For quite some time, I have been thinking of burning DVDs of my copious camcorder recordings of past several years, spanning more than 20 or so Hi8/Digital8 tapes. But given that my home PC didn't have a DVD writer and my knowledge of video capture/editing/burning technologies is rather limited, it remained just an idea. So, last week when I had a week long shutdown at the workplace, I decided to take the plunge and actually do what I had in mind for so long.
The first step was to buy a brand new PC with somewhat respectable capabilties. Well, I shouldn't give the impression that burning DVDs was the only reason for this purchase. My existing box, a self-assembled system running Windows 2000 with AMD Athlon 900MHz dating back to Dec. 2000, had started giving me intermittent freeze-up problem which I couldn't fix either by reinstalling the software or even changing the hard disk. In a way, I was just looking a for a good pretext to get another, state-of-the-art system, and now I had that.
So, I made few rounds of local Frys and ended up buying a mid-range Compaq Presario system -- a fine box with following specs: Intel Pentium 4 Processor 515, 2.93GHz, 512MB RAM, 160GB Hard Drive, 8X DVD+/-RW and 48X CD-Rom Drives, Windows XP Home Edition. Ofcourse buying the system was the easy part. Setting it up with all my favorite software took almost a day.
Connecting Camcorder to the PC
The next step was to install the imaging software that came with my Sony Digital Handycam -- a Digital 8, DCR TRV350. This software included a Sony USB driver and PIXELA ImageMixer, Ver. 1.5, package. Both installations went through without any glitch. I connected the camcorder to the PC with USB cable and was overjoyed to see the video within a ImageMixer window.
But, wait. There was something wrong. Though I could see the picture in motion, I heard nothing. There was no sound!
With a bit of googling and some luck, I solved this problem by setting the right preference in ImageMixer.
I could now capture both video and audio, but could not burn them onto a DVD! It dawned on me that the ImageMixer software would allow me to create a Video CD but not a DVD! Not good. Afterall, I have a DVD player that I use with my TV, not a Video CD player (does anyone use Video CDs these days?!). Even the recoring software that came with the new PC, Sonic RecordNow!, didn't include DVD burning software (well, the documentation does mention that it will sense either myDVD or DVDIt installation and use that for video projects).
So, I made another trip to the local Frys in search of DVD burning software and bought Roxio Easy CD and DVD Burning for $29.99. The feature that got me sold was: takes footage from a DV camcorder directly to a DVD with just two clicks.
To my surprize, I ran into the same problem with Roxio that I had with ImageMixer -- I could see the video on monitor but no sound.
I suspected the same audio setting problem -- and sure enough, the settings screen confirmed my suspicion.
But there was a crucial difference -- unlike ImageMixer, the Roxio Advanced Settings window will simply not let me select USB Audio Device as Audio Source!
I also found that others had similar problems. In fact, after reading this thread, I tried connecting audio/video output of the camcorder to the audio input of the PC using the same cable that I use to play the tapes on TV. And lo, I actually got the audio. But the quality was terrible and so, I decided not to go this route.
Another difference that I observed was that with Roxio I couldn't control the camcorder tape (rewind, forward, play, stop etc.) from within the software (I had to use the camcorder controls) which I could do with ImageMixer.
After more than a day of trying, here I was -- I could use ImageMixer to capture but not burn and Roxio to burn but not capture. So, I decided to try out the combination -- use ImageMixer to capture and Roxio to burn.
The End Result
This approach actually worked, almost. I could save the video clips captured by ImageMixer to files and then import the files into Roxio to create a movie and then burn that into a DVD. However, there were problems:
- filesize problem: ImageMixer could save video clips as either AVI or MPEG-1 files. As I found the quality of MPEG-1 files rather poor, I decided to use AVI files. But these files were huge. A 10 minute video clip occupied more than 4 GB and the ImageMixer (incorrectly) reported that the HDD was full. Strangely, even 10 minutes of MPEG-1 capture produced the same error, although the resulting filesize was less than 500MB. I could get around this problem by capturing a 60 minute tape into 6 video clips, but it would be too much work if I had to do this for all my recordings.
- Case problem with filename extension: ImageMixer saves AVI files with filename extension as ".AVI", such as Cap0001.AVI (notice the upper case), but Roxio software didn't recognize this extension (it recognized lower case extension ".avi"). I had to go to command shell and rename all the filenames, one by one.
- quality problems: While importing the file in Roxio, I was greeted by the following message:
It appears that the Frame Size of 320x240 and Audio Bitrate of 1411200 are not okay. But I do not know what to do about these. So, I went ahead and imported the files anyway. Rest of the steps, though bit slow (the conversion to DVD format and actual burning took more than a couple of hours), went fine. However, when I actually inserted the DVD into the DVD player and watched it, the picture quality, though not too bad, was not as good as what I could get by directly connecting the camcorder to the TV.
This is where I am right now -- with a transfer process that is not acceptable to me: takes too much time and effort and the end result is less than satisfactory. I wish I had a standalone DVD recorder that could take video/audio feed directly from my camcorder and burn DVD without going through the PC and all the complicated software.