…they’ve just added some bells and whistles and cleaned up bugs.

    The XA10 would be fine too. It’s probably the best camera you can get in that price range. If you wanted to move up (an extra $1,000 USD), your best choice is the Canon XF100:

    http://usa.canon.com/cusa/professional/products/professional_cameras/hd_video_cameras/xf100

    On the web, the average person wouldn’t be able to see any difference between footage from the XA10 and XF100. But the XF100 is a professional camera…it offers a better build, physical buttons for settings (instead of having to go through camera menus) and most importantly, it offers true broadcast quality recording. It doesn’t do AVCHD…it does Canon’s own MPEG-2 codec (which works in Vegas) and records at twice the quality of AVCHD plus it offers twice the color resolution.

    Phil Bloom has a great review of both cameras here:

    http://vimeo.com/26184320

  • WHAT YOU SAY IS NOT TRUE!
    A friend of mine buyed a Sony NX5 M camera that records as avchd. he recorded in full hd and I edited in a pc I recently made. it is a i7 3820 with 32 gb ram ddr 3, raid mode 0 (strip) 3×500 gb, video card leadtek nvidia gtx580 3 gb. have test it with pinancle studio and adobe premiere 5.5. it is hardly editable this hormat compared to any other format. as a note, in adobe and pinnacle I checked and cpu was always as 15 % and ram at 20%. video card is not the isue as well. the project renders fast, around half of the time of the movie (with transitions, chapters etc) but the editing is a nightmare. I can’t belive that in so many years since the format apeared no one figured a solution to make it play normal.