Preserving Your Holiday Memories

With the holidays upon us, our minds naturally turn to friends and family. Here in the Boston area, we're digging out from under three feet of snow, which adds to the spirit of the season but complicates our gift-shopping efforts. We typically spend much of this time of year battling crowds in stores and on the roads, but with the weather conspiring to make our rituals even more difficult, we have less time for shopping than usual.
Thanks to the wonders of online shopping, however, record numbers of consumers will be taking their credit cards to Web sites such as Amazon.com, VictoriasSecret.com, and CompUSA.com rather than visiting their brick-and-mortar equivalents. However, despite this trend toward online shopping, the gifts you give don't need to be store-bought, regardless of where they came from. Sometimes, gifts that are handmade and from the heart are the best gifts, and in a curious bit of irony, technology is giving us new tools with which to make compelling personal gifts. In this edition of Connected Home Express, I'd like to introduce you to some applications you can use to share photographs and home movies with your loved ones, for the holiday season and beyond.

Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how much is a movie worth? Thanks to the wonderful Microsoft Plus! Photo Story 2 tool in Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition (DME--$20, for Windows XP only), anyone can make a cool animated movie of a photo collection, then package the movie on a DVD player-compatible Video CD (VCD). I've written about Plus! DME and Plus! Photo Story 2 extensively in the past, and you can find further information at my SuperSite for Windows.
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/reviews/plus-digital-media-edition-update-review.aspx

Sonic MyDVD 5
Sonic Solutions' Sonic MyDVD has been a must-have application since last year's version 4 debuted. This year, the company turns it up a notch with MyDVD 5, which ships in three versions: MyDVD 5 ($50), MyDVD 5 Deluxe ($70), and MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 ($100). All versions sport a slightly revised UI, which builds on the success of the previous version's UI and adds a handy front end for creating or modifying projects, transferring video directly to DVD, and other tasks; a new Direct-to-VCD Wizard; new support for QuickTime video import; new drag-and-drop button reordering (but, alas, still no graphic customizations on link buttons); and new static and animated menu styles. MyDVD is still the simplest and best PC-based way to transfer video onto a custom DVD, and with its integrated photo-slideshow feature, you can easily create DVD movies that combine full-motion video with slideshows. (A better solution, however, would be to use Plus! Photo Story 2 in tandem with MyDVD 5. Plus! Photo Story 2's movies import just fine into MyDVD and are more nicely animated.)
Moving up to MyDVD 5 Deluxe, Sonic adds a handy new video-capture tool that's no longer a separate bundled application. The Deluxe version also adds Dolby Digital encoding, which lets you fit 50 percent more video and audio content per disk because of its compression--a huge savings when you consider that today's recordable DVDs support only 1 hour of content.
MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 includes all the features of the other two versions and adds unlimited MP3 ripping through a separate application called RecordNow!, which also lets you create duplicate copies of your CDs and DVDs and create custom-mix CDs. Studio Deluxe also includes the CinePlayer DVD movie player and Sonic Express Labeler, which helps you create DVD and CD labels.
One feature that sets MyDVD apart from the competition is its support for the OpenDVD standard. This technology lets you optionally save information on any disk you create (CD or DVD) so that you can later edit the information on the disk even if you've deleted the MyDVD project or any of the source files, or are using a different computer with OpenDVD-compatible software. MyDVD 5 is also fully compatible with Microsoft's somewhat proprietary Windows XP Media Center Recorded TV (.dvr-ms) format, letting you write shows you've recorded on a Media Center PC to DVD.
I highly recommend MyDVD, although you can skip the higher-end versions if you don't need the tools in Studio Deluxe or are comfortable with editing movies in Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 2, a free add-on for XP users. However, with MyDVD 5 Deluxe and up, you can edit some movie types that Windows Movie Maker 2 can't handle, including QuickTime, and that functionality might be worth the price of the upgrade.

Online Photo Gifts
Online photo services such as Ofoto ( http://www.ofoto.com ) offer a wealth of photo-related gift possibilities, including photo enlargements and poster prints, cool photo calendars, frames, and photo albums. I've been using Ofoto for a few years now and have printed three calendars and two sets of holiday greeting cards. Run by Kodak, Ofoto is one of the best online photo services available and features excellent prices.
Another fun choice is MyPublisher ( http://www.mypublisher.com ), which lets you share your photos in professionally bound and designed coffee-table books that are identical to those that Apple Computer offers in its excellent (and free) iPhoto application for Macintosh users. MyPublisher helps you design your hardcover book with the help of a downloadable Bookmaking tool that steps you through the process. First, you choose the photos you want. (I created an album of a recent trip to Germany for friends.) Then, you organize the photos in the order you'd like them to appear in the book. You can optionally provide a text title for each photo, and you can visually preview the layout of the book. You can also choose whether the book uses single-sided or double-side printing. (I chose single-sided.) The software also features book themes, such as Traditional and Modern, that provide unique layouts. Finally, you can choose from different cover colors--including blue, red, green, and black--and two cover types: linen hardcover binding and leather hardcover binding. (The latter costs $10 extra.)
The cost of your book will depend on its length and the number of photos you use. (The book requires a 10-page minimum.) Prices start at about $30; a 15-page book costs about $45 for linen binding.
However you choose to spend the holidays, sharing photographs and movies with family and friends is a sure bet--especially if those folks don't live nearby. How are you using technology this year to make the holidays more personal?Preserving Your Holiday Memories

With the holidays upon us, our minds naturally turn to friends and family. Here in the Boston area, we're digging out from under three feet of snow, which adds to the spirit of the season but complicates our gift-shopping efforts. We typically spend much of this time of year battling crowds in stores and on the roads, but with the weather conspiring to make our rituals even more difficult, we have less time for shopping than usual.

