Jul 21, 2010

Clip Wrap 2.1 for Mac Review: Fast Video Transcoding Wizardry for Mac OS X

With the advent of DSLR video and the newer consumer-grade cameras that use high-bitrate versions of the AVCHD codec the process of actually getting easy-to-view or better still, easy-to-edit footage from these new sources has been a bit of a pain in Mac-land of late.  Especially with cameras such as the new Panasonic TM700 (I've reviewed this camera recently) which shoots a native 1080/60p format FCP currently can't talk to that format *at all*.  That means you'd need something to transcode the footage into a file format FCP can recognize and drop to the timeline.

Enter ClipWrap.  What it does is very similar to what P2Log Pro would do for P2 users, it re-encodes the native camera files into a Quicktime wrapper that allows you to drag-n-drop to the FCP timeline.  However ClipWrap does not work with MXF-style data, only .m2t and .mts files created by HDV and AVCHD cameras.

ClipWrap has two basic modes of transcoding your footage:

1.  It simply re-wraps the camera masters into a Quicktime wrapper that allows FCP to recognize the clips to either be input into the Log & Transfer process or immediately dropped to the timeline.  Which one will depend on exactly what format you shot in-camera and whether or not it's a natively supported FCP format.  This simple re-wrap is blazingly fast and is much faster than real-time, up to 10x faster than real-time depending on your machine's speed and HDD available space.

2.  Or, ClipWrap can also transcode the camera masters into either ProRes, DVCPRO-HD or Avid DNxHD codecs to then be dropped into FCP, Premiere Pro, Avid or any other pro-NLE that can handle these formats.  Unfortunately the time it takes to transcode is very similar to how long it would take FCP's Log & Transfer to make the transcoding, and high-bitrate AVCHD files such as from the aforementioned TM700's 1080/60p format the process can take up to 6x longer than real-time.  And that's not a limitation of ClipWrap, that's all about the processing power available to the computer since the transcoding process is very much like final rendering in FCP:  It's very, very CPU/RAM/HDD dependent.

The real benefit of ClipWrap however is that it's a very small application and it's own overhead is extremely small, far less than having FCP running in the background during Log & Transfer allowing more computer-crunching assets to be allocated to the task hence, ClipWrap is definitely faster than using Log & Transfer for transcoding into ProRes, for example.

The user interface is also very simple and easy to understand; you simply point to the media you're going to have ClipWrap work on or, drag-n-drop those files directly into the UI, pick whether or not you're going to just re-wrap or transcode into another format, hit the "convert" button and watch as it crunches through your list of clips.  It's that easy.

For Mac-based editors ClipWrap is a godsend right now.  Many AVCHD cameras do not have native support in FCP requiring transcoding prior to editing and in some rare cases as with the TM700 there simply isn't any other application - that I'm aware of - that can even *handle* the transcoding process for it's footage!  That means depending on which camera you choose you may not even be able to look at the footage outside of the camera unless you've got ClipWrap to first take care of transcoding it.


Just as when HDV first made it's debut into the pro-NLE market and it's associated headaches with not having direct compatibility with FCP so too is the domain of all the AVCHD-format cameras today.  At some point FCP will follow suit (we all hope) with Premiere Pro and Avid and make AVCHD a drag-n-drop native format for editing, but until then ClipWrap is your best friend for getting your hard-won footage into FCP to create your masterpiece.

Basically, if you shoot any AVCHD-format camera and you cut on FCP then you'd better have a copy of ClipWrap to make your editing life easier.

Now that I have a copy of Avid Media Composer v.5 I'll be testing output from ClipWrap using DNxHD into Avid timelines, so stay tuned!

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