In our digital age, a special family event doesn’t seem complete unless memories are preserved with one of today’s high-quality, easy-to-use digital camcorders. Now wouldn’t it be nice if your video gems could be viewed on your computer, edited into full-fledged productions complete with a music track and narration, ad more easily shared with others?
With the right tools, turning your recorded video into high-quality movies that can be played on computers and reproduced onto DVDs or sent by e-mail is not as difficult—or as expensive—as it might seem.
Once you have a digital camcorder, here’s the hardware and software you need to spin your own movie magic.
Camera-to-computer connection. Transferring your video to a computer requires a FireWire (also called iLink) cable to link your camcorder to the computer’s FireWire port. Your camcorder may have come with this cable. But if it didn’t, you can pick one up for about $15-$30.
With older computers, you may need an upgrade, such as an external FireWire port that connects to a computer’s Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface. That will run you another $10-$20.
Learn to burn. Your computer must have a built-in DVD recorder if you want to burn copies of your movies to discs. Most newer computers come with DVD burners; 16X speed or faster recorders are best for handling video.
You also will need DVD recordable (DVD-R) or rewritable (DVD-RW) discs. DVD-Rs can only be recorded to once; DVD-RWs can be recorded to multiple times. Plan to spend another $10-20 for a 50-disc pack.
Step up to the mic. To add narration or other audio to your movies, an external microphone is needed. Your best bet is a microphone that can plug into a computer’s USB port. You can spend anywhere from $20-$200 or more, but a cheaper microphone should be fine for home use.
Video-editing software. The latest video-editing programs let you edit your movies and add a wide array of special effects, music, and audio. Best of all, many of these programs feature templates so you don’t have to create your masterpieces from scratch.
Here are four of many video editors available that you might want to consider.
Microsoft Movie Maker. For Windows XP and Vista users, Microsoft provides Movie Maker, a free, downloadable video-editing program perfect for creating small, e-mailable movies.
Movie Maker. Lacks the full functionality of higher-end programs, but provides plenty of effects, transitions, titles and credits, and audio and narration capabilities.
iMovie. Apple has always been on the cutting edge of video and graphics, so it’s no surprise that its iMovie video-editing software, included in its iLife ’08 software bundle, is the best title for use with a Macintosh computer.
Cost: $79 (single user)
Adobe Premiere Elements. Adobe produces arguably the highest-regarded video-editing software on the market. Version 3.0 of Premiere Elements is a full-featured program with top-of-the-line effects, transitions, scene indexes, drag-and-drop editing features, and DVD creation tools.
Vegas Movie Studio. Sony Creative Software’s video-editing software is a powerful tool for creating movies, and its slideshow and presentation capabilities make it a good choice for business users.
Cost: $79.95 (download);
From Tape to Disc
Give VHS Tapes New Life as DVDs
Watching and making movies has gone digital—a fact of which you are well aware if you have old analog VCR tapes collecting dust in your entertainment center.
But there’s no need to haul your VCR-recorded family movies and TV programs to the dumpster. With the right equipment and a little know-how, you can give VCR tapes new life by transferring them to DVDs using your computer or a stand-alone device. Here are the basics you need to know:
Video-capture devices. Adding a video-capture card with the proper VCR-to-computer cabling (USB or FireWire) to your PC is an inexpensive way ($50 on the low end) to turn VCR tapes into DVDs. The hardware device transfers a tape’s contents to your computer, which you can then edit with video-editing software. The software gives you great flexibility, allowing you to edit out footage and add features, such as title sequences and transitions.
Once that’s done, just use your computer’s DVD burner to make as many recordings as you like. But keep in mind that video transfer is a memory-hogging operation. Make sure your computer has a minimum of 512 megabytes (MB) of random-access memory (RAM) and acres of hard-drive space, at least 40 gigabytes (GB). If you have a computer that’s several years old, you’re likely out of luck.
A newer technology is graphics cards with video-capture capabilities. Newer computers may come with this type of graphics card already installed. So if you’re in the market for a new computer and want video-transfer capabilities, ask about this option.
An alternative to a card is an external capture device, which is a box (costing about $50 to $150) that links a VCR to a computer. This is an easier process than using a card and video-editing software, but you have limited editing capabilities with this option.
DVD recorders. With a DVD recorder, you don’t need a computer to make DVDs from VCR tapes. This is a more-expensive option (DVD recorders start at about $150 and can run into the thousands) but you will produce higher-quality video images.
With DVD recorders, editing options are few and the setup process can be challenging. But once you get past that, the transfer process is fairly easy compared to using video-capture devices and video-editing software.
Discs. Don’t forget that with either method, you’ll need disc-recording media to get started. Choose DVD-Rs (recordable) if you want to record to a disc just once and DVD-RW (rewritable) for the capability to record to a disc multiple times.