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In The Lab
High Definition Video Capture under Vista
by chris

It's officially summer and many readers will be venturing out to view fireworks, attend festivals, visit Renaissance fairs, or just take some time off to get away from it all. If you take your camera or camcorder with you to record memories, consider transferring the results to the computer for processing.

Digital cameras are usually pretty easy to deal with. Just pop the memory card out of the camera, plug it into an external or internal flash card reader on the computer, and drag the pictures over to your folders to copy or save. Most cameras also have a USB connection that allows the flash card to appear as a drive on the computer for the same purpose, essentially turning the camera into an expensive card reader.

Video cameras are not quite as convenient when it comes to transferring your results. True, some camcorders like Sony may save directly to recordable mini-optical disks, but the file format is often proprietary and may need to be converted to a standard format before they can be edited or viewed on the computer. Additional issues may crop up if you own one of the newer High Definition format cameras; if nothing else, many older video editing programs cannot handle the higher screen resolutions typical of HDTV standards. I have been using a Canon HV20 High Definition Video (HDV) camcorder. This has a slot for a miniSD flash memory card (used for still images) and a 4mm digital tape for recording video. There is a USB connection for accessing the flash memory for the still pictures, but not to transfer the digital video. I can transfer digital video to a computer in one of several ways, but the preferred method is to do a digital transfer using an IEEE 1394 connection (AKA Firewire or i.link). If you don't mind some signal loss or having to run things through converters or capture cards, the camera also has composite analog video out, component video out, and HDMI out. The HDMI and component signals might or might not be useable for video transfer, but can be used to send your video playback directly to a large screen TV or other digital video display.

Windows XP and Vista include the Windows Movie Maker application, which when you have an IEEE1394 connection in the computer, may be used to capture or import digital video from most camcorders that have IEEE 1394 plugs. When the camera is attached to the IEEE 1394 port and powered on, Windows should report "New hardware found" and start looking for drivers. To capture video in Movie Maker, you may need to disconnect and reconnect the camera when Movie Maker is open. If the camera is supported, the Import video window should open, or will respond when you click on the selection in the menu or task frame.

Import Dialog Box

The Import Video wizard will ask for a file name, a folder location where to save, and the format of the file. I show three choices for file format, which determine the file extension and could impact how you will be able to use the media when done. Keep in mind that some video editing programs might not deal with high definition video very well, no matter what file format you save as. Standard digital video capture choices might include:

  1. Audio Video Interleaved (single file) - this will create an .AVI type file, which may be more compatible with some older editing programs. AVI files are usually uncompressed, and this is reflected in the estimated file size indicated below the format selection. AVI will use about 13 GB of disk space for each hour of video; by contrast, WMV format is compressed video that uses about 2 GB per hour.
  2. Windows Media Video (single file) - This is the compressed .WMV format, and will save all of your video "clips" as a single continuous file. You can still use the editing features to break this down into individual clips, but it may mean more work after the transfer. I don't usually mind, since I find the control in the video editing to be much more precise than using the camera controls to start, stop, and scan through the video.
  3. Windows Media Video (one file per scene) - Still the compressed .WMV file format, but should append a sequential number to the end of your filename each time you have or specify a breakpoint between recorded clips.

With my High Definition camcorder and Windows Vista Ultimate on my home computer, I only get a single choice - to import in a "High Definition Video Device Format (MPEG)", and no choice at all to automatically create scenes. Because that is my only option, I have to monitor the recording process and stop the import once the video is done, and then use the edit features to create my own breakpoints in the video. If I have multiple clips, these have to be manually selected and published to create separate clips.

Import Dialog Box Import Dialog Box

If you have an option to "Only import parts" the application displays multimedia control buttons that have the necessary control to capture short clips from your tape. You will be able to control the camera playback from the camera's buttons or use the "Digital video camera controls" in the software. You can use the controls to advance through the portions you are not interested in capturing or limit how much to capture based on a specified time in minutes. Click the "Start Video Import" button when you are ready to record your tape or the first clip.

Importing High Definition Video from a Canon HV20 under Windows Vista Ultimate

  1. Open Windows Movie Maker. Attach your camcorder to the IEEE 1394 port. If the import video wizard does not automatically start, you can click on the "from digital video camera" in the Import tasks list, select it from the File menu, or press Control-R to start.
    Import Dialog Box

  2. You will be asked to create a name for the video capture, where to save the file, and select a file format. With my HV20, I only get one choice, but you may see several. No matter what option(s) you have here, you should have several different choices when you get to the final publish step.
    Import Dialog Box

  3. I only have the option to Import the entire video; you may have more choices based on your camcorder support under Windows.
    Import Dialog Box

  4. When you click "Next," Movie Maker starts the camcorder playback and starts saving the result to the file you specified earlier. With the option to "Import the entire tape" you need to pay attention and click the "Stop" button once the video is done or after you have captured the portion you want. If you don't click stop, Movie Maker will record the entire tape, including the rest of the blank tape that remains!
    Import Dialog Box

  5. Once the video has been captured, you need to drag the new video to the storyboard or timeline to do some editing or convert it to a specific format. Once a video clip has been added to the timeline, you will have the publish option available. You can use the + and - magnifying glass icons to zoom in and out of the time scale, and use the position indicator to preview the video. The "split" option creates break points at the position of the indicator bar. Use break points to split the long video into shorter "chapters" or to separate different clips. You can then add transitions between the sections, as well as move, copy or delete the sections.
    Edit Video

  6. Modify your clip by deleting unwanted sections, reorganizing the sequences, adding transitions and effects, etc. Use the play button to preview the result, and when you are satisfied, select "Publish Movie" from the task frame or file menu (you can also use the Control-P shortcut sequence).
    Publish Movie

  7. Pick a new name and location to save the video, and depending on what you want to do with the clip, choose "more settings" for a list of formats and resolutions. Even though I recorded video in high definition (1440x1080 or 1920x1080) I can choose to publish the entire movie in a format compatible with my PDA or to upload as a podcast.
    Choose Settings

Check out the short sequence I took of the Penguin Palace case mod and saved in a small 320x240 resolution format.


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