Making Movies: Copy Your Old Videos to DVD

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As the video guru at PC World, one of the questions I'm most frequently asked is about copying old videotapes to DVD. Readers ask me if it is difficult or complicated. The answer, dear readers, is no. It's actually pretty simple to do, and it won't cost you a fortune.

There are two different ways to approach this: You can either buy a dedicated DVD recorder, or buy a video converter that plugs into your PC.

But before we get into the specifics, there's one thing to remember: To copy a video to DVD, you'll need something to play the old video on.

If the tape is in a format that you don't have a player for, your only choice is to send it away to a company that specializes in converting videotapes to DVD. And even if you have an old VCR lying around, you should be very careful if your tape is irreplaceable. Tapes can easily get mangled in damaged players, or old players that haven't been used for some time. So if your video is valuable, do a test run with another tape that you don't mind losing. But rather than risking damage to a precious tape, you may want to consider taking it to a professional company that regularly maintains its equipment. Those players will be less likely to chew up your tape than that beat-up old player that's been in the back of your closet for the past few years.

Burn It, Baby

Stand-alone DVD recorders (as opposed to the DVD burners in a PC) are rather like the VCR that's probably sitting under your TV right now, except they use rewritable DVDs instead of tapes. To use one of these to record your video to DVD, just connect the tape player's video and audio outputs to the inputs of the DVD recorder, put in a recordable DVD disc, and then hit Play on the tape player and Record on the DVD recorder. The DVD recorder then records your video straight to DVD.

This is a hassle-free way to get a copy of your video, but the downside is that you can't do much in the way of editing. Although some recorders let you do basic editing and authoring (such as adding simple menus that allow viewers to choose particular scenes to watch), they don't allow you to do things like add titles to the video or cut out the boring bits and add a musical accompaniment.

DVD recorders start at $150; for more details of the range of available DVD recorders, see our January roundup, "Capture TV on DVD."

Going Digital

Video converters take analog video content and convert it into digital files that you store on your computer. Using a converter is a little more complicated than using a DVD burner: You connect the video and sound outputs of your tape player to the video converter, which connects to your computer through a USB port. Using the software that comes with the converter, you then capture the video and turn it into a digital file. Once it is on your computer, you can edit it, adding titles or using the filters that come with the video editing software to improve the quality. Finally, you write your video to DVD.

You can skip the editing step if you like: Many of the programs that come with the video converters allow you to burn the video straight to DVD as it is recorded.

AVerMedia DVD EZMaker Pro USB 2.0

The $150 AVerMedia DVD EZMaker Pro USB 2.0 that I tried for this article was easy to use.

The DVD MovieFactory 2SE software that comes with the EZMaker Pro makes the process simple. You can either leave everything as-is and let the program create the menus that let viewers skip to scenes on the disc, or you can jump in and edit the videos and menus yourself for a personal touch. Another alternative is Plextor's $159 ConvertX PX-M402U.

Choices, Choices

So, should you go for a DVD recorder or a video capture device? If all you want is a copy of your video without any fancy stuff (such as titles or editing), then a DVD recorder is the simpler option. But video capture devices provide a lot more control: You can edit the video, clean it up, and add things like titles that make it look more professional. Plus, converters can do a straight copy of the video, much the way a DVD recorder does.

There are a couple of catches, though. To use a converter, you'll need a fairly fast PC and a rewritable DVD drive. AverMedia's minimum system requirements call for a 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 with 128MB of RAM--but I'd recommend a 2-GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent Athlon with 512MB of RAM at the very least, especially if you want to try recording and burning the video to DVD in one step.

Videos to Watch

I'm introducing a new feature to this column: Every month, I'll recommend a video that you can watch online. Feel free to send in suggestions.

I'm really not sure if I should be impressed or appalled by the time and energy that are put into fan films, in which people take their favorite film and make their own short knockoffs. But there are plenty of them, and they are getting some official recognition: The Star Wars Fan Film Awards are being judged by George Lucas himself and the top prize is $2000.

The quality of entries is very high: I was impressed by "Funk'd," a cross between the MTV prank show Punk'd and Star Wars, in which Darth Vader has to undergo a sobriety test before he can take his Tie fighter out to destroy some rebel scum. Mike Kane did a nice job with this computer-generated short film, although the voice of Vader isn't quite right. There's still a little time to produce your own entry: The competition is open until June 15.

This story, "Making Movies: Copy Your Old Videos to DVD" was originally published by PCWorld.

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