The Key to Success

 when trying to convert your analog camcorder videos to DVD.

Here are some ideas I have considered when I decided to transfer my old home camcorder video stuff to DVD.  Like so many other young men with a new family I purchased a big VHS camcorder in 1989 and for many years was very vigilant about having that monster around as the kids went through youth, dogs, school, huge birthday parties, soccer matches, hugs & kisses, scratches & cuts,  tears, baseball and all the other things involved in growing up.  But in the last several years my so-called "valuable" collection of VHS videos has done nothing but sit there.  So I had to ask myself some hard questions.

Why do I want to attempt all this tedious DVD conversion work.  Is it really because Iím afraid my VHS tape will lose quality and deteriorate or that the players will all suddenly disappear?  Come on world!  I honestly donít think that the players will go away any time soon.  We just have too many of them around.  And besides if a VHS tape is properly stored, I bet that the quality of a good tape will last for well over 40 years.  So why do I want to do this?

Then again I asked myself why have all my tapes just sat around in a very safe place?  Itís simply because they are not very accessible.  If you want to find something on a video tape, then you have to do an often boring and frustrating video search--not pleasant..  Video tapes are not very copy-able either, and very awkward to edit, and they are expensive to mail and can get damaged easily.  So there are lots of reasons to get rid of those old VHS tapes.

But the truly impelling reason to go DVD is because itís so easy to find things on them, edit, access, view and distribute.  And I have found this not all that hard to do.  Let me elaborate some more.


Before I get technical, remember that you want your videos to become something useful.  You therefore must do some edit work.  This primarily involves scene identification and isolation.  Videos pretty much consist of a series of stories and events, vacations, trips, beach scenes, weddings, births, dogs, cats, mud, worms, butterflies, muddy pets, baseball games, soccer games, gramma and grampa visits, and any stuff that happens around the house or that you want to preserve for yourself or posterity and that you think is worth preserving.  The quality of your finished product depends a lot on how well you shoot and organize your scenes.  For instance whenever I shoot, I try to capture a story or event.  When I can get the story told and recorded within 3 minutes, then itís a good scene and I consider it a successful one.  I also look for action within the story because it makes the scene more interesting.

then again if you don't want to go through all this mumbo-jumbo, then you can go to one of these services that will take an entire VHS tape which has been laying around for years gathering dust and have it conveniently put on DVD.  You will then get a nice DVD that will be laying around for more years again gathering dust.  In 20 years you can again have it converted to blue-light (or whatever) so it can gather some more dust.

And don't be fooled by the people who say that they have software which identifies scene change.  No such magic bullet exists.   You have to identify and label scene change yourself.

So your goal is to make something useful, available, and fun to watch.  Your goal is not to try and fill up an entire DVD.  DVD is a mediaónot a goal.   You want to take a bunch of raw footage accumulated through the years and make it into something worthwhile, convenient and enjoyable, and so you can finally send it out to all the grammas and grandpas.

To begin with youíve got to break your video into smaller digestible mouthfuls within larger manageable chunks.  I used dates as a good rule since most of my scenes began with a date at the bottom right which switch off after a few seconds.  So I wound up trying to divide my stuff into years.  1993 became one DVD. 1994 became another one.  None of these DVDs were full; in fact most were only at 60 percent or so.  My camcorder can record 2 hours of footage so on some tapes I had as many as 60 scenes spanning two or more years.  A good manageable number of scenes per DVD seems to be about 30 usually averaging 3 to 6 minutes each.  If a scene is longer I will split it up into sub scenes.

So start out with a good video capture card that will not compromise quality.  The one I have takes analog video output and transfers it directly to digital MPEG2 on disk.  This works well for me because itís convenient and fast and there seems to be no perceptible loss of quality.  If you go messing around with a bunch of intermediate files, quality could be lost.       

An important step in DVD preparation is capture which is the time to identify and build scenes from off of the video camcorder and write them as individual MPEG files .  If you just decide to capture 2 hours of video tape and break it into scenes later, you will wind up with nothing but heartache, wasted time, and a file way too big and almost impossible to edit.

The reason I use my camcorder for capture is because itís a very good playback unit and it is also the same device that recorded the original image, so there are no alignment problems.  I keep the camcorder in my lap so I can readily access the buttons and at the same time I have good control over the capture software.

If you capture scenes ranging from 45 seconds to  4 minutes each then these can be easily edited.  They can also be placed into a selection menu because a lot of software does this.  If the scene is longer like Christmas or a wedding, you can break it up into sub-scenes (e.g. trimming the Christmas tree, opening presents, reception.  There is software on the market that helps you do this.  Remember to start small with just a few short scenes and go from bumper to bumper.  Find out how to edit and build menus.  Don't even think about an entire DVD until you are ready.  Test your sample DVD on several players.

When you have a working procedure try to keep number of scenes to 30 or so.  Thatís what I try to aim for.  When I have captured all the MPEGs that I plan for a given DVD, I then go through the burn process.  The software I use requests the MPEG files to be included on the DVD.  Next it asks me to place titles on the individual scenes (one selection box and title per MPEG).  As I was capturing the video scenes for a given DVD, I kept a small Microsoft notepad where I entered a brief description of each scene.  I then did a copy/paste of the descriptions that I had put into the menu boxes.  Later I can use this list to print a label for the DVD.  I use upper case only because itís easier to read on the TV screen.


I find it is often easier to burn 2 or 3 DVDs at once because the software spends a great deal of time setting up for the burn.  Additional DVDs take little extra time.  After you have finished the burn, back up and save the MPEGs as data on a data DVD, and delete the folder.  If you donít back up and delete, you will very soon run out of room on your hard disk.  Those files are big.

For video processing I strongly suggest that you use a secondary hard disk for all your work. It should be 20 gig or so and be formatted NTFS because you will be working with very large files.  You will also have to de-frag frequently because I noticed that the hard disk frags like crazy.  Spare your system disk the pain.



Get a burner that handles +R and ĖR.  Both formats will be around a long time.  I like ĖR.  I got a Sony DW22-A that is supposed to do everything but it has trouble with the +R.  The Nero software I got with the unit was not good at all.

Get a good video capture card that can convert  to MPEG or AVI directly.  Mine was an AverDVD EZmaker which I picked up for $30 on Amazon.  I found that the AverMedia NeoDVD software worked very well in capture, composing and burning.

MPEGs are hard to edit because they are already compressed.  MPEG editors are expensive.  If you decide you want to edit individual scenes, then plan to capture in an editable format like >AVI.  When you edit save it in MPEG.  MPEG2 is the standard although MPEG4 is faster.  I use MPEG2.

If you have friends in Europe , you need the ability to burn PAL standard.

Thank you for your time and patience, and good luck, good hunting.