Edit your Video!

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How to edit your home movies digitally without going insane.

Let's face it - editing home movies is a ton of work.  Sure, it's cool, and you can make great DVDs.  But you want to spend your time editing and watching them, not fighting with your PC.

This page is not for hardcore editors - and it was written around December, 2003, so it may look a little dated.  But it assumes that you have a few hundred dollars to blow on software and hardware, and that when you're done, you want to make DVDs of this stuff.


Get something that uses the MiniDV format.  True digital, with Firewire output (IEEE1394) - I like the Canon Elura 40, but there's a newer version already.  Features to look for?

MiniDV Format - NOT MicroMV, not DVD.  You want something that records in AVI format, with low compression.  This is the easiest stuff to edit, and if you look at the Elura, the camera's pretty tiny. 

Pass-through conversion - so you can hook your old camera or VCR to the new one, and then send digital format right into the computer

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME with analog to digital conversion on the PC - you'll go crazy trying to get the audio and video to line up.  Either use an external converter like the one from Pinnacle, or get a camera that'll do it for you.


Get a big stinkin' hard drive, a  SECOND one, and use it just for video.  Not the original C drive in your PC, another one.Format it in NTFS, not FAT32, so that it can handle great big files.  Remember, an hour-long raw video is something like 14 gig.  So a 120 gig hard drive would hold 8 hours of video - but there's a catch - don't keep it more than half full, or it'll slow down, way down.

Don't install any software on this drive - it's just for video files.  Defrag it fairly often.

Try to keep it less than half full when you capture stuff.  As you'll see below, you're going to make a lot of large files.

Get a bunch of RAM - I use 512meg


Pinnacle Studio 8 - Great Video editing.  Easy to learn, with more depth than I have time.  It doesn't have some of the slick sci-fi transitions and color-changing junk that others do, but it has great serious editing tools, with multiple audio tracks, etc.

Ulead DVD Movie Factory 2 - As much as I love Studio 8, I only use it for editing.  When it comes to putting the stuff on a DVD, Pinnacle is very slow, and used to be crash-prone.  I gave up and use Ulead's product - it's simple and fast.

Enditall - this is a handy program available for download that'll shut down other programs that might interfere with capturing or editing.


Organize your hard drive

On your new video-only hard drive, make a folder for each project.  Keep everything that pertains to a given video in that folder - the original captured AVI, the sub-AVIs (see below) the Studio Project files, any related audio or stills, and the final MPEG-2.  That way, when you're done, it's simple to see what to delete.

NEVER move the files around using Windows.  It can really confuse a Studio file, and trash a lot of your work.  Studio's gotten better, but don't chance it.

Edit in AVI only

Studio can, in theory, work with MPEG-2 files for editing.  These are highly compressed files, like the ones you'll find on a DVD.  Don't do it.

When you're editing things, for the intermediate steps, use AVI files, not MPEG.  That way when you string them together for the final versions, they'll look great.  Studio works well with these files, and the software is much more responsive.  Resist the urge to make everything into MPEG 2 files, which are nice and small.  They make the computer work too hard in editing, and they're not as good as AVI files. 

Make several short AVI pieces - go easy on yourself and the PC

Pinnacle (and all of its competitors) crash every now and then.  Video editing is the hardest thing you'll ever ask your PC to do.  It takes massive memory and storage power to do this.  So try to keep the workload down, and it'll be much more reliable.

Work in short pieces.  If you have an hour of tape, don't try to edit it down to 30 minutes all in one job.  Instead, create scenes and save them as separate jobs.  You know, a 10-minute "day at the beach" and a five-minute "baby's first whatever."  These are nice bite-sized jobs, and you can bang them out in your copious free time.

Another thing - all those titles and fades and slow-mo things you're adding?  They're really demanding on the system, and make it more crash-prone.  So if you've got a complicated set of titles, best to use a small file.

As you finish them, use the "Make Movie" feature to create an AVI file (see above) of the scene.  You'll end up with a bunch of smaller AVI files from each scene. This process is called "rendering" - on my 1.4ghz machine, it takes about 3 minutes to do a minute of video.  So you can start a scene, go get a cup of coffee, and then come back and see it.

Combine / Render these into Medium-sized MPEG-2 files

When you're done, make a final project that combines all of these shorter files.  Just string them together in the Edit mode.  (Hint - when you open them up in Edit mode, it'll start detecting scenes in each one.  If you click "stop" then they'll just be treated as a big scene. 

NOW, render the whole combined project into an MPEG.  The MPEG is what'll ultimately go onto the DVD.  

So you'll end up with MPEGs that each contain a short film - summer vacation, My Wasted Youth, whatever. 

Use Ulead to make a DVD.

Fire up Ulead DVD Movie Factory and create a DVD from the MPEGs.  Ulead will let you create menus and add chapters.  You can do it in Pinnacle, but Pinnacle takes hours to compile the disc, and used to crash a lot.  I chucked it and use Ulead, which is simple and reliable.

Make 2 copies of the final project

Unless you're a network administrator, you're going to want to clean up your hard drive.  So make one DVD, run upstairs and check it on an actual DVD player.  If you like it, make a second one.  Have Ulead put the project information right on the DVD, so that later you can stick it in your computer and have Ulead make new copies, or even modified copies.  Cool.  Keep the second disk in the basement, where the kids can't lose it.

Handy Links

From David in Paramus - http://moviestuff.tv/ - Cool equipment for serious 8mm transfers.

That's all for now,

Copyright 2003 Shlaes.com, Shlaes & Co.