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Watching, Sharing, and Editing Your Home Movies

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Baby's first steps, the first day of school, or a 50th wedding anniversary — you've probably captured many memories with your camcorder. What will you do with all that footage? Will you play it back on your TV? Will you make copies to share with friends and family? Will you edit your files and archive them to enjoy for years to come? Below, we'll look at what you can do with your camcorder footage and offer our suggestions and tips for getting the best results with your home movies.

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Playing your videos on a TV

Watching your footage on a TV is simple enough — simply connect the camcorder to your TV with the audio/video cables that come in the box. Most camcorders come with a composite video cable, but if you have a high-def camcorder and want to use its component video or HDMI connection, then you'll probably need to purchase these cables separately. And if you go with an HDMI connection, you won't have to make a separate audio connection to you TV, since HDMI can pass both video and audio signals. Check out our article on choosing audio and video cables to learn more.

Watching your videos on a computer

Most camcorders transfer video files and photos onto your computer via a USB interface. Most newer computers have high-speed USB ports, but if you're using an older computer then you may have a full-speed USB port, which just means that your video transfer might take a little longer. If you have an older mini DV or Digital8® camcorder, you'll probably need an i.LINK® (IEEE 1394) jack to transfer digital video from the cam to your computer. If you have a newer computer without an i.LINK jack, it should be fairly easy and inexpensive to add one via an optional PCI or PC card.

connections Mini DV camcorders use i.Link jacks (left) to transfer videos to a computer, while hard drive and mini DVD camcorders use USB ports (right).

New ways to share and enjoy your videos

With recent technology advances, it's become easier than ever to copy and share footage for all to see. Here are a few new ways to share your home movies:

  • Post your videos on a website. Video-sharing sites like YouTube™ and video blogs make it easy to post footage that your friends and family can view. Post clips of baby's first steps, your child's birthday, or that crazy family reunion you went to last year. You can use special software to compress your recordings for posting on these sites, or invest in a web-friendly cam that produces videos that are easy to upload to sites or e-mail directly to family.
  • Store footage on an iPod®, iPhone®, or MP3 player. Transfer video clips to your portable player and show them off to family members next time you get together at the holidays. Putting videos on a portable player may also require special software that converts your videos to a compatible format. Some players can be connected to a TV for large-scale playback of your videos.
  • Use the SD card slot or USB port on your HDTV. Some newer HDTVs offer built-in SD memory card slots and USB ports. That means that if you have an SD memory card camcorder, you can copy footage onto the SD card and pop it into the card slot on a compatible HDTV. And of course you can connect just about any camcorder with a USB port up to a compatible HDTV. Just be sure to check your television's manual to be sure that it'll play back video, and that it's compatible with your camcorder's video recording format. A lot of newer Blu-ray players, game consoles, and receivers also offer SD card slots or USB inputs, in case your TV doesn't have one.
  • Stream your videos to your TV. If you have your videos stored on your computer, then it's easy to stream them to your TV or other compatible home theater gear. You won't need any cables to connect your camcorder to your TV, and will have your whole library of videos on your computer at your finger tips. To find out how to make it work, check out our article on enjoying music, movies, and photos from your computer on your TV.

Copying and archiving your footage for yourself and others

It's unfortunate, but discs and tapes can break, wear out, or get lost, and hard drives fail eventually. So we recommend that you make multiple copies of your videos. You can use a number of different devices to make copies of your footage — from DVD recorders to your computer (if it has a DVD burner).

DVD recorders for camcorders are designed specifically to help people archive their camcorder footage. They're especially handy for folks who have a hard drive camcorder but don't have a computer with a DVD burner. You'll probably use the USB output on your camcorder to make a digital connection to these DVD recorders. Then, you can record your footage on full-size DVD discs for playback in most DVD or Blu-ray players.

Some DVD recorders may only offer standard-definition recording. Others will allow you to copy standard- and high-definition video footage — a big plus for HD camcorder owners. You'll be able to downconvert your high-definition (HD) videos for playback on most DVD players, or maintain the high resolution of HD video files for playback on the recorder itself or a compatible Blu-ray Disc™ player.

Another archival option: use your PC and an external hard drive.
If you have a PC, you can attach an external hard drive to your computer and simply copy footage from your tapes and discs onto the hard drive. Saving files onto an additional hard drive lets you keep your computer's internal one free for everyday needs. Finally, if you fill up an external hard drive with your home movies, you can unplug it and keep it somewhere safe, and connect a new one for your next batch of archives. It might not be a bad idea to make a regular schedule to copy your irreplaceable footage to archive drives on a regular basis and duplicate those. Then house those duplicate drives in a nice, climate controlled place that's not your home. That way you're covered for most mishaps, whether the cause is human, natural or mechanical.

Online storage, while a great idea for documents and pictures, can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer data space requirements of video archiving. Aside from the fact that video takes up a lot of storage space, the time you'd need to devote to uploading and downloading material would probably be measured in days over many internet connections. If you want to save a few important, selected clips, it's not the worst place to do so, but remember to check out the storage site's guidelines on file size limits, and check those monthly or annual costs carefully. It's also a good idea to read some customer reviews, if you can.

