Copying Analog Video to the PC, the Hard Way (Part Two)

Last week, I presented the first part of my look at converting video from a DVD home movie to the PC. As I mentioned previously, I wanted to find a PC or Macintosh application to convert the DVD video directly into AVI or QuickTime format (or MPEG-2, if required). If that approach didn't work, I'd try to route the DVD through the digital camcorder, by using FireWire, or settle for an analog copy by using Dazzle's Digital Video Creator II device.

After experimenting with several tools, I finally came back to the first utility I'd tried, DVD2AVI. As I noted last week, this application created a soundless AVI file, so I'd originally dismissed it. However, after failing miserably at converting the video by using other tools (or, in some cases, achieving some success with low-quality MPEG-2 rips), I returned to DVD2AVI (see the first URL below). I'm glad I did.

DVD2AVI does convert the audio, as well as the video; it just creates a separate Wave (.wav) file for the audio. I usually wouldn't be too keen about this approach, but Windows XP's Windows Movie Maker (see the second URL below) makes short work out of reincorporating the separated audio and video into a high-quality AVI file. Here's how I did it.

First, I copied the Video Object (VOB) files from the DVD movies into directories (i.e., DVD_1, DVD_2) on my hard disk and proceeded to process each file, one at a time. DVD2AVI features a deceptively simple UI that resembles a bare-bones media player at first. After launching the application, I selected File, Open, and chose a VOB file. Note that DVD2AVI will automatically select a series of related VOB files. (For example, if you have files called VTS_01_1.VOB and VTS_01_2.VOB and you select one file, DVD2AVI will automatically select both files.) I elected to override this behavior and process one VOB file at a time because the resulting files are so large. After I loaded the VOB file, the application window expands to the size of the video you're converting (702 x 480 in my case) but doesn't change otherwise.

Next, you select the audio options (you select the video options during the next phase). I chose to accept the default audio options--a 256Kbps .wav file, single channel, in stereo (the source was monophonic). Next, I selected Save AVI from the File menu and chose a name and location for the resulting files. DVD2AVI creates two files: one for the video and one for the audio. If you start with a file called VTS_01_1.VOB, DVD2AVI will name the resulting files VTS_01_1.01.AVI and something like "VTS_01_1 AC3 T01 1_0ch 256Kbps 48KHz.WAV," depending on which audio format you choose.

At this point, the Statistics window opens to display progress information while DVD2AVI converts the file. Also, a Video Compression window opens, which gives you a chance to choose among the following compressor types: Microsoft MPEG-4 Video Codec V1, Microsoft MPEG-4 Video Codec V2, DivX 5.0 2 Codec, No Recompression, and Full Frames (Uncompressed). For quality reasons and compatibility with Windows Movie Maker, I chose Microsoft MPEG-4 Video Codec V2. If you click Configure, you can select among various video smoothness and crispness settings and the data rate. I left these settings at the defaults and was satisfied with the results, but experienced video users might want to experiment here. After you've selected the compressor type and set the configuration settings, you click OK and DVD2AVI goes to work.

The conversion process, predictably, takes a while. A 7-minute clip, for example, took 20 minutes to convert on my Pentium 4 1.8GHz machine with 640MB of RAM. After the process finished, I loaded Windows Movie Maker 1.2, configured the application not to create video clips on import (which would be unnecessarily time-consuming), and imported the two resulting files. Say what you will about Windows Movie Maker, but it handles this part of the project with aplomb, and you can't beat the price--free! Simply drag both files into the Timeline area, line them up, and click Save Movie. I chose DV-AVI as the format, naturally, for the best results. Again, the 7-minute clip took about 20 minutes to convert into one AVI file; it occupies about 5GB of space. And you'd never know that the resulting video was once liberated from its audio track; the two blend seamlessly. I repeated the process for all of the VOB files.

Interestingly, after you complete this blending process, you're left with a lot of raw video on your system, and this is where the fun starts. To save disk space, I elected to delete all the VOB and .wav files. However, between the two DVD movies and 2 days of converting, I'd racked up more than 35GB of space dedicated to the AVIs I'd created. But I still had to edit these files down into cleaner copies that I will convert, yet again, to finished DVDs. I've already discussed this process in earlier Connected Home EXPRESS columns.

Video work, as always, is time-consuming and often frustrating. But amazing tools are now available to us, often for free. DVD2AVI is great at what it does, and I highly recommend it if you need this sort of functionality.

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