BOOT CAMP 326 (18/05/04)




I do not wish to alarm you but if you own a camcorder then time is running out for your video movies. Within a decade or two, possibly sooner, some of them may become unwatchable. Over the next couple of Boot Camps we’ll be looking at how to use your PC to preserve your treasured recordings on DVD to give them a fighting chance of being seen by future generations and as an added bonus make it easier to share your home epics with friends and relatives. 


The most pressing problem is the gradual deterioration of video recordings on magnetic tape. If you were an ‘early adopter’ and had a camcorder back in the mid to late 1980s then your earliest tapes could well be starting to break down or wear out, especially if they’ve been played repeatedly or stored carelessly in damp or hot conditions or close to a strong magnet, like a loudspeaker.


Even if your tapes have been properly stored and are currently in good condition there is still the problem of playing back tapes on equipment that is now or one day will be obsolete.


Recording formats typically have 25-year life cycles and VHS is already on borrowed time. In as little as five years it could become difficult to find anyone selling VCRs and camcorders to play back your VHS and VHS-C tapes, not to mention the more exotic ‘high-band’ Super VHS (and S-VHS-C) variants. The 8mm and Hi8 camcorder formats are heading the same way as digital camcorders take over but eventually these will also pass into obsolescence.


However, transferring video recordings on tape to digital disc formats like DVD isn’t a guarantee of immortality. DVDs also have a finite life; the current best guess is 25 to 30 years for recordable discs stored in ideal conditions and the hardware to play them on will inevitably be superseded by emerging technologies like ‘Blu-Ray’ and high capacity memory cards. However, once a recording is in the digital domain it can be copied to other digital media without further loss of quality and providing future generations remember to routinely transfer your recordings to the format of the day they could survive indefinitely. 


There are basically two ways to get your aging home videos onto DVD. The easiest method is to use a stand-alone DVD recorder, which cost from around £350. The results can be quite good but it can be a chore if you want to compile more than one disc from several tapes and few models have anything other than rudimentary editing facilities, to cut out the iffy bits, let alone add special effects, fades and scene transitions, tinker with the sound or create eye-catching menus.


If all you want to do is archive your movies on DVD then this is undoubtedly the way to go but if you have a reasonably up to date PC then not only can you turn your home movies into DVDs, with a little patience you can end up with really professional looking productions that you will be proud to show, share and keep. It should also be cheaper than buying a DVD recorder but needless to say it is a little more complicated, so let’s begin with the PC.


Whilst you can edit movies on older, sub 1GHz PCs I wouldn’t recommend it. I suggest a minimum processor speed of 1.8GHz; needless to say faster is better and your life will be lot easier if your machine is running Windows XP Home or Pro.


A minimum of 256Mb of RAM is desirable, 512Mb is preferred and you will need a lot of spare hard disc capacity, at least 80Gb to be on the safe side as each minute of video can swallow up 250 to 300Mb of disc space. However, I strongly suggest that you fit a second ‘slave’ drive and use it just for video files as this will help to reduce processing errors and ‘jitters’ in your finished movie, caused by data bottlenecks. A new 120Gb drive will set you back around £50 to £60 and only takes a few minutes to install. If you haven’t already got one you will need to fit a DVD writer drive to your PC, but again they’re not expensive or difficult to install. The Sony DWU-14A multi format drive featured in our home build PC project – Boot Camps 321 to 324 – costs less than £70.


Finally, you need a means of getting video from the camcorder into your PC. There are two methods: if you have a digital camcorder then for best results fit a FireWire card or adaptor. Plug-in cards currently sell for less than £20 from on-line suppliers. If your movies are on analogue tape (VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS-C, 8mm or Hi8) then get a video capture card (around £20 to £25) or a USB video capture device like the Pinnacle Movie Box or Belkin F5U208 (£40 to £50). Once your PC is up to spec you are ready to get creative!


Next week – Home movies to DVD, part 2





An optical disc format widely touted as a successor to DVD with disc capacities of up to 54Gb


FIREWIRE (aka IEEE 1394 and ‘I-Link)

High-speed serial data connection system used on digital camcorders and PCs and laptops used for editing video



High performance analogue video recording formats developed in the early 1980s, such as Super VHS and Hi8, based on existing ‘low band’ VHS and 8mm recording systems




DVD ‘authoring’ is a fairly demanding task so if your PC has been well used for a while and is beginning to show signs of slowing down then now would be a very good time to think about a serious spring clean. Better still, why not save all of your irreplaceable data to CD-R/DVD-Rs, or a second hard drive – you could use your new slave ‘video’ drive for temporary storage -- format the C: drive and re-install Windows. Not only will it restore your PC’s performance it’ll get rid of any viruses or other nasties that you may have picked up and provide a clean slate for your editing software.  

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