Revisiting tapeless camcorders and the Mac

Less than a year ago, flash- or hard-disk based camcorders were virtually unusable on the Mac due to the lack of software support. But subsequent releases of Final Cut Studio 2 and iMovie ’08 introduced support for most tapeless camcorders. I thought the trouble—compatibility issues, bugs, and so forth—was over. Alas, as I’ve spent the past week testing some newly released tapeless camcorders, I’ve learned I was wrong: Mac compatibility issues persist.

Two out of the three camcorders I’ve tested so far—the Sanyo Xacti HD1000 and the Panasonic HDC-HS9—aren’t working as they should. The Xacti HD1000 records video as .MP4 files onto an SD card, but when playing back the footage on my 2.66GHz Mac Pro, the video appears as a green box.

Sanyo said it was familiar with the problem and explained that the latest version of QuickTime introduced playback issues with the Xacti HD1000’s video; however, the files work properly when using QuickTime 7.1.1. I retested the camcorder using QuickTime 7.1.1, and the video played back properly. Reverting to an older version of QuickTime isn’t an ideal solution, however, and Sanyo officials said they’re working with Apple to get everything fixed.

Playing back footage from the Sanyo Xacti HD1000 resulted in a green screen.

The HDC-HS9, a hybrid camcorder that offers hard-disk or SD-card recording options, initially appeared promising (especially when you consider that we awarded its predecessor, the Panasonic HDC-SD1, with an Editors’ Choice Award this past year). But it also behaved erratically in my tests; when attempting to import footage from the camcorder to the Mac Pro, both Final Cut Pro 6.0.2 and iMovie ’08 crashed. I tried to perform an import using different footage with various settings, and I even tried using other Macs, but the crash recurred.

Panasonic acknowledges the problem and said it’s working with Apple to get the issue resolved. Panasonic wasn’t clear on why the HDC-HS9 isn’t working properly with the Mac, but I suspect the problem is once again related to the latest version of QuickTime.

Apple has been tweaking QuickTime a lot lately—there have been seven updates to the multimedia software since the iPhone’s June 2007 release—and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen compatibility problems arise. Take the QuickTime 7.4 release, which caused compatibility problems with Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro that were resolved by QuickTime 7.4.1.

It’s difficult blaming either the camcorder makers or Apple for the incompatibility issues. All the camcorder makers can do is make sure that their hardware works with the software that’s available at the time of release. As for Apple, even a company that large can’t be expected to ensure that every software update works seamlessly with every piece of third-party hardware right out of the gate. The best you can hope for is that when problems do arise, the companies acknowledge them promptly and work quickly to squash any bugs. That QuickTime-After Effects problem I mentioned above, for example, got ironed out in about two weeks’ time.

On a brighter note, since we’re talking about software issues rather than hardware, that means they can be fixed, hopefully sooner rather than later. Personally, I find tapeless camcorders to be very convenient in allowing me to skip the tedious capturing process I’d have put up with when using tapes. But since Apple is relatively new to the tapeless scene, I’m going to stick with using my trusty Canon GL1 MiniDV camcorder until the kinks become less frequent.

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