Newsletter #152 - June 2, 2007
Camcorders and Other Gadgets

As new hardware gadgets emerge each month, the lines are blurring between camcorders that can also take still pix, cameras that have options to shoot video clips, and other gadgets like cell phones that can take either stills or video clips.
Last week someone was trying to decide on the purchase of a Canon PowerShot TX1 that can shoot 7 megapixel still pix along with high-def video clips. says it's Canon's first true hybrid product. I downloaded and explored a sample video clip from the camera. The compression codec was Motion JPEG, which easily imported into my Movie Maker 2.1 in XP, and I was able to save it to a high quality WMV file of the same 1280x720 dimensions (using a custom profile). The gadget would get along well with MM2, provided the user know how to handle the files.
MenuChanceThat jogged me into making some changes to my website, something I'd been thinking of doing for a while. Rather than adding a new section or page about every new kind of hybrid device that comes out, I restructured the site so there's a single Cameras and Capture Devices section, which is then subdivided into two branches.

Most of the today's new cameras and camcorders are not mini-DV models... and Movie Maker is even more tightly bound to those models and firewire capture. That means more Movie Maker users will be wrestling with file conversions in the years ahead... and website info about conversions will be needed more. 

I'm going to use this week's newsletter to summarize my personal progression in cameras over the years. Nothing deep, just some reflections on the journey.

... a few notes...


This is a rare case of a newsletter not going out late Friday night. About mid-week, a website visited by Bernadette clobbered her computer with adware, spyware, viruses... those kinds of things. And at a time when she was vulnerable because Norton Antivirus was acting up. It took a couple days to get things back to normal. Newsletter #34 from 2-1/2 years ago came in handy as our procedure for returning things to normal. That and a couple removals and reinstallations of Norton until it was fully up to date in definitions, and all features were functional again. 
iTunes Corner
While working on this issue tonight, a note from Apple popped up and asked if it could update my iTunes and QuickTime software.... sure!!! why not? It said one of the reasons was to support the new feature of some free tunes mixed in with the paid-for ones. I started by downloading a 259 MB file of a Kenny Rogers video special. Beyond free to download and watch, can I use it in my projects? I'm guessing not, but will check.
Silverlight Packages
Now that I have the hack mentioned last week, and I can roll out Silverlight packages that play on my website without the assist of the Microsoft service, I made a new website page this week to show by example the 14 template styles included with the Expression Media Encoder. Here's a direct link to the new
Encoder Templates Page
My next personal challenge is to figure out how to embed an actual little Silverlight player in the space used on the page by the still picture.
.... back to the main topic...

Video Capture Devices
Here's the history of my video devices... and other types that I know about but haven't owned or used. It sets the structure for the new pages in the 'Cameras and Capture Devices' types section.
I inherited my father-in-law's 16 mm home video camera, projector, and reels of film. My personal camera collection started with 8mm silent film (1969), then moved on to Super8 silent and Super8 sound (we started capturing the audio with the visual in 1976). Film reels were 3 minutes long, and needed processing as 35 mm negatives did. With film and developing costs, you were a lot more careful about the footage you shot than you are today. A reshoot meant a new roll of film.
I used those movie cameras, along with 35mm cameras for high quality negatives and slides, and Polaroid cameras for instant print gratification, until the mid-1980's.
Film editing was done in essence by razor blade and scotch tape.
Getting the video from the film reels into my computer for digital editing was done by stand a camcorder on a tripod next to the projector and shooting it from the wall or screen. The more professional way would be to use a 'telecine' transfer process. 
We've scanned all of our many thousand printed pictures... at least those worthy of hard drive space... using an older HP ScanJet 4p flat-bed scanner, and a newer fast processing little document scanner (one with a high quality picture option).
I've done, or at least started, two waves of 35 mm slide capturing.
Most of our pictures from 1962 to 1979 are 35mm slides and prints.

Analog Cassette Tape Camcorders
In the late 1980's I got my first Sony 8mm analog camcorder... it said 'digital' someplace on it, but the recording was an analog one on a cassette tape.
With low priced reusable tapes, one didn't need to be as careful shooting scenes, not unless you were like me. Editing was still linear and time-consuming. I remember going to family events and walking around doing the 'storyboarding' and 'timeline' in my head to reduce the amount of tape/VCR editing needed later. At that time, I could enjoy an event or do a good job on the video project, not do both.
8 mm tape camcorders...
My early editing from 8 mm tape camcorders was by starting and stopping the camcorder as it was plugged into and being dubbed to a VCR tape.
I did specialized opening title and closing credits scenes on the computer using Rendersoft VRLM, and shot the scenes onto the camcorder as it stood on a tripod zoomed into a window on the computer. I used my stereo to play background music as it was being shot, and did 'retakes' as needed. 
This was the first camcorder I used with a connection to the computer... using some low-end low-quality little connection box. The quality of the captured file was less than what was on the tape, and varied with the connection and the capture device.
Hi8 tape camcorders...
My Sony TRV-615 has a nice 18x optical zoom and does much better in low light conditions than my newer digital camcorder. I'll still use it today as the 2nd camcorder on a shoot.
It was a step up to a Dazzle 80 as a capture device. Although the quality of the captured file was still less than what was on the tape, it was better than the low-quality postage stamp online files of the times. We didn't have the kind of broadband connections we do today.
With phone line internet connections, I'd put a 10 minute movie file online, send a link in an email and tell the receiver to start the download before going to bed and view it in the morning. 
From analog to digital
Movie Maker 1 was my personal break-through... letting me shoot haphazardly and enjoy the events as I took video, as the editing was so easy.
Last year I connected my Hi8 camcorder to my miniDV camcorder, using RCA cords for audio and an S-Video cable for higher quality video, and made a full set of mini DV tapes from the 8mm analog tapes. As the 8 mm analog tapes hold two hours of video and the DV tapes just one hour, I now have 2 DV tapes from each of the older analog 8 mm tapes.
The transfer didn't involve my computer, just the 2 camcorders. I now treat the DV tapes as the 'originals'. In theory at least, the digital ones will preserve the data while the analog ones will slowly degrade over time.
As analog models, the Hi-8 camcorders output the audio via RCA cables, and the video by either an RCA cable or an S-video one (if the model has the S-video feature for higher visual quality).
Once I had a digital camcorder with a 'pass-thru' feature, I stopped using the Dazzle 80 for capture sessions and started using the DV camcorder to do the conversion to DV-AVI, and pass the file to the computer by firewire. The quality of the captured file from this 'pass-thru' process is as good as it is on the original analog tape. No longer was the capture device limiting the quality.

