How to edit AVCHD M2TS files from Sony HDR-SR1 camcorders

Recording video straight to hard drive using an AVCHD camcorder should speed up your video editing workflow. It is not without some frustration in the editing process. Two years after the first AVCHD camcorder hit the market, a handful of tools now work well for editing AVCHD files created with Sony’s camcorders and the AVCHD camcorders from Panasonic. I strongly recommend using:
either Pinnacle Studio HD or Sony Vegas

The Sony Vegas option probably makes the most sense considering many of the AVCHD camcorders are made by Sony. Nero Ultra Edition ENHANCED is an additional solution for editing the AVCHD files, however, I find other aspects of Nero frustrating and don’t use it for my own editing needs. Pinnacle wins on ease of use, but it’s more limiting than Vegas if you’re willing to learn the interface.

Don’t Use the Method Below

I no longer recommend this method, because better tools exist. It is here for archival purposes only.

Below is the workflow I originally came up with before video editing software offered a solution for editing the AVCHD M2TS files created by the HDR-SR. The camera ships with software that converts the M2TS files to 720×480 MPEG-2 files and includes support for limited edit-to-DVD processing, which generally defeat the purpose of recording HD video. I needed a way to edit the files at their native resolution, so I went digging for a solution. I came up with a workflow that relies on features built into the newest version of PowerDVD Ultra combined with VirtualDubMod and AVISynth.

It turns out almost nothing but the AVCHD playback software shipping with the HDR-SR1 will play the M2TS files natively. Several h.264 compatible playback applications produce audio with no video or mangled looking video and no audio. The only thing I found with support is Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 7 Ultra. PowerDVD Max or Deluxe might work as well, but I haven’t tired either one and Ultra also includes support for Blu-ray and HD-DVD disks which makes it worth the extra expense in my book.

Preparing to Edit AVCHD M2TS files

To edit the M2TS files you need the following software applications:
PowerDVD Ultra

PowerDVD Ultra is not free, but it’s the only thing I’ve found that makes the M2TS files editable anywhere outside the lousy software Sony ships with the HDR-SR1. The rest of the software is free and may be downloaded directly from each link above. The version of VirtualDubMod I link to above includes some extra filters and templates specific to projects found on this site (including this one).
You could also use the plain old VirtualDub for editing, but then you also need to create a new AVISynth script for each file. I found the method of using a VirtualDubMod template to be much more efficient.

Editing AVCHD M2TS Files

After you download and install AVISynth, PowerDVD Ultra, and VirtualDubMod, you’re ready to edit your movies. Copy the M2TS files from your Sony camcorder to your PC. Launch VirtualDubMod and open one of the M2TS files for editing, by choosing File > Open video file and then selecting All types (*.*) from the Files of Type box. Be sure to also select the Use AviSynth template M2TS Editing at the bottom of the dialog box.

After opening the file, you can scrub the timeline, trim out a segment of audio or simply save the file as an AVI to import into other applications.

The one thing I recommend doing at this stage is converting the interlaced M2TS file to a progressive scan file. To do this, I’m recommending the free Smart Deinterlacer plugin for VirtualDub created by Donald Graft. I included it in the VirtualDubMod download linked above for convenience.

You can deinterlace the video by choosing Video > Filters from the menu and adding the Smart Deinterlacer filter. In this case, I’m choosing Edge-directed interpolate and keeping all other defaults because that seems to provide the most natural looking result.

At this point you can perform additional edits on the video, apply other filters, or save the video as an AVI for use in some other application.
Choose File > Save As and pick your save options. Name the file, leave the video in Full Processing Mode and configure which AVI compression method you will use. I personally prefer to use uncompressed video, but that has generated complaints in the past due to file size.

Another viable option the Microsoft Video 1 codec, which provides video at something less than half the size of uncompressed. This format will work with most video editing solutions. If this is your final output, something like one of the DivX variants would also work nicely.

If you’re getting strange blocks in the video created with the Sony HDR-SR1, I also wrote a brief blurb explaining why CMOS image sensors do this.