Match Maker: HandyCam & Movie Maker
Ah, a tech post. It's been a long while, so I thought I'd pop one in here.
Last year I purchased a Canon cheap-o camcorder for the purpose of making videos that I could upload to YouTube and add to my posts here on my weblog. Video-blogging they call it, I guess. I don't know - it's a heck of a lot easier than writing four paragraphs of crap.
Anyway, things went rather well with the videos. Originally, I had planned on doing both audio podcasts and video posts. But the video posts have always seemed to be so much easier and more fun to do, and so the podcasts have mostly fallen by the wayside. I made videos of parks and streets and local events here in Springfield, and I even took my camcorder up with me to our week-long family camping getaway to showoff the campground we stayed at.
It was all great fun - and still is. But somewhere along the road, I got this itching for a camcorder with a little extra umph. Nothing extravagant or too expensive, mind you. But something that could manage the darker settings and more challenging environments that I found myself getting into on certain occasions. And so it came to be that I ended up in Sears the other day, and that is where I splurged on my second camcorder purchase - a Sony HandyCam DCR-DVD108.
Wahoo! This camcorder came with x40 zoom (a +5 zoom improvement over my Canon), plus nighttime lighting assist and better anti-shaky software stuff. All-in-all, I was pretty impressed with its features. I took some test videos of it while I was out-and-about before bringing it home and seeing how it hooked up to my computer. As it turns out, the USB cord that came with it is fairly useless for my purposes. It's only really needed for transferring photographs taken from the camcorder (not in my plans). The Handycam uses a mini-DVD to store recorded video, so I ejected the little DVD and slapped it into the DVD player of my laptop. Next, I fired up good ol' Windows Movie Maker and got ready to see how my new toy took videos!
Nothing. What the fuck? Movie Maker couldn't even see the files on the DVD. Was I missing something? "Now is the time for me to read the owners manual," I said to myself.
The manual didn't have anything on editing video from the DVD. Even more chilling, it never even mentioned Windows Movie Maker! What was going on here?
Time for an Internet search.
Whenever I have a problem with PCs or software, one of the first things I do is perform a Web search by typing my problem into Google. Nine out of ten times, I'm not the first person to have that particular problem, and so I'll find the problem and (usually) a multitude of solutions on the Internet.
The bad news hit me fast: Apparently, Windows Movie Maker is not compatible with videos stored on mini-DVDs. You have got to be kidding me.
It got worse: All the file conversion software that was mentioned as a solution to bridge the compatibly gap was priced at around $70-to-$90 buck-o-reenies.
Kiss my ass.
It was at about this time that returning the camcorder entered my mind as a distinct possibility.
But I hate being defeated. Especially when it comes to PC and software problems. So I continued my Web search, vowing not to fail in my quest for a solution!
I downloaded and tried out three programs (all free trial versions), two of which were video editing suites that I really didn't want - I just wanted to convert video so that I could use Movie Maker. I also visited several tech support message boards that are usually pretty helpful, but not in this case. They just confirmed that I would be needing $$$ software.
Finally, after over an hour of sniffing around and experimenting, I stumbled across this nifty little program - I think it was all of 239kb in size - that seemed to hold promise. It's called Prism, and thanks-be to the Tech Gods, it worked like crazy. Best of all, it was FREE.
I took some video on the camcorder and slapped the mini-DVD into the laptop. Then I used the software that came with the HandyCam to transfer the video files from the DVD to the PC. Next, I fired up my little Prism and converted the files from mpeg (which for some reason Movie Maker was rejecting) to wma files. With that done, I next fired up Movie Maker and Wallah, I was ready to edit some video.
The entire operation actually takes mere seconds to go through. And yes, I suppose some smart guy (or chick) is going to tell me about some codec somewhere that will do the trick far easier (although neither smart folks nor codecs could be found on my Web search). But for a guy with no education at all with video - other than YouTube - I thought my little achievement was quite impressive.
Now, I'm still going to use my nifty Canon for quicker, daytime video shoots. But it's good to know that if I need a bit higher quality videos, or I need to shoot video and hand over the DVD on-site, I can turn to the HandyCam as a second option.
Next up is a new tripod mount! The one I have now is about fifteen years old and getting a little rickety. More than once it collapsed on me while I was filming. (Recently, I was at a City press conference in front of the old York Street jail and had my Canon camcorder set on the tripod. As the press conference went on, I sat crouched for a good amount of time behind the camera, looking as if I was making sure the camera was angled correctly. In reality, I was just staying near it in case the tripod gave out! ;-)