Editing footage on your computer

There are a variety of computer programs that you can use to edit videos you've transferred to your PC. Some camcorders come with editing software, but it's important to note that included software is usually pretty basic. If you want more precise or advanced editing, you may need to purchase additional software. Our suggestion: test out the software that comes in the box, and see if it suits your needs. If not, you'll have a better idea of the features you'll want in a future editing software purchase.

Also, check out the editing software that may already be installed on your computer. If that doesn't have all the features you want, then decide what kind of editing you want to do, and look around for the appropriate application.

Selecting software
You'll want to ask yourself a few questions about each software program you consider:

  • Will the software work with your operating system? Does your computer have the necessary memory, processor, and inputs? (Below, we've created a chart that will give you information on what we recommend for minimum and ideal computer setups for video editing.)
  • Will the software work with your camcorder's video files? Mini DV, DVD, hard drive, and high-definition camcorders can all record video in different formats. Be especially mindful of compatibility if you've got a high-def camcorder that records in the AVCHD file format. Most all the manufacturer sites will list the file formats with which their software is compatible.
  • What do you want to do with your footage? Do you want to upload your video files to video-sharing websites? Do you want to burn DVDs, or store your HD footage on discs that play back on a Blu-ray player? Make sure the software you choose can export your edited video files in a format that will work with what you want to do. And keep in mind that you'll need a computer with a Blu-ray read/write drive if you want to make Blu-ray copies of your video.
  • What kind of editing do you want to do? Do you want to add more than one audio track? Do you want to add effects and fades, or perform other advanced editing? Check out the software's editing options to make sure it will let you be as creative as you want.

We've outlined a few software programs below that we're familiar with, and that are worth checking out. Some are free, while others range in cost from under $100 to over $1,000. Remember to check the version of the software you choose — newer or older versions may have more or fewer features.

  • For Windows®:
    • Windows Live Movie Maker® 2011
      This free software can be a great way to get started. Movie Maker offers basic editing for many video formats. It's a good way to edit without spending any money, since it may already be on your computer. If not, it's available as a free download for Vista and Windows 7.
    • Corel® VideoStudio® Pro X4
      This software supports many types of standard- and high-def video files, including HDV and AVCHD. It also comes with DVD authoring for high-def playback with 5.1 surround sound in high-def disc players. For more info, see the Corel VideoStudio Pro X4 website.
    • Pinnacle Studio™ HD
      This software supports many standard- and high-definition video formats, such as DV, HDV and AVCHD files. It also allows users to burn their high-def footage to discs that can play in compatible high-def players. For more info, see Pinnacle's website.
    • Sony Vegas™ Pro 11
      This software offers support for many standard-def and high-def video file formats, including HDV and AVCHD. It also lets you burn high-def Blu-ray discs. For more info, see Sony's website.
    • Adobe® Premiere® Elements 10
      This software supports file formats from many standard- and high-def camcorders, including HDV and AVCHD. It allows you to put your edited footage on DVD or Blu-ray for playback and archiving. For more info, see Adobe's website.
  • For Mac®:
    • iMovie '11
      This software features support for many types of standard- and high-def video formats, including HDV and AVCHD. It's a good program to start with, especially since it comes free with new Macs. For more info, see Apple's iMovie website.
    • Apple Final Cut Pro X
      This software, downloadable from Apple's App Store only, offers real-time editing of many standard- and high-definition formats. It supports DV and HDV files. You'll be able to store your HD footage in a high-resolution format for storage and playback. For more info, see Apple's Final Cut Pro X website.
    • Adobe® Premiere® Elements 10
      This software suite is also available for Mac®. For more info, see Adobe's website.

    All information posted above was accurate as of 11/22/2011.

    Computer requirements
    Most current computer systems handle digital video well, but if you have an older computer, take note: full-motion digital video takes up lots of memory, and high-definition full-motion video takes up even more. For example, five minutes' worth of DV25 codec video from a standard Mini DV camcorder uses 1 gigabyte of hard drive space — that means a half-hour video will take up 6 gigs. For bare-bones digital video editing, we recommend you use a computer system with at least 30 gigabytes of hard drive space, although we recommend more free hard drive space for better performance. For best results, get a computer with a high-speed hard drive (this number is expressed in RPM, revolutions-per-minute), and a well-regarded video card (ones rated well for video game performance are often a good place to start). Below, you'll find our computer system recommendations for editing standard- and high-definition video.

    Computer requirements For standard-def video editing (minimum) For standard-def video editing (ideal) For high-def video editing (minimum) For high-def video editing (ideal)
    Total hard drive space 30 gigabytes 200+ gigabytes 350+ gigabytes 500+ gigabytes
    RAM 512 MB 1+ GB 2+ GB system maximum
    Processor speed 1.2 gigahertz or equivalent 1.2 gigahertz or equivalent dual core 2.2 gigahertz or equivalent dual core 2.2 gigahertz or equivalent
    Inputs USB/ i.LINK* USB/ i.LINK* USB/ i.LINK* USB/ i.LINK*

    * Inputs will depend on the type of camcorder you choose — Mini DV camcorders typically use i.LINK outputs to transfer video, while DVD and hard drive camcorders typically use high-speed USB.

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