MacMost Now 362: Importing Incompatible Video into iMovie

Most video cameras produce files in a format that iMovie can handle right away. However, some cameras use special video formats that iMovie can't read without your help. There are three strategies you can use to get incompatible video into iMovie: installing software that comes with your camera, researching solutions on the company Web site, or converting the video using free third-party tools.

Video Transcript
Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now, on today's episode we'll look at importing unsupported video formats into iMovie.
So this is a pretty common question I get. Somebody buys a video camera, and then takes some video, and then they try to bring it into iMovie and find that the file format that the camera exports is not compatible with iMovie.
So why does this happen, and how can you fix it? Well first I would tell everybody that before you buy the camera to check the specs and check reviews online, especially reviews from Mac users, about using the cameras video with your Mac.
Because if a camera is incompatible with iMovie, and there are a few out there who are then usually there will be a lot of people talking and complaining about it, so you can avoid this problem by doing some research before purchasing. So why does this happen? Well, QuickTime is the underlying part of Mac OS X, which understands how to take dozens or even hundreds of formats of video and display them on your computer and allow you to edit them in iMovie but it doesn't understand every format, there are some out there that you don't have on your Mac But you can add them to your Mac so QuickTime can understand them. A common one for instance is called MPEG2 now this format you actually have to license, it costs twenty dollars, you can get it through Apple and add it directly to QuickTime that's the easiest way and you may find it's surprising if you buy a camera that requires you to purchase this extra bit of software, which is why you should check beforehand. In other cases you actually get the software you need with the camera on a CD, or perhaps as a download on the website, now sometimes it isn't obvious that this is what you're getting, for instance when I first got my flip camera I didn't want to use the software that came with it, but I didn't realise that by installing it I also installed a special Codec that allowed QuickTime to understand the AVI format produced by the flip camera. So just by installing the software, even though I never used it, suddenly made all that video available to be used in QuickTime, and even in iMovie for editing. So what if all that fails? Well now you've got a video file, could be mp4, could be AVI, could be all sorts of other formats, and you've got to convert it to something which you can use. So you're going to have to use another programme to do that. First thing that we want to try is just opening up the file and the QuickTime X; sometimes some video files work in the plain QuickTime player and not be able to work in iMovie, in that case, you could open it up in QuickTime player and then 'save as' and use another format- So for instance you can save it as an iPad format or in this case in a HD480p format, try various things with a small sample file to see what works for you and gets good quality and then you can use that for the rest of your videos and set that as a regular part of your workflow. Another way to do this is to use the popular VLC video player, and once you've downloaded that you can open up the video in it and play it, you can also go to 'file' stream the export wizard, set it to transcode, save to file, select the file that's open, set it to transcode both the video and the audio, use something like H.264 for the video, MPEG4-audio and that's a pretty standard QuickTime movie format there; go to next and you select an MPEG4 file if that's how you want to export, and then where to save it, and it'll save this out. Another programme I like is ffmpegX and you can drag and drop a video into it, set it to export in, you see in a format H.264, as an MP4 file and then hit encode, and you can set this as a regular part of your workflow as well. A third great option is MPEG Streamclip, basically does the same thing; you can bring the video in, and then you can export it in various formats, set it up how you want it to export, and set it to search all the different options, and then you can even set this as a preset that, so that you can process all your videos in the future in, with the same settings.
So it's unfortunate that some camera owners have to go through this, for most cameras it's as simple as moving a file over, dragging and dropping it into iMovie, importing it into iMovie or if it's a tape driven camera using the import function of iMovie to bring it in directly and digitally convert it using iMovie. It's only a few cameras that need this, so, steps are; number one, make sure you install any software that comes with the camera to see if you get that codec, if not, check their website, check their support information to see if there's any way you can get it and if that doesn't work, use one of the three programmes I recommended to convert the video to a format that iMovie can use. Hope you've found this useful, 'til next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 20 Responses to “MacMost Now 362: Importing Incompatible Video into iMovie”

    2/25/10 @ 12:15 pm

    I’ll try this guide with EDIUS CODECS.


    Ross Craig
    3/1/10 @ 6:11 am

    I use Handbrake to convert my video files. I have a Panasonic SDR-SW20 and it uses the .mod format. Handbrake is a resource hog, but the clips I convert are only short ones.

    3/17/10 @ 11:24 am

    god has bless you with a great way to teach….i go a question…..i want to do my mac all over again but im afraid to lose my final cut and all my important programs … can i make a copy of a program already install in my snow leopard 10.6?????? ill be waiting “god bless you very much”

      3/17/10 @ 11:32 am

      Make sure you have your original install CD/DVDs for those handy. Usually, for complex programs, you need to re-install. Simply copying files won’t do it. If you downloaded some of the programs, then make sure you have all of your registration codes ready, and know where to get new installers, or save the installers you have.
      Very important: make sure you have a complete backup of everything. Keep the backup around for a long time so if you discover you are missing a document or data file down the road, you know where to find it.
      Is there a reason you are doing this? Unless you have a good reason, I wouldn’t attempt this as there is so much that can go wrong.

