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I've just bought a Sanyo VPC-CG10 camcorder which saves clips as MPEG-4 (specifically, High-Definition 720p MPEG-4 AVC/H.246)

I want a simple, cheap way to edit the clips and as, I'm using Windows Vista, I though Windows Movie Maker would be a good choice. But you can't import mp4 files into Windows Movie Maker. I've tried various codecs, but I'm not sure what is the best format to convert to, so that I can edit the files in Windows Movie Maker. AVI, MPG, WMI... I'm not sure what format is best.

Should I try to keep the movie clips in MPEG-4 and edit them in that format (and then which editor do I use?) or is there a better format that I should convert to before editing (and what format is that?) ?

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you have to use Windows Movie Maker, then I recommend you to use the AVI format for minimal quality loss. Bear in mind though that using the AVI format is not the optimal solution, and will result in huge amounts of disk space use, as well as quality loss through the conversion of AVCHD MPEG4 to AVI.

The best way is to find a video editor that supports AVCHD MPEG4 so you can edit from the original video source files direct. That way, you preserve the highest quality (dependent on source), and you save on disk space at the same time.

Depending on your vision for the final video output, several video editing packages will suit your needs. My personal recommendation is to start learning how to use the Sony Vegas suite of video editing software. That way, your learning curve will be transferred in between the various stages (beginner, intermediate, advanced) as you move up the different versions of the Sony Vegas Suite.

For beginner : Movie Studio 9 Platinum Edition

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For intermediate : Movie Studio 9 Platinum Pro Pack

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For advanced : Vegas Pro

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You will be able to learn about the full creative options available to you at a methodical and progressive pace, starting from Movie Studio 9 Platinum, to Movie Studio 9 Platinum Pro Pack, and then finally to the Vegas Pro.

Most important, have fun, don't be afraid to experiment, and study how good videos are done to take you to the best you can be in this fun and rewarding hobby, that can turn out to be your next profession.

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Thanks - I have downloaded Movie Studio 9 Platinum Edition as a trial and using it. Great product. Thanks for the help –  Craig HB Sep 28 '09 at 23:32
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Get MP4Cam2AVI and repackage your files in good old AVI containers (this doesn't loose any quality and is rather quick) - then Movie Maker and whatnot package should have no problem using them as long as you have the correct video and audio codecs on the system.

The MTS, MP4 and AVI file formats are just containers - the do not decide the size or quality of the contained data streams at all. Most likely it will contain some kind of H264 video and AC3 audio in your case and these we want to preserve as long as possible.

But if you still have problem editing those streams due to a lack of computing power or something you need to actually recode them into something less hardcore - like motion-jpeg/DV.

In the end, like caliban wrote, a decent editing suite is more fun. I'd recommend Adobe Premiere Elements to get some variation here, and because I'm an Adobe junkie and Elements is very cheap and of course supports AVCDH.

Adobe Premiere Elements

For the full-price suite, if Premiere Pro isn't your cuppa, I'd go for Newtek SpeedEdit.

Adobe Premiere Pro

This is my pick for opensource video editors, OpenShot:

OpenShot

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Editing MP4 (H.264) files is a mistake. Every time you save, you're recompressing in a lossy codec. Then when you open and save again, you do it again. –  CarlF Sep 21 '11 at 21:23
    
Um no? Why would you ever recompress while editing? That is only done once when you produce the final output. Editing just creates a descriptor file that tells the editor where in the original h264 files each clip starts and ends, and in what order and with what effects they're suppose to be shown - nothing more. –  Oskar Duveborn Oct 17 '11 at 6:38
    
Granted. If you never save intermediate stages and use a more modern editor that only saves the descriptions of the edits (generally as an XML file) then @Oskar is quite correct. –  CarlF Apr 5 '12 at 21:04
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I don't know for sure but I believe that the totally FREEWARE AVIDemux might be able to cut the video clips without re-encoding them. I "think" you mean H.264. If so, then I am right... AVIDemux will do the job.

NOTE: I haven't had very good luck with converting an already compressed video to another form of compression. Usually , when I try that i get out of sync audio but it depends on what exactly you are doing.

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I recommend using AVI with the MJPEG video codec. I suggest MJPEG because it's a non-lossy compression system. RAW video is another choice.

The problem with editing MP4 or any other format using a lossy-compression codec is that every time you save and close then reopen the file, you're decreasing the quality.

Movie Maker is fine for simple editing jobs. I've had good luck with Avidemux as well.

(Note to highly technical people: no, MJPEG is not totally lossless. It's just way closer than Xvid or DivX, etc.)

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If your editor recompresses the video files when you save, that editor is doing it the wrong way. The process of converting to MJPEG before editing will decrease quality though, so I would not recommend it unless your editing station cannot cope with h264. –  Oskar Duveborn Oct 17 '11 at 6:44
    
@Oskar, it's impossible to edit H.264 formatted files without decompressing them. H.264 uses interframe compression. Individual frames other than keyframes do not exist until the stream is decompressed. Then obviously when saving the editor will recompress if you save using the H.264 video codec. –  CarlF Oct 24 '11 at 16:37
    
The question is about editing: a non-linear edit only describes which video streams to use at what times during playback and where to seek to in those streams - there's no re-compression going on while editing and saving edits, only decompression for previewing. When you render (ie export the final cut after editing and saving how many times you want) it will be re-compressed once (and likely converted to a different target format anyway). The biggest reason to convert to MJPEG first is if the computer is too slow to handle real-time preview/decode of multiple H264 streams during editing. –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 5 '12 at 10:05
    
As mentioned above, @OskarDuveborn is totally correct in his above comment. –  CarlF Apr 5 '12 at 21:05
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