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What is AVCHD?

AVCHD means Advanced Video Codec High Definition, and is the new “standard” for consumer HD camcorders. AVCHD uses H.264 video compression, a type of MPEG-4, replacing the older MPEG-2 format used for DVD and HDV.

H.264 is a more efficient codec than MPEG-2, meaning that at comparable data rates, H.264 will look better. The catch is that H.264 requires a lot more computer processing power for playback and editing. The current versions of computer editing packages such as Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Apple Final Cut 6 and Grass Valley Edius 5 offer native support for AVCHD editing, but do require powerful computers.

AVCHD camcorders are all tapeless models. Early units recorded to mini DVD discs, but due to limited record times, the disc-based cameras have been replaced by units that record to removable memory cards or internal hard drives with higher capacity.

Because there is no tape transport, the cameras can be made very small and they use less energy. Video data is transferred from the camera by USB cable or with a card reader attached to the computer. Moving footage to the computer as data is faster than capturing tapes in realtime, and for event videographers, this could cut hours from each project.

While AVCHD cameras will record full 1920×1080 video, bettering the 1440×1080 resolution of the MPEG-2 based HDV tape format, AVCHD cameras typically use a data rate of 13Mbps versus 25Mbps for HDV. This has precluded the cameras from professional use due to consumer-level video quality.

Panasonic has just released a new AVCHD camcorder in their “AVCCAM” line, the AG-HMC150. Aimed at more professional users, it offers 4 different quality settings up to 21Mbps. By using the higher quality setting, users should get excellent results, but will of course need a capable edit system to process the footage.

HDV went through some growing pains in its early days as editing software and computer hardware had to advance to where the workflow was faster and easier for the user. AVCHD is going through similar growing pains today. AVCHD is the future – it’s not going to go away, as H.264 is the new standard for digital video acquisition and distribution.

Tapeless workflows have many advantages, and AVCHD is delivering it to the masses right now. With the constant advances in computer speed, working with AVCHD can only get better.

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What is AVCHD?