Recipes for Video on your PC

This is an article on how to move your home videos from VHS video tape to DVD-R. Most of the programs mentioned are for Windows, but there are some for Linux and other operating systems too. All of the programs mentioned are freeware and some are Open Source as well.

Moving your video to the computer

There are two basic methods of moving video tapes to a computer. One is to hook your video tape recorder up to a video capture card. The other is to copy your video from your video tape recorder to DVD+RW (or DVD-RW) using a standalone DVD recorder. I'm not a great judge of picture quality, but it seems to me that a standalone DVD recorder usually does a better job of video conversion. There is also a difference in picture quality depending on the speed you record at using your DVD recorder. I would be interested to hear what other people think is the best speed. Personally, I've been using SP. If you use a low quality speed like SLP, you can end up with an MPEG 1 video format which can be harder to work with. Also, some video capture cards (usually the more expensive ones) and some video filters knock out closed captioning. If you're working on a video for the hearing impaired, it's important to figure out whether or not your system will handle it. The closed captioning information is encoded in line 21 of the actual video signal.

If you have a video capture card, it should be able to get the video onto your computer in MPEG format (or at least AVI). With a DVD recorder, the material is on the DVD+RW disk and needs to be copied from the disk and demultiplexed into MPEG files. You'll need a ripping tool with a demuxer to move the material from the disk and convert the VOB files (and IFO information) into MPEG files. There's a nice program called DVD Decrypter that can do both steps at once for you (if you can find it). Other programs that may be able to do the job are Vstrip and ProjectX. DVD Decrypter seems to work with a wider variety of DVD drive types than either of these. However, Vstrip and ProjectX are both open source. You can check some of the video sites recommended below for other tools, but I've had mixed luck trying them out on my computer.

Editing your audio video files

Now that your files are in MPEG format or in a demuxed (aka demultiplexed) MPEG format (.m1v or .m2v and .ac3 or .m2a), you may want to edit them. It's easy to edit files while they're still in AVI format, but if you try to do so in MPEG, you can lose picture quality. However, there are some clipping tools that simply clip the material at certain points. They don't need to convert to another format, let you edit and then convert back (which loses video quality since MPEG is a lossy format). If you just need simple editing, a MPEG clipping program like MPEG2Schnitt is more than adequate for the job and will not degrade picture quality. If you've used the DVD+RW disk method to get your file to your computer, your demuxing program should give you an audio delay (usually as part of the name of your audio file). MPEG2Schnitt lets you resynchronize your audio and video while you're clipping. Just enter the audio delay value in by right clicking on the audio file name and choosing the audio delay option. MPEG2Schnitt is hard to figure out without instructions, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to use. See the video sites links below for a link to a tutorial on the program. ProjectX also integrates with MPEG2Schnitt so it won't take as long to open files in MPEG2Schnitt that have been demuxed with ProjectX.

If you need to do more serious editing, you'll want the file in a format like AVI. If you're unable to save your file in that format directly in the first place (you're using the DVD+RW method instead of your video card), you can use a program like Virtualdubmod to convert a MPEG file to AVI format. Virtualdubmod is an Open Source program available on Windows. You can use Virtualdubmod to edit videos too. Newer versions of Windows come with Windows Movie Maker which is a simple to use audio video editing program. I was able to use it to mute the sound on a wedding video and add public domain music at points where I wanted. (See Recipes for Audio on your PC for more details on creating music wave files from scratch.) The hard part is getting to MPEG format from AVI. If a tool doesn't come with your computer, you can check out programs like Quenc. Again, see the video sites recommended below for a list of tools. You can also try using mencoder to switch between MPEG and AVI and back again. It is a command line tool available for Windows and Linux. It may be difficult to get the hang of which options to use at first, so be sure to check the documentation carefully. If anyone has any tips on mencoder settings, I'd be interested in hearing them.

You can also convert the ac3 file to wav. This is useful if you just want the audio track. Once in wave file format, you can make a CD with it or copy it to a portable hand-held music player. BeSweet and one of its GUI front ends works nicely for converting ac3 to wav.

If you're going from a video tape to a digital file on your hard drive, it's very common to see screen artifacts around the edges of your picture when you play it back on the computer. After checking through several sites trying to figure out how to fix this problem or trying to find out what might be wrong with my equipment, I finally came across a web site that explained the situation and said this was perfectly normal. No special editing is needed to fix this and you are not having trouble with your hardware.

