Tapeless camcorders are not a Mac's best friend

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Macworld Lab has been testing five high-definition, tapeless camcorders, and thus far, the results aren't pleasing. Three out of the five camcorders we tested don't work properly on a Mac. Now, before you drive to One Infinite Loop and camcorder vendors’ buildings crying “This is an outrage!” allow me to explain my definition of "not working on a Mac."

To me, a tapeless camcorder is not Mac-compatible if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. The camcorder’s footage cannot be imported to your Mac even though you meet the system and software requirements listed in the manufacturer's manual—and even after you follow every step of the instructions.
  2. The supposedly compatible video-editing application you’re using crashes when you try to import the video to a Mac.
  3. After successfully importing the video to a Mac, the footage is unusable because of a software glitch.

I wanted to clarify my definition because when I’ve done camcorder testing in the past, some users have offered arcane ways to work around Mac incompatibility, like converting the video to a different format using a third-party application (not included with the camcorder) such as Ffmpegx. Kudos to those who have found ways to beat the system, but to me, if you have to find software that the manufacturer doesn’t provide and make efforts beyond what you're normally supposed to do (i.e. follow the manual, or plug in the camcorder and click Import) to get everything to work—then that's not true Mac-compatibility.

With that clarified, we’ve tested five camcorders—the Sanyo Xacti HD1000, Canon Vixia HF10, Panasonic HDC-HS9, JVC Everio GZ-HD5, and the Sony HDR-SR11. These are all camcorders whose specifications clearly state Mac compatibility (either online or in their instruction manuals), and yet the Vixia HF10 and the HDR-SR11 were the only two that worked properly with a Mac. And by worked properly I mean, I plugged them in, my Mac recognized them immediately, I imported the footage and was ready to edit the video. That’s how the Mac experience is supposed to be, right?

In my last blog about tapeless camcorders, I already mentioned what was wrong with the Xacti HD1000 and the HDC-HS9. The playback and importing issues persist, and both Sanyo and Panasonic said they're working with Apple on a fix. These camcorders are very close to being truly Mac-compatible: My Mac recognized them and imported the video, but the footage was unusable due to some bugs.

The GZ-HD5 is a different story, however. When I plugged in the camcorder, Final Cut Pro, iMovie ’08, and even iMovie HD didn't budge. I consulted the user manual and saw I had to install a QuickTime Everio driver, so I did that. Still, nothing happened. I flipped through the manual again, which said to read the digital manual on the CD-ROM for detailed instructions on video importing. So I popped in the CD and loaded that. The CD-ROM manual said to read the instructions on JVC’s Web site for detailed directions on importing to a Mac. (I took a deep breath.) I clicked on the link in the digital manual and found myself at a Japanese Web site.

I attempted to follow the first step of this set of instructions and got stuck: QuickTime Pro said the TOD file had an “incorrect duration” and would not load the video for me to convert it. I picked up the phone and dialed JVC's public relations, and the representative was also confused about the instructions being listed on a Japanese Web site. He offered some alternative methods to get the video onto a Mac, and they didn't work. As I post this article, I continue to wait for a solution from JVC.

Tapeless camcorders are a trickier area, as I’ve noted previously. They require that both the camera-maker and Apple work closely together to ensure Mac compatibility. It’s not just a question of hardware—the camcorder also requires compatibility with things like Final Cut Pro, iMovie, and QuickTime to work properly. That's a lot of moving parts to keep in sync.

Still, the effort must be made. Having three out of five camcorders not work as advertised is a bad percentage—especially as the video world becomes increasingly tapeless. While MiniDV camcorders work seamlessly with the Mac, manufacturers are phasing these products out in favor of tapeless models. Apple, already lagging behind others in this product area, runs the risk of falling further behind if it’s not working closely with manufacturers to ensure compatibility. And camcorder makers risk losing the Mac market if they’re not making a similar effort.

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