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Best Of: Video Conversion Tools

Posted by Iain Anderson on

When you’re putting videos together, you’ll probably shoot most of your source material. But if you need to incorporate videos you didn’t record yourself? Final Cut Pro X deals with MP4, H.264, H.265 and ProRes in all kinds of flavors, and it is less fussy than it used to be (.MTS files play these days, for example) but that doesn’t mean it accepts everything.

AVI and MKV containers especially can hold some pretty obscure codecs, and if you can’t install that codec on a modern Mac and FCP X rejects the file, you may have to jump through some hoops before you can edit. How do you convert footage in odd formats into something you can use in FCP X? Well, it depends how weird it is.

The first step thing to try is to open it in QuickTime Player (the modern one, QuickTime Player X, on your Mac already). If it opens in QT Player X, Final Cut Pro will almost certainly deal with it directly — import away. If not, export to 1080p from QuickTime Player and that'll work for sure.

When QuickTime Player X converts old videos, you'll see this

If that fails, try Handbrake. This useful tool does one thing well — converts footage from a wide variety of sources (including DVD) into H.264 or H.265 files. You can use the presets on the right to get started (and you can customise them if you want) but pretty much anything that comes out of Handbrake will work in FCP X. Keep the quality high, and remember that H.265 will only work in High Sierra.

Handbrake about to convert

If the file is odd enough that even Handbrake can’t handle it, give VLC a go. It’s an all-purpose playback tool, but know that colors can appear a little too vivid on modern wide-gamut displays unless you head to the Preferences, press Show All, then Video > Output > Mac OS X and choose DCI-P3 from the Display Primaries drop-down menu.

VLC preferences to make colors look normal on wide gamut displays

For file conversion, use File > Convert / Stream. Drag and drop the source file on top, use the default MP4 output, and hit Save as File. Be patient, because this process can take a while, and may not always work.

VLC, keeping it simple

Indeed, if it doesn’t, QuickTime Player comes once more to the rescue. Choose File > New Screen Recording, start a new recording, and then play the movie in VLC or whatever works. You won’t get sound this way, and if that’s important, you may have to go to a higher-end screen recording utility like ScreenFlow.

If you're determined to try other conversion tools rather than screen recording, MPEG Streamclip was a go-to app for a while, but development ceased years ago.

However you eventually get there, it’s almost always possible to get your videos into FCP X. Handbrake, VLC and QuickTime Player are all free, and they’re all apps you should keep on your system just in case.



Iain Anderson is an Apple Certified Trainer, videographer, editor, animator, writer, designer and occasional coder based in Brisbane, Australia. and @funwithstuff on Twitter.

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