Authoring

Now you can finally create your video. I like DVD Styler and find it easy to use. The only annoying thing is that the setup files from earlier versions are no longer compatible with later versions of this program. If anyone's had any luck in converting older setup files over, please let me know. DVD Styler is built upon the command line Open Source DVD Author tools plus some other Open Source tool sets (like MJPEGtools and cdrecord). DVD Styler is also Open Source and works on various platforms. DVD Styler lets you create menus and drag in MPEG or demuxed MPEG (m1v or m2v and m2a or ac3) files. There are a couple of settings you'll may want to check before you create an ISO image of your DVD. Set the number of audio tracks. (I usually use 2). Make sure you're set to the correct video format NTSC or PAL. If you're in the US, you'll want the NTSC setting. You may also need to set your audio format ac3 or mpeg 2 audio. You can also set up jump points so that when you click your DVD remote, the video will jump to a section you like. I use MPEG2Schnitt to get time estimates of where in a video I want to jump to. Another thing to note, you don't want to mix MPEG files in different formats (such as MPEG 1 and MPEG 2) or recorded at different speeds to your DVD+RW all together in the same title set of the DVD you're creating. You'll need to split them into different title sets or put them on different disks. There are other good authoring tools based on DVD Author that can supply different functionality from DVD Styler. Check the video sites for other authoring programs.

One of the programs provided by DVD Author and found in the DVD Styler package is mplex. You can use this command line tool if you need to turn an audio file (ac3 or m2a) and video file (m2v or m1v) into an mpg file. In other words, you're going to multiplex your files. You can also use it to synchronize your audio file with your video when you multiplex them back together. You can do this through the command line yourself or since it's a part of DVD Styler, you can change a setting and have DVD Styler do it when it calls this program.

Checking your results

DVD Styler creates an ISO image of the DVD disk (a file) on your hard drive. (You can have it burn the image directly to DVD on Linux, but you'll probably want to add this step anyway before creating your disk.) Check your virtual DVD disk out using your favorite DVD viewing program before creating your final disk. Linux users can easily mount a file using loopback to access the ISO image. Windows users need to find a program to help them out if they want to use any DVD viewer program to view their newly created DVD disk image. If you can find a copy of Daemon Tools 3.47, it's adware-free freeware that can make ISO images on disk look like virtual DVD disks. Windows XP users can also use Microsoft WinXP Virtual CD Control Panel to do this function for them. It's a little harder to use than Daemon Tools, but it's a compact tool from Microsoft that integrates well with Windows XP. It treats everything it mounts like a CD instead of a DVD, but you can still view videos with any players that can handle CDs. If you're on a later version of Windows, I found some tips for continuing to use Microsoft WinXP Virtual CD Control Panel. If the image mounts successfully, the issue is that you may not have the rights to see the mounted drive, even if you're running as adminstrator using Windows Explorer. You should be able to see the drive from the Open dialog in Microsoft WinXP Virtual CD Control Panel itself or from a DOS Prompt run with adminstrator rights or other programs run from the DOS Prompt (such as Windows Explorer). You can also click on the properties and try setting the program to run in Windows XP compatibility mode. One of the easiest solutions allows you to skip the image mounting step and use VLC (or Portable VLC available for Windows). This DVD viewer lets you view ISO files directly as well as finished DVDs. If something looks wrong when you're watching your virtual DVD, you can always go back to DVD Styler and redo it.

Now's a good time to see if your ISO file will actually fit on a DVD-R disk. If it's too big, you can go back to the authoring phase and split out some of the material into more than one disk. You can also use a program like DVD Rebuilder to shrink it to fit. On a POSIX machine, check out vamps and k9copy. When you compress files, you do lose some clarity though.

Creating the DVD

Now you can take your DVD-R (or DVD+R) and copy the ISO image from your hard drive to that disk. Your DVD drive may come with a program to copy ISO images to DVD disks. For example, Plextor's PlexTools Professional which comes with newer Plextor DVD drives includes this feature. Imgburn, which is a program based on the DVD writing portion of the DVD Decrypter program, will let you do this on Windows too. Microsoft now has a dvdburn tool for Windows XP and some of their other operating systems, freely available in its rktools bundle at the Microsoft web site, that does an excellent job of copying an ISO to DVD. You can also try using the cross-platform, Open Source program cdrecord. (I haven't had much luck with it on Windows, but it should work better on Linux.) After this step, you should have your final disk ready to play. You can create covers for disks with your favorite word processor. You can also create covers with HTML in any text editor and convert them to printable versions using techniques like those mentioned in the From Document to Book article.

Final Notes

I've been having a lot of trouble with DVD disks going bad or pixelating. Despite information that says they should last longer than VHS tapes, some of them seem to have very short life spans. Some of this may be due to the quality of the disks. You can check the video sites below for media recommendations. Would love to hear some tips on how to make sure your disks stay in good condition.

I'm in the process of trying to get some of the Open Source tools (such as MJPEGtools, mpgtx and others) that compile under Linux or Cygwin to compile on Windows with mingw. If anyone else is interested in this, you're welcome to join the CppDesign mailing list to discuss it further or hear about my progress.

Feel free to join the XHTMLDesign mailing list or e-mail me and share some of your own DVD authoring tips and tricks. It would be great to compare notes with other audio video enthusiasts.

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(c) Copyright 2005 by Laura Michaels
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Last Update: 20101216