    8/27/10 @ 5:43 am

    oh my God! it won’t let me select the mpeg4, and the mp4 in audio doesn’t exist

      8/27/10 @ 5:51 am

      What won’t let you select mpeg4? Which application are you trying to use, and which file are you trying to convert? And where, exactly, did the file come from (camera make and model).

        10/14/12 @ 3:08 am

        I have the same problem as Madalina…
        I imported a file from my camera, and it became VLC. I tried to select mpeg4/mp4 on Streaming/Exporting Wizard (VLC) but the only the encapsulation format I get to choose is mpeg ts.
        I double checked everything and I have tried several times, but it still won’t work… I am trying to convert a small 17s film.

    8/27/10 @ 6:31 am

    i did what you said here to do with the vlc but still doesn’t work :(

    8/27/10 @ 6:37 am

    the file came from the net; after i upted the vlc i could choose the mpeg4 audio option, but i couldn’t import it into my i movie; maybe i don;t have imovie09 so it won’t let me import it

      8/27/10 @ 6:50 am

      I’m not sure what you are trying, exactly, but if it didn’t work, then try something else. Try using another export setting in VLC. Try using one of the other programs: MPEGStreamclip or FFMpegX.
      It sounds like you don’t know what format the original is in — if you got it from the net, then I can see why. You’ve just got to keep trying formats and applications until you get something that works with that particular video.

        Donna Brooks
        11/7/11 @ 1:12 pm

        Gary, could you perhaps do a video on the VLC Player, showing us various features, explaining the menus, and telling us how to use it besides just having it open when we click on a video? I hate having underutilized apps just b/c I don’t know what they can do! Perhaps you can also review Miro & Realplayer features, uses, & menus? Your iMovie vids were SO helpful!

        I find all these video formats, software, codecs, etc. to be bewildering. For example, what is this app used for?

        And this is similar: When I went to the Developer’s website, to try to learn about the app, I became even more confused b/c he has several other similar plugins for dif formats:

        Maybe you could do a vid just explaining what all these formats are, why they exist, and what, if any, are their practical applications?

        Would the average user find Handbrake helpful?


    8/27/10 @ 6:58 am

    it’s .avi the format original, and i made it mpeg4, mp4 with your help so it says on it’s info; thank you

    10/4/10 @ 1:30 am

    Thanks! Spent a lot of time looking for help with conversion until I came across this… Thanks again.

    Donna Brooks
    11/11/11 @ 1:50 pm

    Just wanted to offer my experience from this week. I *tried* using VLC, the Miro Converter, & the Realplayer Converter to convert an .avi to a format to import into iMovie. None of these worked, even though I tried different settings, etc. Sometimes I got error messages when I attempted to open the converted version or there was no audio. So then I tried MPEG Streamclip (my first time using it), and was able to convert into both a .mov and .mp4. I then imported the .mov file into iMovie with no problem. There were a lot of settings and terminology in MPEG Streamclip that I didn’t understand, so I may not have chosen the settings to get the best quality of image & sound, but I was really happy with how easy it was to use! They do have a User Guide, but I just needed one video converted and didn’t have time to read about all the settings. I will do so in the future, though, because I was happy to have an app that generated a file that actually PLAYED properly!

    8/3/12 @ 10:44 am

    Um, I have a wmv file, and I also have VLC player installed. So I did what you said to do with the whole converting thing, but the only option that it allows me to convert the video to is a MPEG TS. It won’t allow me to change it to a MPEG 4 / MP4. I’ve tried tons of times, thinking I did something wrong, but I swear I did everything the video said to do. PLEASE HELP!

      8/3/12 @ 10:55 am

      Not sure why VLC isn’t giving you more options. Perhaps try updating/re-installing it? Or, just try another program like Miro or MPEG Streamclip.

    10/9/12 @ 5:00 pm

    When I try to go to MPEG 4 Audio (in VLC) it is not there.

    Samantha Lauzon
    11/20/12 @ 6:40 pm

    I used your instructions above to try and transfer some videos that were sent to me by my brother. He convinced me to download VLC in order for me to view the videos. I was able to convert two videos into the format that the quicktime player should have been able to read but still get an error message indicating “The document “michelle.mp4” could not be opened. The movie’s file format isn’t recognized.”. Can any further advice be offered? Thank you!!!

      11/20/12 @ 8:34 pm

      Just try something different. You have lots of options when exporting from programs like VLC. Try some other options. Or, try another program mentioned in this video.

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