Windows Vista Offers Crippled HD Support

Windows Vista is already behind in its support of digital video cameras and the product hasn’t shipped yet. Sean Alexander and Furrygoat, two Microsoft employees, are both drooling over the new Sony HDR-SR1 which records 1080i HD direct to a hard drive on the camcorder. I don’t blame them – it’s a hot looking camera with great features. The camera won’t work with the Vista version of Windows Movie Maker.
One of the key features of the Vista version of Windows Movie Maker is supposed to be HD support. The supported HD in Sony HDR-SR1 is AVCHD, which uses H.264 MPEG-4 compression to keep file sizes down, giving you 2 hours of recording on the 30GB hard drive. AVCHD is not compatible with Windows Movie Maker because Microsoft is electing not to support AVC out-of-the-box.
If this were limited to one camcorder, I’d say no big deal. But it’s not one camcorder; it’s many camcorders from many manufacturers. Sony, Hitachi and Panasonic are all planning to offer camcorders with the AVCHD format. My Sanyo Xacti uses a different kind of MPEG-4 compression to offer 720p HD, also incompatible with Windows Movie Maker.
The solution is to use something else to edit your movies if you record in HD. Like a Mac. šŸ˜‰ More seriously, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9 works with the MPEG-4 files from the Sanyo Xacti. I’m sure Sony’s Vegas Video will work with the files from the AVCHD cameras. Other 3rd parties will provide solutions for a fee. But the promise of HD support in Vista’s Windows Movie Maker should be a real one, like the support in Apple’s iMovie, not something that’s already out of date before it ships. For all its other shortcomings, the XP version of Windows Movie Maker worked with every DV cam on the market at the time it shipped.
There are likely two reasons Microsoft isn’t supporting AVCHD. On one hand, the format competes directly with Microsoft’s own VC1 offering, which is the secret sauce in HD-DVD. A few people at Microsoft are heavily invested in seeing HD-DVD succeed (which is not necessarily a bad thing), possibly at the expense of the customer because the blinders are on to what the rest of the industry is doing. When the key players in the digital video camera space make a decision, even if it’s one Microsoft doesn’t like, Microsoft should be paying attention to how it impacts the customer.
The second reason Microsoft isn’t supporting AVC by default is the per user cost of adding support for AVC to Windows Vista. It would likely cost upwards of $3 per user to have AVC baked into Windows Vista. While that doesn’t sound like much, it eats into their already shrinking bottom line per license. They finally added support for MPEG-2 in Windows Vista, which probably blew the budget for codec support.
The reasons remain bad excuses for not paying attention to what’s going on in customer land. People who buy digital video cameras will expect them to work with Windows Vista out-of-the-box. Two key formats matter in HD right now: AVC and VC-1. There aren’t any DV cams that record VC-1 video (my guess is there never will be). With the world moving toward HD, we’re going to see lots more content in both VC-1 and H.264. The right course of action here is to offer a patch to Windows Movie Maker, in the form of a codec pack or upgrade, within the Service Pack 1 timeframe. Even that’s not soon enough. People will be buying new cameras and new computers in 2007. Many of those cameras will be HD. Most of those computers will have Windows Vista installed and no support for what will likely be the popular option for consumer level HD recording.
Are we really back to the argument that buying Mac is your only viable option if you make video?