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Capturing video in Movie Maker 2 ... which format to choose?
Transferring video from a digital camcorder and capturing it onto your hard-drive can be difficult. That’s because digital video creates enormous file sizes that can be difficult to save onto your computer’s hard drive. Until recently, video capture was the hardest step for the home video maker as it was fraught with hardware conflicts, system crashes, and dropped frames … and tended to progress toward splitting headaches.

Fortunately, Microsoft’s latest video editing software, Movie Maker 2, makes the capture process relatively painless. This is due in part from the Windows XP operating system and its built-in native support for capturing digital video and digital pictures. On top of that, Moviemaker’s capture wizard is simple, straightforward, and a huge boon for the amateur video maker who wants to jump into computer video and not worry about the idiosyncrasies of capturing. .

However, before you capture video in Movie Maker 2, you have to answer an important question:

What format do you want to capture into?

You see, Movie Maker lets you capture in both the traditional DV-AVI format, and also in its own WMV format. Each has its own merits, so I’d like to tell you more about each of these formats so you can make an informed decision.

The DV-AVI format
The first format you capture into is DV-AVI. This format, also known as DV or “digital video” is the video compression format that your camcorder captures onto tape. Thus, when you film a video, your camcorder saves the video information onto magnetic tape as a series of “0s and 1s” in the DV-AVI format. This digital format is great, as the video is saved at an outstanding resolution of 720x480 pixels running at 30 frames per second. In other words, you are getting video that is potentially higher quality than a commercial DVD. DV-AVI is the capture and editing format of choice for all other video software programs and any video-related software will recognize and work with this format.

However, the digital video format is not without its problems … the major inconvenience being the huge file sizes. You see, DV-AVI video takes up a lot of space. Each minute of video takes up a whooping 200 megs of space on your computer's hard-drive. That means an hour tape will occupy about 13 gigabytes of hard-drive space … that’s a lot of space!

Because the format is so big, many older home computers have problem capturing and saving the video fast enough, resulting in “dropped frames” whenever the computer’s hard-drive slows down below a critical level. Fortunately, almost all computers running Windows XP are fast enough to capture DV-AVI video, so this isn’t really an issue. Still, if you don’t have much hard drive space available you’re going to run into problems. Most intermediate and advanced video users have extra hard-drives to save and backup their video projects, though this isn't necessary for the beginner.

Windows Media Video 9
Movie Maker 2 offers you the ability to capture your video into its own “wmv9” format. The windows media format is set as the “recommended” default setting when you first attempt a capture … partly from Microsoft’s desire to dominate the video market with its own proprietary video format.

That’s not to say that WMV is bad … quite the contrary, this video format is great, and saves your video into incredibly high-quality video that takes up 1/10th the space as DV. In fact, the quality of WMV9 is so good that some movie theatre companies are switching to digital projectors, dumping their old fashioned film projectors, and projecting their movies from WMV9 files. The compression level of WMV9 is incredible and allows you to backup and create collections of videos on your computer, just like you might already do with your MP3 audio collections.

However, the WMV9 format has its own problems which may turn you away from the format for capturing video. When first capturing your camcorder movie through a firewire cable, to save the movie into WMV your computer has to “re-encode” the video into the WMV9 format “on the fly”. Even if you set the compression level to highest quality, you are going to loose some of your video image quality through the encoding process. You ALWAYS loose image quality when you re-encode a video, no matter how high your settings are set … that’s the nature of video compression.

The other problem with the format, is that it’s Microsoft’s proprietary format, and no other program uses or recognizes WMV9. That means you’re stuck using Movie Maker for editing. On the other hand, you were probable going to use Movie Maker 2 anyway.

So which one do you choose?
If you are going to capture a short section of video from your camcorder, say … less than 10 minutes (or if the video quality must be the highest quality), I recommend sticking with the original DV-AVI format. If you are hard-pressed for hard-drive space, or must capture a long amount of tape, the WMV9 format is just fine. However, if you do go with WMV9, I recommend not using the “recommended” setting for capture. Go ahead and set the capture quality level to the absolute maximum (called “high quality” at 720 x 480) as you should always start with the highest quality source video before you begin editing.

Next: Improving Video Capture Performance

You can find more useful home-video "tips and tricks" like this one at Mighty Coach - they even have an online-video course that teaches you to edit video on your home computer!


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