The Next Video Mess

by Bob Seidel

I haven't done a column dealing with putting your home videos on DVD in a while, even though it is probably my most active hobby now. But I was thinking about the next plateau in video technology recently as I am contemplating the purchase of a new video camera.

Home video technology was fairly stable for a long time. The standard storage format was the miniDV tape cartridge, and the digital video file format was DV-AVI. This format supported both standard and widescreen presentations but not high definition. There were a number of good programs that edited this format and most of those supported any standard definition DVD writer available. One of the advantages of the DV-AVI format was that since the tape cartridges themselves could store so much information, only a minor amount of video compression was used. This implied that the video quality was good (i.e. less compression) and that not a lot of PC processing horsepower was needed to edit the files.

The DV-AVI CODEC (the standard programming necessary to read the files) was also readily available, and since there was only one data format in use you basically didn't have to worry about CODECs at all. So life in the video editing world was fairly straightforward - get a camera, get a video editing program, have a DVD writer (most PCs do these days) and off you go. Really. Creating your own home videos was easy; this was evidenced by the rise of home video on such networks as YouTube. You can see everything there, from home videos of somebody's wedding to actual serialized programs with very large audiences. Since the technology had become easy to use, people could concentrate on their creative side.

But technology wouldn't leave us alone, as usual! Two new storage formats evolved - camcorders that wrote directly to miniDVD disks, and camcorders that just saved their video to internal hard drives. The problem here was video compression. In order to be able to put a decent amount of recording time on the miniDVD or internal hard drive, the video had to be compressed more than with DV-AVI. This had two negative aspects: you needed a more power PC to edit the video as more processing power was needed to decompress the video, and different CODECs were required. Now you had to find a video editing program that supported your particular camcorder or storage format and this limited your choices.

And now HD (High Definition) has finally arrived, and since the industry has finally standardized on Blu-Ray it is now safe to start buying gear to read and write high definition DVDs. But even though the DVD format has been settled, the camcorder format has not. There are competing HD file formats, and the one used by Sony and Panasonic called AVCHD is popular but highly compressed and again requires a lot of processor horsepower to work with.

But not all video editing programs support AVCHD; in fact my favorite program (Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0) specifically does not. But AVCHD seems to be the best candidate for a popular standard and thus Elements will almost certainly support that format in the future if I just care to wait!

So the moral of this column is this: If you just want to take your videos and replay them on your TV then you don't have too much to worry about. If your new camcorder uses tape, then you can just cable the camera to your TV and play the video. If it uses miniDVD disks, you can finalize and remove the miniDVDs and play them in your DVD player. If your new camcorder uses an internal hard drive, you will have to use a supplied program to read in the data and write a DVD as-is on your PC.

But if you want to edit your video, select content, add titles, fades, transitions, etc. you need to make sure that you pair your new camcorder with the video editing software that you like - if you can!

Oh, and by the way, I don't see any HD camcorders capable of writing directly to Blu-Ray yet. I am sure that they will be offered in the future, but may not be cost effective now. So if you have a camcorder that uses miniDVDs now, don't count of doing the same thing for HD in your next camcorder for a while.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)