There and Mac again…

by Natalie P.

December 13, 2007 | Filed Under Computers, Lifestyles of the Heartlessly Bitchy | 1 Comment

So, I’ve been on this “home movie” project for over a year now…  I’ve fought with codecs, I’ve fought with conversion tools, I’ve fought with expensive software that crashes repeatedly.  I’ve downloaded and trialed numerous pieces of freeware, shareware and trialware trying to find SOMETHING to help me convert/work with the files I have.  I take a run at it for a while, but then I get discouraged and distracted and put it on the shelf again.  (I think I even blogged about this once last year).

To make matters worse, I have a competing project to convert all my own 8mm home videos to DVD as well.

I should back-track a bit.  These are old 8mm home movie films that were converted by a local company to .DV files. Using GOD KNOWS what codec, on, yes, you guessed it, a Mac.  The original film quality is rather poor.  It took AGES to get the files from the company in a format I could read or play at all on a PC.  Unfortunately, Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 can’t process them at all. It doesn’t recognize the codec. Which is bizarre, since Windows Media Player can play the files, as can Quicktime.   I downloaded some free software (I can’t remember which one it was now – maybe Virtualdub) that let me convert the .DV files to AVI, but the quality SUCKED (or BLEW, depending on your nomenclature) unbelievably.  I tried using VLC to stream to MPEG4, which gave me acceptable quality, but it would only do the first 90 seconds.  I considered buying QuickTime Pro so I could convert them to something other than AVI on my PC, but I refuse to pay a premium just because I live north of the 49th parallel (see my previous post).

It’s been over a year, and I’d really like to give my family copies of these movies on DVD for Christmas. I can procrastinate no longer. In desperation, I gave in and resorted to letting the bf suck the DV files into iMovie on his Mac, since they were created on a Mac, and only the Mac seems able to render them (And people think Microsoft is an evil proprietary giant).  Many many HOURS later, there they are, in an iMove “project” and I started editing. There were bad segments, poor lighting, washed-out segments and parts with people none of us know  or care about anymore that didn’t make it into the final cut.

In true Mac fashion, there is no “save” button, or “save as” for an iMovie project, which is utterly disconcerting for a PC user.  (Seems the Mac magically saves as you go. Saving variants of your edits is not as simple as pressing “save as”.).  Not only that, but it puts your files in some magical place that only the Mac knows about, because you shouldn’t have to worry your pretty little head about such silly technical details. 

There was a lot of editing required on these files, and I spent a significant amount of time “trimming” clips.  Every 10 minutes or so,  I would try to “trim” the current clip and most of the movie would disappear.  POOF. Gone. Along with my scroll-bar.  The “undo” feature became my dearest friend.  I kept thinking about THIS video that I had seen years ago.  I was beginning to feel his pain.  At least this is OSX so it wasn’t crashing as the old OS9 Macs did.  Perhaps that’s why Macs automagically save everything – they are used to crashing and freezing on their users?

Ergonomically, I found the one-button wireless mouse heavy, clunky and difficult to work with. (It didn’t help that there was years of gunk on the bottom, which I had to clean off so that it didn’t STICK to the mousepad – Eeeew).  And of course, that sleek, rounded design – looking for all the world like an oversized OB Tampon – has just one button. Why would anyone ever need anything more than that? My god, what they could have done with an extra button! Instead, the Mac forces you to go to the keyboard for functions you could have easily done with just ONE MORE BUTTON.

In iMovie, there seemed to be no way to easily “set” the clip end marker (for trimming), short of having to DRAG it from the end (or start) of the selected clip to the place you want. Which often meant having to try and “drag” through several scrolls up the screen.  It was unbelievably tedious, especially given the ergo-dorkiness of the mouse.  To its credit, I could reset saturation, brightness and contrast levels for bad bits of film (of which there were many), but it would only apply the settings to an entire “clip” so any section I wanted to adjust had to be made into a “clip” first.  At least with Premiere, I can select a portion of the timeline and apply the settings to that, and generating/editing clips in Premiere is much more intuitive.  Additionally, I could see no timeline markers so that I could figure out how many minutes of music I needed to apply to a clip, or where I was in the film.  The “help” was of no help.  Oh, and once iMovie starts rendering (or importing), there is no graceful way for a non-linux geek to stop it. I mean an application runs and says it’s going to take HOURS to finish the task – you THINK the designers would offer a “cancel” button in case you change your mind, right? Nope. The almighty Mac knows best.

(The bf says, “Don’t you be dissin’ my Mac.”  Sorry sweetie. I greatly appreciate your help. I’m glad we could get the job done on the Mac, but like the doors on your highly functional Element, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.)

To make things even more complicated, the bf’s Mac has very little disk space, so he was all cranky about me generating big files on it. His portable spare drive is formatted FAT so that it can be seen by more than just a Mac on the network, but the Mac doesn’t always play nice with it – like when rendering from iMovie, because, you know, the all-powerful Mac knows best  – so it doesn’t let you specify WHERE to put the rendered files – like on a network or firewire drive with lots of space, unless that drive is formatted HFS.  It will put those files where it damned well FEELS like putting them, and don’t you go telling it otherwise.

And of course, since apparently “chapter markers” are just SOOO 1995, iMovie 2008 has removed the ability to set them, and iDVD doesn’t give you that option either.  Intuitively, (because that’s how Macs supposedly work), you have to suck it into Garage Band to add any chapter markers.  Why have a product called iDVD and then not provide the most basic of DVD functionality – the ability to set chapters? They have great instructions, however for rendering and posting movies to YouTube.

At any rate, as I type this, my edited movie is rendering. It will take several hours.

And of course, unlike Premiere, which let’s you export direct to DVD, I have to then go into iDVD, suck in my movie file, and use THAT to export to an actual DVD.   We did one trial “render” of my video content out of iMovie, to some Macish format (mpv?) without any music overlays (there was no sound on 8mm film in those days), and it took hours. This I can accept – Premiere takes hours to render too, if you have lots of video effects and edits. The quality of the resulting mpv file looked good, so I figured, why not just bring THAT into iMovie and add music?  Since there are no edits and the only overlay is the audio, that should greatly reduce the render time for the next round, right?

That was when I found out that it would take 53 minutes just to suck the 40 minute rendered file back into iMovie. WTF?  

Being impatient, and not trusting that the next render pass would be any faster, I figured I’d go back and add the sound to the original project files, leaving the Mac grind away while I slept.  Why on earth should it take almost an hour to bring in a file (that is in a Mac-friendly format) when Premiere takes just seconds?

I don’t know why I bother to ask. The all-knowing Mac doesn’t divulge such precious secrets to the unwashed masses.

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1 comment so far
  1. "gunner" December 14, 2007 6:41 am

    would you like to borrow my large stone axe? the one i keep for computer repair, i chipped it from the very best flint i could find.
    “gunner”


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