Before you can view your videos on your home network, you need to have some way of getting your videos from your tape collection into digital format. The consumer video market includes a large array of devices for videotaping special events. You may have VHS tapes, beta format tapes, 8mm videotapes, or miniDV tapes. The key to working with any of these media is putting the video in digital format and transferring it to your computer.
A Word About Digital Cameras
When you are considering digital video cameras, you'll find that there are a bewildering range of choices. In the end, you'll need to make a decision based on features and price. That means it's a good idea to understand the features of a camera so you can decide which ones are worth the extra money. Consumer camcorders come in five main formats:
MiniDVMiniDV gives you the highest quality because it stores your video directly in digital format; MiniDV is capable of producing professional-quality video. Digital tapes can be duplicated with very little loss of quality as compared to their analog counterparts. Most MiniDV camcorders on the market support IEEE 1394 (FireWire) connections, which lets you to transfer video and audio in digital format to your computer.
Standard 8 and Hi8These formats offer video recording quality that is a step below what you find with MiniDV. Hi-8 camcorders have a better recording system than Standard 8 and use a high-quality metal tape, which results in a cleaner, sharper picture than Standard 8 format. Because the videotapes for both formats are compact, the camcorders are typically small, light, and very compact. This makes it easy for you to take this type of camera almost anywhere you might want to capture video.
VHS and SVHSVHS and S-VHS provide good consumer-quality video recordings. The VHS cassette is larger than the 8mm formats, so the camcorder is larger and carries a bigger battery. Newer VHS camcorders use the compact VHS-C or SVHS-C tapes, which contain the same tape in a compact format.
You should expect to find a FireWire port on virtually any digital camcorder. Depending on what you plan to do with your camcorder, you may need other ports as well. For example, you need A/V outputs to connect to a TV or a VCR.
Batteries are your key to using your camcorder, so you need to be sure that you have a spare in case your main battery fails. The length of battery life is very important, and you should plan on buying a battery rated for use that matches as closely as possible to the amount of time you plan on using the camcorder. You need to be careful about the time estimates on batteries, however, as they do not take into account things such as using your color viewfinder and zooming in and out. Each of these use more power than simply pointing your camera and capturing video, and you should keep this in mind when buying batteries.
In digital video jargon, transferring video to your computer is called video capture. You can accomplish a capture by either connecting your equipment to a video capture card or by connecting to a FireWire port. The easiest way to tell which option is right for you is by looking at the owner's manual for your video camera. A section in the manual should deal with the various connectors available on your device. If your camera has audio input and output jacks, also known as RCA jacks, then your choice will have to be a video capture card. Fortunately, with Windows XP, setting up a video capture card is now far easier than it was in the past. However, you do have to open the case on your computer to install the card, and this alone can cause people to break into a cold sweat. But if you read the manual and follow the manufacturer's instructions, you should be up and running in no time. If the hardware installation proves too much for you to handle, you can certainly have the equipment installed at many of the larger computer retail outlets.
By far the easier path for video capture is to use FireWire. With a FireWire port, your digital video camera becomes an extension of your computer system. Many computers come with FireWire ports as part of their standard package, and you can usually modify those that don't by installing a FireWire card in your computer. When you have FireWire, controlling your video camera with your software becomes very easy. This book assumes that you have a FireWire port on your computer and that your video camera supports a FireWire connection.
When you capture video from your camcorder, you are saving the video content to digital form, in a file that takes space on your local computer hard disk. A video capture can consume a large amount of disk space, so you need to consider the size of your hard disk for video captures of any great size. If you will be doing an appreciable amount of video capture, editing, and movie creation, you should consider a hard disk of 200GB or greater.
You also need to be aware of the format you choose for your capture. Two formats for video capture are supported by Movie Maker:
DV AVI DV AVI is the format most camcorders use when they capture video to tape. The DV AVI format is all you could ask for in terms of reliable reproduction of your videos. The resolution is at 720x480 pixels at 30 frames per second. The biggest disadvantage of the DV AVI format is that each minute of video takes 200MB of disk space. So with the one-hour tapes that are common in camcorders, you will fill your hard disk rather quickly unless you have a lot of space.
Films shown at a movie theater are typically projected at 24 frames per second. There is a movement in the digital video industry to adopt the 24 frames per second as a standard, which is referred to as 24p. You may notice that your own videos don't have the same look and feel as you see in theaters. Part of the reason for this is that consumer video cameras capture video at roughly 30 frames per second. Some video editing software lets you add film grain to your video to achieve more of a film look. Windows Movie Maker offers an effect you can use in your videos to make it look more like film. In the end, though, don't be terribly disappointed if your videos don't have a film quality to them.
Windows Media Video (WMV) WMV, Microsoft's proprietary video format, offers great quality with the advantage of requiring a fraction of the amount of space of comparable DV AVI captures. As a matter of fact, some movie theaters are switching to digital projection techniques and are opting for the WMV format. The big drawback to the WMV format is that your video must be re-encoded before it can be stored in WMV format. Because camcorders store video in the DV AVI format, in order for the capture to wind up in the WMV format, the digital data must be converted by using a codec. (The term codec is shorthand for coderdecoder, referring to the functionality of this type of software, which is to code and decode streams of digital data.) As a general rule, you lose video quality whenever you have to convert from one format to another.
What is Firewire?
FireWire, developed primarily by Apple, was available in 1995. It is an IEEE standard referred to by the working group number 1394. So in the industry you hear people refer to FireWire as IEEE 1394. Products that support the IEEE 1394 standard have various names, depending on the manufacturer. Apple calls it FireWire, and because this is the most popular implementation, it has become synonymous with IEEE 1394. The terms i.link and Lynx are also used to refer to 1394. Whatever name is used, IEEE 1394 is a technology that is intended for applications that require a high data transfer rate. Video and multimedia take full advantage of the speeds offered by the FireWire solution.
FireWire can connect up to 63 devices, and it allows for peer-to-peer communications, meaning, for example, that a scanner can communicate with a printer without the computer's CPU being involved. Devices that support FireWire are typically things like external hard disks or digital video cameras. It is also possible to build a TCP/IP network over computers with a FireWire port for extremely fast data transfers. FireWire devices are typically connected to your computer by cables of various configurations. Figure 6.1 shows some of the cables you might encounter with FireWire devices.
Figure 6.1. FireWire cables.
With most things having to do with computer hardware and software, improvements are a fact of life. The original IEEE 1394 standard defined a mechanism for transferring data at a speed of 400Mbps (megabits per second). The successor to the original standard bumped up this ceiling to 800Mbps. Today, 1394a refers to the 400Mbps version, and 1394b refers to the 800Mbps version of FireWire.
You need to keep these formats and resolutions in mind when you reach the Video Setting page during a capture session with Windows Movie Maker. DV AVI offers the highest quality; if you accept the default setting, you will capture using WMV file formats, with a smaller picture size. If you want to use WMV, make sure to choose the High Quality setting under the Other Settings choice during the capture session. In general, if you will be viewing the finished video on your local computer screen, it may suffice to leave the capture at the default setting. If you are planning on sending the video back to your digital camcorder or want to view it on your DVD player, you will want the higher-quality resolution.