Explaining AVCHD Discs

Posted: May 15, 2011

[ This article was first published in the June, 2010, issue of
Larry's Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

In spite of what you may think, optical media is not dead. Money can still be made in optical media. In fact, we have an extra option you may not know about: AVCHD Discs.

Just as we have two broad categories of video, we have two categories of optical media:

* DVDs for standard-definition media
* Blu-ray Discs for high-definition media

DVD Studio Pro only creates standard definition discs (see my note on HD-DVD later in this article). This means that if you want to create HD discs, you need to use other software to create it.

Blu-ray Discs can not be created using your built-in DVD burner, you need to purchase an external device. Also, currently, Blu-ray Discs can not be played on any Mac using any version of OS X. (Yes, there are third party drivers you can purchase, however, as shipped, Macs won’t play Blu-ray Discs and still require an external, or third-party, player.)

This means that you need to purchase an external burner, along with a player and monitor to view the discs you create. Currently, the best option for Blu-ray playback is a PS3. NOT that any of us would use this to play games! Certainly not. We are getting this solely as a legitimate business tool.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

However, in addition to Blu-ray Discs, within the world of HD are two other optical formats:


HD-DVD was a format primarily promoted by Toshiba that was a competitor to Blu-ray Discs, which was primarily promoted by Sony. However, Toshiba pulled HD-DVD from the market in February, 2008. While DVD SP can create disks in the HD-DVD format, there isn’t a player on the market that can play them. Consider this a dead format.

But AVCHD is quite alive. AVCHD is a compromise between a standard DVD and a Blu-ray Disc, in that it burns high-def media formatted as Blu-ray using a standard-def burner on regular DVD media. You still CAN’T play an AVCHD disc on your system, but you CAN create it.

However, this flexibility has its limits. First, you can only put 20-30 minutes of HD material on an AVCHD disc. Second, the data rate is lower than a standard Blu-ray Disc. Which means that the image quality will be close to, but not as good as, a true Blu-ray Disc.

In many conversations about this with Bruce Nazarian, the president of the IDMA, this trade-off in quality may look OK to you. Apple has done a great job of optimizing the compression of HD media for AVCHD discs.

To create AVCHD Discs requires Final Cut Studio (3). Create your project in Final Cut Pro7, then use File > Share to open the Sharing menu. Then select Blu-ray Disc as a destination.

This is ideal for burning a single movie to a disc. You can’t create menus, or author a DVD, that requires Adobe Encore.

But, if you have a client that absolutely needs HD on optical media, and the total running time of the media is less than 30 minutes, you can meet their needs using AVCHD and Final Cut Pro 7.

UPDATE – July 1, 2010

Jeffrey Abelson asks:

Just read the piece in your newsletter about AVCHD discs, and was unclear where or how one would play these discs. You state emphatically they won’t play in a standard Mac, but will they play in a standard-def DVD player on your TV? Or will they only play in a Blu-ray player?

Larry replies: AVCHD discs only play in Blu-ray Disc players, not in a standard-def DVD player.


One Comment to “Explaining AVCHD Discs”
  1. David Scott says:

    In my experience, AVCHD disks created either by FCP X or Toast will play only on certain Blu-Ray DVD players. For example, Oppo is one of them but some Panasonic machines seem to have problems. Some Sonys are OK but not necessarily all of them. Very iffy but when they do play, they look spectacular.

Your thoughts are welcome


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