Saturday, December 30, 2006

How to save and convert your videos

Welcome (back)!

With the Christmas and all the holiday stuff I had no time to update my blog and for that I apologize to all of you who visit this page. As usual I have spent the Christmas with my family and I am sure many of you had time together with your family.

Usually this time of year we record this special moments to later remind us of the times we had. Nowadays it is easier to save videos in a digital format (on a CD, DVD, or a hard drive) there are still persons who use video cameras that record on magnetic tapes. Furthermore, many other people have videos from the past on magnetic tapes and would like to switch them to digital format.

What I will present here is a solution for transferring tapes on a PC and make edits on the digital videos. I will strictly resume to the basic requirements but if you want more specific details don't hesitate to ask for them.

In the past I presented you with free solutions but for this task you need a piece of hardware that you may have to buy. You will be needing a TV Tuner to add to your computer. It is not an expensive piece of hardware as it will cost you less than 30 USD (US Dollars) and you could use it for other activities too.

A TV Tuner's first role is to decode TV signal and display it on your desktop. So with this cheap device you can watch TV directly on your PC with a dedicated software that also allows you to save the shows that play on. More expensive tuners include different capabilities like radio and teletext but we will stick to the video capturing features.

When buying a a tuner please make sure it has video and audio inputs from analog devices like a video camera or a VCR and ask the vendor for the appropriate cables needed for such a connection. Most TV Tuners have this features but you may never know what might happen so there is no harm in asking for help.
After you bought the device connect it to your PC and don't forget to install the drivers and the software provided by the vendor. Read the manual and play with the device for about an hour to understand commands. I suggest you search for some TV channels and try recording something. Play with the capture settings: encoding format, video quality, bit rate and everything else. See which settings work the best with your computer. You might notice the amount of space needed for a video capture is quite large and is greatly influenced by the quality settings; it's because saving files and compressing them in the same time is very difficult and your computer can't do the job right. So for a decent quality for the video you might need some free space on your hard drive.

After you got familiar with the software check the manual to see how you can connect analog devices to it. Respecting the procedures connect your external device to the tuner and make it play the tape you want to convert into digital format. Change the source of the video from the software and set you capture options. You should be seeing the tape playing on your monitor. You now can choose to record this and save it on your hard drive.

When the recording has ended you might find yourself with a pretty large video file that is way to big. Now you will need to compress that file into something smaller that is more appropriate to handle. For this you will need a video editing software. The one that I recommend is called Virtual Dub Mod and it is also free. This software will allow you to import your files and edit them. I will not describe now all the features as this post is way bigger than what I intended, but it is perfect for our job as it lets you to cut frames, add segments, add filters and compress the files with a variety of codecs to chose from. I used Xvid for my files and the bit rate is dependent on the file you chose to compress (if you have a dynamical video with a lot of frame changing you will have to set higher bit rates).

After you have compressed the file you may save it on your hard drive, on a CD or DVD or you may encode it to a video CD or a video DVD for a DVD player.

So let's reset the steps:
-you buy/get a TV tuner
-you set the tuner for recording
-you connect the VCR or the camera to the tuner
-play the video tape and record the desired segment of the tape
-edit and compress the video using Virtual Dub Mod

ps: let me know how it came out.

-Marius-

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