Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grand finale to geek trilogy on video’s

Upfront, let me share a handy site a colleague pointed out to me recently: . What this site can do for you is convert an impossibly long URL into a bite size one, small enough to memorize.

So if you liked the idea of ripping DVD’s touched upon in my previous geek installment, surf to (that last digit is L as in Longbottom) and watch an interesting expanded “How-To” that worked for me.

But on with the show and the third and final part of my video explorations ended with me finding a video editing program for free. It’s called Pinnacle VideoSpin and does what Microsoft Movie Maker can (or can’t) do. Download this spyware devoid software from but give it time, it’s big: 150Mb in fact.

Once installed, it allows you to take video clips you have kicking around on our PC and intertwine them with nice titles, background music and transitions and voiceovers to round it all off. You can even string a photo slide show together using this software. You could also make one clip out of a handful of YouTube favourites or mix and match them with your own home videos and photos.

There are six basic and user friendly Album enhancements, all of which are activated from the icons on the left hand options. These are Video, Transition, Titles, Photos, Sound effects and Music. Click on each in turn, make your choice and drag it into the timeline at the bottom of the screen.

You can personalise the titles and even trim video’s, music and transitions. The preview on the right shows you a trailer of the final product.

Once you click on “2 – Make Movie”, you can choose avi as file type and hit Save. It will output an avi file that can be watched on a media player on your computer.

If you, like me, sometimes take video clips under poor lighting conditions, there is an enhancement available under “Settings” and “Options”, during step 2. It allows for a very basic Brightness and Contract correction, but don’t expect miracles. Take note that this will change all video clips’ settings in the current range, even ones that are not under exposed.

Pinnacle’s limitations are that after 15 days the program won't allow you to create nor edit MPEG-2, MPEG-4/DivX or Dolby Digital 2 Channel files anymore, but the avi’s and other features will still work.

So why would such a cool product be free when the cheapest video editing software goes for about R1000? Because it doesn’t have too many effects. For example colour correction or old film style. Pinnacle VideoSpin doesn’t have fancy panning and zooming on photographs like they do on TV and sometimes the program hangs if you’re overloading it, so save often. Luckily, even if you crash out of the program, it remembers where you were the next time you open it, so you don’t loose much work.

The good news is that if you like the freebie that much, you can pay and upgrade to all of these snazzy features. And now you know why the company is throwing VideoSpin out there for free: in order to get you hooked on Pinnacle products.

Another bit of handy info is that there is a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions website for all your spin needs available at

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Converting PC multi-media to a DVD movie

If AVI and Codecs have you spinning on the spotex, readex this and clear up the jargon.

In a recent article, I unraveled how to save YouTube videos to your computer (, but I was seriously disappointed when burning the downloaded video file onto a CD and trying to play it back on my regular DVD player did not produce the desired results. I found out that I could not watch an avi file on an ordinary dvd player. Looking for solutions I discovered that video formatting can be a can of worms.

Trends change and move rapidly but at this moment the multi-media container (video format) of choice for computer viewing pleasure in my immediate circles seems to be AVI, which stands for Audio Video Interleave. This means that the video file will have an .avi extension and most media players such as Windows Media Player will be able to play it on your computer. The same cannot be said for playing DVD movies on computers. Yes, my computer allows me to open and view the .vob files that make up your normal DVD movie, but older media player versions frequently cannot. The done thing, and I speak for non-copyrighted movies only, you understand, is to convert the DVD movie to an avi format. This process is called “ripping to your hard drive” and has one other major advantage: a more manageable file size.

Other video file formats gaining favour are mp4, Windows Media wmv, Flash video .flv, Quicktime .mov and Mobile phone format such as .3gp and .3g2.

Many programs can be used to “rip”; some are pay software and some are not. NERO, which ships standard with most DVD Rom drives, has the ability to “rip”.

These programs use codec to rip. Codec stands for Coder/Decoder. Basically it is a piece of software or a driver that adds a support for certain video/audio format for your operating system. With codec, your system recognizes the format the codec is built for and allows you to play the audio/video file (=decode) or in some cases, to change another audio/video file into that format (=(en)code).

Compressing movies in this way has the lovely advantage of allowing about ten hours of viewing to fit onto one DVD. Imagine a 320Gb external hard drive filled to the brim with series, movies and your favourite programs that you are able to take to friends and plug and play for a slumber party. Aha, I hear you say, that sounds like fun.

But now lets look at bringing a computer friendly video format file such as an avi back to a format that ordinary DVD players can play back on your TV. For example a YouTube video you have recently downloaded. Here you are looking to convert to a vob format, inclusive of the correct video and audio folder creation, as well as info and backup files that make up the normal DVD movie setup. Again, there are many software packages out there, but the one I found to work and for free is called Sothink Movie DVD Maker and it can be downloaded from . Once installed, it can convert several movie files at once and it can even burn you a DVD in one foul swoop. Alternatively you can create a temporary folder on your hard drive to be burnt onto a removable medium later.

A wise word from someone who has wasted many, many DVD’s: Don’t try this on an underpowered computer and start with short movies and see if there are video versus audio synch problems when you play this back on the DVD player. They don’t sell computers aimed at videography with all the RAM and processor bells and whistles for nothing and your entry level PC might struggle.

Next time: Completing the trilogy on movies: how to do some video editing for free!