Digital Cassette Tape Camcorders
These camcorders were the first full digital consumer models. The digital 8 camcorders were made to align with the 8mm tape sizes used by the analog camcorders... playing them twice as quickly so it could record the full amount of data needed for DV. The mini-DV camcorders used a newer smaller sized cassette. The DV data recorded is the same on either.
To get the full quality files transferred to computers, firewire (also called iLink and IEEE1394) cables and connections are used... this is the perfect alignment of camcorders with Movie Maker. Transferring back and forth between camcorder and computer is easy, with no generational losses. They are the easiest and highest quality files to work with from start to finish.
Digital 8 tape camcorders...
I have one of these now... which I use as a better player for my 8mm and Hi8 tapes, and for the occasional project that starts with a client's digital 8 tape.
MiniDV tape camcorders...
I got my first digital camcorder in Feb 2004, a Sony TRV80... which I'm still using. With the ease of shooting and editing high quality video today, my video footage has gone up exponentially.

DVD camcorders...
Most camcorder users don't want to be bothered with the chore of editing. They just want to see their footage playing on a big TV as soon and easily as possible.  For them, camcorders that record directly on standard DVDs work fine.
But it's pretty rare home video footage that doesn't need some editing. After seeing it once, the question is "...OK, how do I get the video into Movie Maker for some editing?..." That's what my son asked after he looked at his first disc.
File conversion has emerged to be a major step in the process, right up there with editing.

HDV camcorders...
The first high definition camcorders recorded on tape... at 1980x1080i or 1280x720p, using MPEG-2 compression. Movie Maker in XP can't handle the file captures, but Vista's Home Premium and Ultimate versions can.

Because MPEG-2 compression is much more than DV, the file sizes are actually a bit smaller than the lower quality DV-AVI files.

Some hard drive camcorders are now recording Hi-Def file sizes... and in formats such as Motion JPEG. 

AVCHD camcorders...
These are high definition camcorders that don't use tapes... instead recording 1080i or 720p on hard drives (HDD) or DVDs.
Instead of MPEG2, they use the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec for compression.

DVCams are Sony professional camcorders that record at higher quality than consumer DV tapes... If you use them, chances are you use something other than Movie Maker for the editing.

Hard Drive camcorders...
Camcorders that record directly onto small hard drives are now popular... not having to purchase tapes or discs for the life of the product was a compelling feature for my son who recently purchased a Sony DCR-SR42 with a 30GB internal drive.

Of course he followed the purchase with his now standard question "... how do I get the files into Movie Maker?..." Yes, he's the same son who bought the DVD camcorder.

VDubMod worked fine on his XP system and mine for a direct conversions from MPEG-2 to DV-AVI, using the Panasonic codec. Based on posts, not everyone has been as lucky. 

Vista's Home Premium and Ultimate versions include the needed MPEG-2 codec to edit the files in Movie Maker 6, but they need conversion to AVI or WMV files before using in Movie Maker in XP or with other versions of Vista.

Digital Cameras with video options....
Many camcorders have a feature to take still pictures, and many still digital still cameras can take video clips. The quality has gone up substantially over recent years and some small still cameras can now shoot full sized HiDef video clips.  

Webcams have been in use for many years... in specialized cases where they sit there waiting for movement to come to them. Surveillance cameras for traffic get a constant flow of movement... while bank vault monitoring captures mostly nothing.

Cell Phones....
Cell phones do about everything these days... taking snapshots and video clips is a natural extension of their other features.
The files include 3GPP and 3GPP2, the new worldwide standards based on MPEG-4.

The file extensions and underlying technologies are:

.3gp 3GPP standard, GSM Network, Video: MPEG-4, H.263, Audio: AAC, AMR

.3g2 3GPP2 standard, CDMA2000 Network, Video: MPEG-4, H.263, Audio: AAC, AMR, QCELP.

Capture Devices...
Analog - to transfer analog to digital video, capturing the video from a TV, VCR, analog camcorder, etc.
Digital - Some devices process digital video to move it from one environment to another. It's a bit like converting a file, but conversion is usually something done in a particular environment, like on your computer. For example, an ADS Tech device can be used to take video which is already digital, such as that on a digital camcorder, and move it to the computer environment in a different formal - changing its format as it processes it. The device converts to MPEG-2 files that are ready for CD or DVD authoring and burning.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
The newly re-structured section of the website is a good step forward, but it's still not where I want it. As always, it's a work in progress, changing as the world goes round. I don't expect either one to stop. I try to maintain whatever value it has, and enhance it bit more each day.
It's the many posts I'm reading from those wrestling with file conversion issues that led me to this change. If everyone had purchased mini-DV camcorders and used firewire connections because editing was easier, then the changes wouldn't be needed. If Vista auto-converted or supported all video formats, it wouldn't be needed. But the world turns as the purchasers want it to... or the marketing people guide them.
Have a great week and enjoy your video work...