How to Record Digital Video Back to Tape

You can use Apple's iMovie 2 (standard on all current Macintosh—Mac computers) or Microsoft's Windows Movie Maker (WMM—available with Windows XP and Windows Me) to digitally input video into your computer, edit the video in various ways, and create a final movie to share with others through email or the Web. But these PC-based movies have limited usefulness if your friends and family don't have computers or Internet access. I've discussed a way to get these movies onto DVD player-compatible Video CD (VCD) discs. But because so many people own VCRs, it's more useful to record your movies back to videotape. Here's how to convert your digital movies to tape.

On the Mac, the process is particularly simple because the capability is built right into iMovie 2. Incidentally, if you're a PC user who plans to do a lot of digital-video work, you might consider buying a Mac solely for this purpose. Even the most inexpensive iMac ($999) in its base configuration offers enough horsepower to edit digital movies, and because Apple's iMovie software is so much better than any Windows-based consumer-oriented digital-video editing package, buying a Mac is definitely something to consider. iMovie 2 lets you edit video, of course, but you can also choose from several professional transitions, titles, and effects; add audio soundtracks and voice-overs; and perform tasks that are impossible in WMM and difficult or impossible in most third-party tools. iMovie 2 is an unbelievable solution.

Another reason to consider the Mac is that it uses Apple's excellent QuickTime format, which I think is vastly superior to Microsoft's AVI and Windows Media Video 8 (WMV 8) formats. When I've worked with the same video sources on both Windows and the Mac, the resulting movie always looks better in QuickTime. So if you care about this kind of thing and don't mind spending a little bit of money to have a wonderful dedicated video-editing box (which you can also use as a capable second PC), I recommend looking into the Mac.

What about recording to video? After you've edited your final movie to your heart's content, you can use iMovie 2 to copy it to a blank tape on your digital camcorder, where you can display it directly on your TV or dub it onto a standard VHS tape that will play in any standard VCR. To do this, load the appropriate iMovie project and choose File, then Export Movie. The Export Movie dialog box lets you export to QuickTime, which will create a PC-based QuickTime movie; to camera, which will copy the movie to tape; or to iDVD, which will convert the movie into a format you can use with Apple's excellent iDVD software, which creates standard DVD movies (I'll look at this impressive package in a future article). For our purposes, use the To Camera option. Make sure that the camera is set to Video Tape Recorder (VTR) or Play (VCR) mode (rather than camera mode) before you copy the movie.

The Export Movie dialog box also lets you set configuration options. You can make the export wait for a number of seconds—it defaults to 5 seconds—so that the camera can get ready; I recommend leaving this setting as is. You can also add a number of seconds of black, blank video before and after the movie. These options are preset to 1 second, but I'd bump the setting up a bit so that any later VHS dubbing has buffer room on either end.

Next, press Export, and iMovie does the rest. Like WMM, iMovie can control a digital camcorder through software, so iMovie will automatically handle the process of recording and stopping the camera. And because you're copying a digital source back to digital tape, the output will be the highest-possible quality.

On the PC, this process is a little more complicated. WMM doesn't let you record back to tape, which in my opinion is a serious omission, so you'll have to purchase a third-party application. I'll provide an overview of these applications in the next issue of Connected Home EXPRESS, but if you have any Windows digital-video applications to recommend in the meantime, I'm all ears.

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