Thanks to the wonders of online shopping, however, record numbers of consumers will be taking their credit cards to Web sites such as Amazon.com, VictoriasSecret.com, and CompUSA.com rather than visiting their brick-and-mortar equivalents. However, despite this trend toward online shopping, the gifts you give don't need to be store-bought, regardless of where they came from. Sometimes, gifts that are handmade and from the heart are the best gifts, and in a curious bit of irony, technology is giving us new tools with which to make compelling personal gifts. In this edition of Connected Home Express, I'd like to introduce you to some applications you can use to share photographs and home movies with your loved ones, for the holiday season and beyond.

Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how much is a movie worth? Thanks to the wonderful Microsoft Plus! Photo Story 2 tool in Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition (DME--$20, for Windows XP only), anyone can make a cool animated movie of a photo collection, then package the movie on a DVD player-compatible Video CD (VCD). I've written about Plus! DME and Plus! Photo Story 2 extensively in the past, and you can find further information at my SuperSite for Windows. http://www.winsupersite.com/article/reviews/plus-digital-media-edition-update-review.aspx

Sonic MyDVD 5

Sonic Solutions' Sonic MyDVD has been a must-have application since last year's version 4 debuted. This year, the company turns it up a notch with MyDVD 5, which ships in three versions: MyDVD 5 ($50), MyDVD 5 Deluxe ($70), and MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 ($100). All versions sport a slightly revised UI, which builds on the success of the previous version's UI and adds a handy front end for creating or modifying projects, transferring video directly to DVD, and other tasks; a new Direct-to-VCD Wizard; new support for QuickTime video import; new drag-and-drop button reordering (but, alas, still no graphic customizations on link buttons); and new static and animated menu styles. MyDVD is still the simplest and best PC-based way to transfer video onto a custom DVD, and with its integrated photo-slideshow feature, you can easily create DVD movies that combine full-motion video with slideshows. (A better solution, however, would be to use Plus! Photo Story 2 in tandem with MyDVD 5. Plus! Photo Story 2's movies import just fine into MyDVD and are more nicely animated.) Moving up to MyDVD 5 Deluxe, Sonic adds a handy new video-capture tool that's no longer a separate bundled application. The Deluxe version also adds Dolby Digital encoding, which lets you fit 50 percent more video and audio content per disk because of its compression--a huge savings when you consider that today's recordable DVDs support only 1 hour of content. MyDVD Studio Deluxe 5 includes all the features of the other two versions and adds unlimited MP3 ripping through a separate application called RecordNow!, which also lets you create duplicate copies of your CDs and DVDs and create custom-mix CDs. Studio Deluxe also includes the CinePlayer DVD movie player and Sonic Express Labeler, which helps you create DVD and CD labels. One feature that sets MyDVD apart from the competition is its support for the OpenDVD standard. This technology lets you optionally save information on any disk you create (CD or DVD) so that you can later edit the information on the disk even if you've deleted the MyDVD project or any of the source files, or are using a different computer with OpenDVD-compatible software. MyDVD 5 is also fully compatible with Microsoft's somewhat proprietary Windows XP Media Center Recorded TV (.dvr-ms) format, letting you write shows you've recorded on a Media Center PC to DVD. I highly recommend MyDVD, although you can skip the higher-end versions if you don't need the tools in Studio Deluxe or are comfortable with editing movies in Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 2, a free add-on for XP users. However, with MyDVD 5 Deluxe and up, you can edit some movie types that Windows Movie Maker 2 can't handle, including QuickTime, and that functionality might be worth the price of the upgrade.

Online Photo Gifts Online photo services such as Ofoto ( http://www.ofoto.com ) offer a wealth of photo-related gift possibilities, including photo enlargements and poster prints, cool photo calendars, frames, and photo albums. I've been using Ofoto for a few years now and have printed three calendars and two sets of holiday greeting cards. Run by Kodak, Ofoto is one of the best online photo services available and features excellent prices. Another fun choice is MyPublisher ( http://www.mypublisher.com ), which lets you share your photos in professionally bound and designed coffee-table books that are identical to those that Apple Computer offers in its excellent (and free) iPhoto application for Macintosh users. MyPublisher helps you design your hardcover book with the help of a downloadable Bookmaking tool that steps you through the process. First, you choose the photos you want. (I created an album of a recent trip to Germany for friends.) Then, you organize the photos in the order you'd like them to appear in the book. You can optionally provide a text title for each photo, and you can visually preview the layout of the book. You can also choose whether the book uses single-sided or double-side printing. (I chose single-sided.) The software also features book themes, such as Traditional and Modern, that provide unique layouts. Finally, you can choose from different cover colors--including blue, red, green, and black--and two cover types: linen hardcover binding and leather hardcover binding. (The latter costs $10 extra.) The cost of your book will depend on its length and the number of photos you use. (The book requires a 10-page minimum.) Prices start at about $30; a 15-page book costs about $45 for linen binding. However you choose to spend the holidays, sharing photographs and movies with family and friends is a sure bet--especially if those folks don't live nearby. How are you using technology this year to make the holidays more personal?

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