Converting MTS and MP4 Video Files for Use in iMovie 11

The last few days have restored my belief that the best part of being a teacher is the way it forces me to learn. I’ve spent several (maybe more than several) hours over the past few days helping students solve problems with video files that wouldn’t import into iMovie or FCPX without some conversion process.

I’ve tapped a number of resources from Internet  forums to an Apple Certified Trainer of Trainers. But I found no easy answer that immediately allowed me to show the students how to convert their files free of charge.

You see, the idea was to spend $0.00 to convert .MTS and MP4 video to something like .M4v or .Mov. The best solution that I found that was, indeed, free is called Handbrake.

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 1.33.04 PM

This program did come up as a result in my initial Internet searches, but with mixed reviews. My own analysis of this is that it “works” but maybe not as quickly or well as some non-freeware versions. Handbrake did convert .MTS files into M4v, which worked in iMovie and FCPX. It also is capable of converting .MP4 to M4V, but it took me longer than it should have to find the right output settings. Older versions (0.9.5) had the option to switch the codec to .MOV or .M4V right on the main screen, but this new version (0.9.8) makes you go into the settings window to change the output setting and doesn’t offer .Mov as a viable codec. See below:

General Settings for Handbrake

Long story short–

If you want a free program that will convert just about anything to an Apple-friendly format, Handbrake will work.

The other side of the coin–

The computers in the Multimedia Lab that we use as a classroom conveniently have Roxio Toast 11 installed. Toast 11 was a better, more efficient solution for converting multiple, large .MTS files, BUT it did NOT work to the .MP4 files to .M4V or .Mov. The main downfall for the average person is that Toast 11 costs $79.99, which is the sale price. It’s originally $99.99. This is a lot of money for an amateur (or a teacher) to spend to solve a video conversion frustration. Luckily the computers we used already had Toast 11 on them, so no purchase was necessary.

Roxio Toast 11 Titanium Logo

The .MP4 files–

To convert the MP4 files, as I mentioned, Handbrake will work, but it takes a long time to accomplish the conversion of many files.

I had spent a great deal of time on this project already, so I decided that it was time to spend a little money to solve the issue. After all the time invested (and time is money), $39.99 didn’t seem like that much money to spend to make this process extremely easy–drag and drop and wait easy. I knew I would use this software again in the future to help other students or to convert my own video files. I bought the Wondershare Video Converter Pro and was quickly (like SUPER quickly) able to convert all 83 of my student’s files to .Mov format, which easily imported directly into iMovie for editing.

Wondershare Logo

MPEG Streamclip Freeware–


Squared 5 Logo

One program that didn’t work for me but that many video forums mentioned as a viable option is called MPEG Streamclip. I was never able to get it to convert either type of file mentioned above. The corporate website for Squared 5, the makers of MPEG Streamclip, says that the freeware supports the following file input types:

Supported input formats: MPEG, VOB, PS, M2P, MOD, VRO, DAT, MOV, DV, AVI, MP4, TS, M2T, MMV, REC, VID, AUD, AVR, VDR, PVR, TP0, TOD, M2V, M1V, MPV, AIFF, M1A, MP2, MPA, AC3, … 

It is possible that I did something wrong, since I got an error message when trying several times to convert the MP4 files in MPEG Streamclip.


Note: You may be wondering why I had to convert MP4 files to something else in order to get them to work with iMovie. Quicktime recognizes them as video files and will play them. When you import a MP4 file into iMovie, it doesn’t understand that it is a video file. It will successfully import the files, but it only recognizes the audio for these files and won’t allow you to do any video editing. Once you successfully convert the files to .mov or .M4v, iMovie will recognize the files as video. I read that iMovie doesn’t yet understand the MP4 video codec.


I sure hope this post helps someone!

About npiasecki

Instructor of Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado Denver, specializing in 21st century skills, research, and creative nonfiction. Director of the Denver Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project's professional network for K through College educators.
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