Posted Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Using MPEG Movies from Sony Cameras with iMovie

A reader writes: "I have a Sony digital camera that takes small movies in MPEG format. I'd like to use these with iMovie, but I get an error message when I try to import them. If I use QuickTime Pro to export them as DV streams, I lose the sound. Please help!"

As an owner of a couple of Sony digital cameras, I feel your pain. Fortunately, pain relief is free. Simply grab a copy of MPEG StreamClip, a free utility from Squared 5.

MPEG StreamClip can slice and dice MPEG-format video in a variety of ways. Peruse the utility's home page, and you'll see it's designed primarily to decode and process video saved by personal video recorder products such as El Gato's EyeTV. Working with some types of MPEG files can be technically tricky, but it's a cinch to whack movie files from Sony digital cameras into a format compatible with iMovie.

Start by dragging the MPEG movie into MPEG Streamclip's window. If you want to convert just a portion of the movie, use the Select In and Select Out commands in the Edit menu. For example, to lop off the first few seconds of the movie, drag the movie controller to the desired in-point, then choose the Select In command.

Next, glide up to the File menu and choose Export to DV. You'll see a variety of options in the Export dialog box, but the most important is the Standard pop-up menu: use it choose between the NTSC standard (for the United States, Canada, and Japan, among others) and the PAL standard (for much of the rest of the world; link to list of world video formats).

After you've chosen the desired video standard, click the Make DV Stream button. Type a name for the converted movie, stash it on your desktop for convenient access, and press Return. MPEG Streamclip will do its thing, demuxing the MPEG video and creating a DV stream in which iMovie will be happy to splash.

When the conversion is complete, simply drag the converted movie into the iMovie window. iMovie makes a duplicate of the converted movie in your project's Media folder, so you can throw away the copy on your desktop.

"Ah, but Jim," you say, "most digital camera movies look pretty crummy once you add them to iMovie. Why bother?"

That's a different story, one that I'll share with you tomorrow.