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Importing Video from a FireWire Camcorder to an Aluminum MacBook

Apple’s newest consumer laptop is a package full of shiny power, but it also lacks a FireWire port. That means no FireWire Target Disk Mode, no support for external hard drives with FireWire interfaces, and no support for digital camcorders that have FireWire (or i.Link) ports.

In an email response to a customer who asked about camcorder support, CEO Steve Jobs replied, “Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.” And looking at Amazon’s current best-selling camcorders, most of them connect via USB.

However, if you already own a perfectly good MiniDV or HDV camcorder that connects via FireWire, you may not be completely out of luck. Although I don’t have one on hand to test this, in theory you can use an analog-to-digital video converter to bring your footage into the new MacBook. (If you own one of these devices, please let me know if I’m off the mark.)

For example, take a look at the Pinnacle Video Capture for Mac ($100). Most camcorders include a composite AV cable that enables you to connect the camcorder directly to a television for playback. Insert the left and right audio plugs, and either composite video or S-video cable, into the Video Capture for Mac hub, which in turn connects to the MacBook via USB.

Poking around online, I also found the ADS Tech VideoExpress ($50) and the Plextor ConvertX for Mac (PX-TV402U) ($229), neither of which I’ve used.

Obviously, this approach isn’t ideal. You’re starting with digital footage and converting it to analog, then re-digitizing it in the computer, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some image quality loss (though I’m guessing it would be hardly noticeable). You also lose device control, the capability to control the camcorder directly from iMovie as you’re reviewing footage and importing.

I should also point out that you can also still purchase a new white MacBook with FireWire for $999 or move up to a MacBook Pro, which includes FireWire.

I agree with many others that removing FireWire from the new MacBook is disappointing, but it’s also consistent with Apple’s outlook for digital video. iMovie ’08 is a completely new application that shares little with iMovie HD 6, and it’s clearly designed as an editor for video snippets and shorter movies destined for YouTube. In Apple’s view, the people who are shooting these types of movies – using Flip cameras or the movie-recording functions of digital still cameras – are the market for the new MacBook. I don’t expect Apple to bring FireWire back to its consumer laptop.

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