How to Digitize Your Home Videos

ByABC News via logo
March 6, 2006, 3:04 PM

March 7, 2006 — -- For many people, the idea of digitizing home movies and sharing them online can seem daunting. But with the right equipment, digitizing, editing, and sharing your video is not that hard, and it is a great way to tell the story of your life.

The basic idea of what's happening when you put home videos on the computer is the images and audio are sent through a cable to your computer.

Using a special software program, the computer takes that video and converts it to a file, similar to other computer files that contain a digital picture, a Word document or an MP3 music file. Once the raw video file has been "captured," you can begin editing it: cutting and pasting, adding music, titles and transitions.

When you are happy with the edited project, you save the home video. You can save it in a couple of different file formats that make viewing easy for others: The two most popular are Quicktime and Windows Media. Once you have saved the finished videos in Quicktime or Windows Media, you can e-mail them or post them on a Web site if you have one.

Most cameras today have "video out" jacks. Look for some type of port that will send video out of the camera. It might read A/V in/out, S or S-video, or DV in/out.

The computer will be the item in this list that needs the most scrutiny: Do you have a computer that is capable of importing video? Many older computers were not built to do this automatically. If you have one of the following in your computer, you have the hardware to import video: a firewire port, USB 2.0 port or a TV-Tuner card. If you can't tell whether you have any of these connectors, take a digital picture (or movie) that clearly shows all the ports on the back of your computer and take that to your local computer or electronics store. The store can tell you what ports you have and advise you on what cables and connectors you need. Note: if you have an older computer, you may need to install a TV-tuner card to import video. There are external devices that can perform this function, but the most direct way is to open up the computer and install the TV-tuner card into the motherboard.

The best advice I can give you for choosing the right cable is to take your video camera and a picture or video that clearly shows all the ports on your computer to the electronics store. There are a lot of variables when matching a camera to a computer, and unless you want to learn a whole bunch about "4 pin" versus "6 pin" firewire, just take the camera and a picture of the back of your computer to the electronics store and ask for help. One note: You shouldn't need to spend more than $30 on a cable, and make sure whatever you buy can be returned even if they've been opened.

Editing software will perform the functions of importing the video from your camera, cutting and splicing the video, and saving the finished product into formats others can view. For most home editing tasks, the simpler the software, the better. First check your computer to see if you have a video program that came with your system: Macs may have iMovie, Windows machines may have Windows Movie Maker. Both are perfect for new editors. If your computer doesn't have a program already installed, there are myriad commercial products like Ulead VideoStudio, Adobe Premier Elements and Pinnacle Studio.

Once you have all the ingredients installed and assembled, your editing software should lead you through the process of importing video from your camera. Turn your video camera on and set it to play/VCR. Open your editing software program on the computer. Connect your camera to the computer. The editing software should recognize that there is a new "source" for video. If not look for a command that says "acquire," "import" or "capture" video. Once you have clicked on the capture option, the computer should be able to control the camera directly. Use the software controls to rewind the camera to the starting point of your tape, and then hit the import button in the software program to begin the import process. Note: Video takes up a ton of space on your hard drive. Make sure you have enough hard drive space cleared before you start digitizing.

Once your video is imported, play with the editing controls to pick the best starting point, make transitions like dissolves, straight cuts or wipes between shots, and end your video by fading to black. Most editing programs have tutorials and how-tos. There are thousands of books on the subject, and ultimately, you will find your own editing style. Just have fun and be creative, but don't go nuts with the bells and whistles -- the goal is to tell a story, not to show off the editing capabilities of your software.

Once you finish editing your project, your software should save in its native or proprietary format: Most programs have their own proprietary file types that don't work if you don't have that particular software. It's best to edit in these formats, but once you are done, you need to "save as" or "export" the video to another, more widely used format so others can see your video. Saving as both a WMV (Windows Media Video) and a MOV (Quicktime Movie) will allow almost everyone to view your video. If you can only export as one or the other, most people have both the Windows Media and the Quicktime players, or they can easily get one or the other if they need to. When you are saving you may need to compress the video if you are e-mailing it to regular folks. Play with the save/compression options to find a file size that isn't too big.

You can e-mail movie files to people as attachments, but be sure that you are aware of the file size. You can also post video on your own Web site or use services like Google video or, where you upload video and make it available for others to see.

Digitizing your home videos is the way to go. You can edit your movies like the pros, easily share your memories with anyone online, and archive your tapes to save space and money. Give it a shot! It's addictive and everyone in your family can watch those videos that are normally just stored in a drawer and forgotten.