Home Video to DVD: Capturing to Your Computer

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Okay, I promised a long time ago to write about how to turn home videos into DVDs. Now I’m going to do it.

First off, a disclaimer. Everything I’m going to say is Windows-specific. I’m sure you can do all the same stuff, maybe more, with a Mac (maybe even Linux, for all I know). But I don’t know the Mac software, so I will just assume that it’s pretty similar, but a little different. Okay? And I’m not a pro, but I’ve done quite a bit of it, and learned some things the hard way.

I got started doing this a couple of years ago when we bought a digital camcorder. At first, we just started shooting video, then sticking the tape cassettes in a box to gather dust—just like the old system. But one day I saw a sale at Circuit City that let me get a 200 GB hard drive and a DVD burner for a good price. So I bit. And thus began my odyssey, which leads me to sharing the following tips:

1. It really helps if you’re starting with a digital camcorder (mini-DV), rather than an analog one (8 mm, VHS, etc.). You can do it with the latter, but then you need a capture card for your computer that can convert the analog video to digital.

With the mini-DV, all you need is a Firewire (also called IEEE-1394 or i-link) cable and a port to plug it into your computer. Most newer computers have a port. On mine, I found it on the back of the sound card.

2. It helps if you have a REALLY BIG hard drive with a lot of empty space. A single hour of uncompressed video takes up about 13 GB. And that’s before you start editing and converting to DVD format. If you’re doing any real editing, and then burning to DVD, you could easily gobble 30-40 GB on your drive just making a 1-hour DVD. That’s why I put in a 200 GB drive basically just for video stuff.

So…if you can, start with:

  • digital source
  • Firewire cable
  • big honking hard drive

3. You need software. There are a number of packages out there: Sonic MyDVD, Nero, Adobe, etc. You can read reviews on cnet.com. I use Sonic MyDVD for the final DVD production—and for the video editing (but only if the editing is minimal).

For the actual editing, if it’s anything more than a bit of trimming here and there, I like Windows Moviemaker—which comes free with Windows XP. (You might have to update to SP2.) That’s right, it’s freeware! And it’s a powerful program. You can use it to cut and paste video clips, add transitions, titles, credits, and mix in music in a very flexible way.

I’ve used Moviemaker for many things, but the most complex was creating end-of-season music videos for the wrestling team. Each video, about ten minutes long, involved about a hundred video edits and multiple music edits, plus titles and credits. (If you’re creating a complex piece like this, Moviemaker is a bit crash-prone. So as you add complexity, save more and more often.)

4. Now get your video onto your computer. Plug in your camcorder, crank up your software, and tell it to “Capture Video.” You can do this from MyDVD or from Moviemaker. Both allow you to control the camcorder playback right from your computer. If I know I’m grabbing selected “good parts,” not a whole tape, I like Moviemaker because it lets you skip and grab, skip and grab, all in one session.

  • It’s going to prompt you to save the file, and ask you what format. If you’re going to edit, save it to .AVI or DV format.
  • If you’re just copying a tape to DVD with little or no editing, you can capture it from within MyDVD, and save it straight to MPEG, which is the format in which it will be burned onto the DVD. This will save you a lot of steps.
  • Be careful where you save the file. The software always seems to want to save it under Documents and Settings, no matter how many times I redirect it to over to the other hard drive. Put it where you have a lot of room, and where you can find it.

Tomorrow, editing.

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