Friday, November 09, 2007

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! ;-)

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21 Comments:

At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Dale said...

Bill remind me on monday to give you the tripod i have.I no longer have a use for it and you may be able to use it.....Dale

 
At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll give 'er a look. Thanks ;-)

 
At 12:38 AM, Blogger deborah wilson said...

Thanks for posting this Bill, it sure helps me out as I'm in the market for a camcorder. I've been looking at a JVC but haven't decided on a certain brand yet.

Software drives me crazy (so do computers) and Murphy's Law will always rule right when you think you have it made (or it's time for finals). lol

Adobe Premiere Elements is a good movie/dvd maker to invest in ($89.00), you have more options than with Windows Movie Maker.

Premiere Pro is also a good investment but it is alot more expensive and is not needed unless you are going to be dealing with databases.

But before installing Premiere or any other Adobe products, like Photoshop 5, make sure your computer has dual processor - else it won't install. I like Windows Movie Maker though and I use it often.

Two good free photo software programs are Picasa Albums, (for a quick fix) and Gimp for more serious photo development.

I'm going to give Prism a run tomorrow and see how well it works.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Bill Dusty said...

Deb,
If you get a camcorder, I think a mini-DV (cassette) would be a good option if you want easy video-editing. When you connect the camcorder to your PC (with camcorder turned on and set to "play"), Windows Movie Maker should start right up (if you have WinXP sp2). WMM has controls (ff, rew, play) on it so that you can select clips on the camcorder cassette to transfer to the PC for editing. It's the easiest option, if all you want is a camcorder for YouTubing. (no need for prism or any other 3-rd party program.)

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger David said...

Hi there,
If you're all shopping for a new camcorder, one of the best is the new Canon HV-20. This thing is taking the value segment by storm because of its incredible image quality at budget prices.

It's HD with DV cassette, which is still the way to go in most respects.

People are shooting blockbuster movie quality footage and making it completely convincing.

It's what I used on my most recent production DVD and it looks gorgeous. Hope this helps.
Regards,
Dave Marcotte
ProVideoLighting.com

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger deborah wilson said...

Bill and Dave -

Thanks - your posts are noted.

 
At 7:45 PM, Blogger Megan said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH.
I have been searching the internet for hours looking for these freaking "codec" things...I have to make a movie for a class I'm in and windows movie maker wasn't able to read my files!! You are seriously a life saver and I just wanted to let you know that you helped me out big time by posting this!

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Bill Dusty said...

YW - Your best bet is converting to WMV, and make sure the options are "max" on all, plus about 44kpbs @ stereo for sound.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! I make a end of year DVD for my kids and I just got the Sony Handycam. Your words echoed my thoughts exactly when I tried to import the new videos. UGH! Everything is great now, thanks for you info and the link to Prism.

 
At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU!!!! I got this handycam for Christmas because my really old one wasn't cutting it. My friends and I make tons of movies, for school and such, and I was having the hardest time figuring this out. You are a life saver!!

 
At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Sabia said...

Umm... my computer (an old computer with Windows XP) Doesn't read the DVD-RW disk when I put it in. What should I do now?

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger Bill Dusty said...

I had the same problem at first. I believe you need to adjust your video settings in the HandyCam.

If you are recording on the setting that allows you to edit, you will need to change it to the "video" setting that only allows you to delete that last clip.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Shady Lane said...

Thanks so much for this article! I recently purchased a Sony Handycam Hard Drive based camcorder to take video of my son's Christening. When I tried, after numerous demands from out of state family members, to make DVD's of the ceremony I found out that windows movie maker is not compatible with the Sony movies. I searched everywhere for a solution and came up with more than enough dead ends until I found this. Thanks for the great information!

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger Bill Dusty said...

You are welcome!

 
At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Ken Jarvis said...

Bill, thanks!!! I inherited a Sony Handycam DVR-DVD201 from work minus the cable, manual, and CD. Cable I had at home. Manual easily downloaded. But the CD was fun. Tried to download Sony's software but it required the CD ROM part #. I got on Sony's live chat and asked where I would find that and s/he (?!) told me it is on the CD. DUH!! I didn't even try to explain the chicken and egg relationship of that logic.

Anyway hopefully this'll work. BTW are you using Windows XP or Vista and is there a difference in the way it handles the video from the camera?

 
At 4:07 PM, Anonymous captken said...

It works like a champ for the video but no audio. Checked Prism Help and it recommends downloading a Codec. Any suggestions as to how to get Prism to convert both audio and video?

 
At 10:36 PM, Blogger Bill Dusty said...

Ken - I use Windows XP. The program (Prism) was out in 2007, so I think it should be good, but not sure.

captken - I encountered a problem when I used the controls/options on the bottom side of the Prism program. When I used only the "Convert" button at the top of the program it seemed to work okay. (I think the options on the bottom controls are all highest-quality by default, so if you adjusted any those, you should restore them to highest, or best, output.)

Also, I used the "video" record option on the Handycam.

 
At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi...I have had the same similar issue...I use a Canon mini dvd camcorder and my laptop runs windows vista. I could not find the files in windows movie maker either. I wonder if you can help me with step by step instructions on this. If you can, please email me at garfieldgirl1971@aol.com.

Thanks,
Melissa

 
At 4:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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If you are looking for Movie Editor for Apple Mac OS X program, please refer to Mac Movie Editor,
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At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you! Prism worked perfectly for me and I love how simple it is. You saved me a ton of time and headaches with this post!

 
At 9:52 AM, Anonymous mts idvd said...

I've tried downloading a lot of the trial programs and they all cut my clips in half because they're under five minutes. If I buy the full version will the program still do this? Which program would be the best one?

 

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