Video Workflow

Over the weekend, I vacuumed out my video editing desktop machine. It’s been a while since I used it, and it had collected its fair share of dust.

The machine is based on an Asus P4B motherboard and 1.8GHz Intel P4 CPU. This was state-of-the-art when I built the system in 2002. It was built around the requirements of the Pinnacle DV 500 DVD video card. This is a very picky piece of hardware. It only works with a limited subset of motherboards and only has drivers for Windows 98/NT/2000/XP. OK, given all those requirements, what does it offer? It does analog video signal digitization as well as Firewire for DV capture. And it will provide real-time preview for various supported video transitions when paired with Adobe Premiere.

When I was putting the system together, it seemed that hard disks over 40GB were particularly prone to failure. I had gone with a 20GB boot drive and a 40GB data drive originally. A couple of years later, the rough patch in hard disk QC seemed to have passed, and I replaced the 40GB with a 120GB drive. And there the system remained from about 2005 to this past weekend.

Given that Diane and I still are slowly working off a substantial load of debt from grad school and my health issues (see earliest posts here from 2004 for the grisly details), there is now no discretionary budget for computer gear. We get what is needed when it is needed. Our purchases since 2003 include a laptop bought as a replacement under insurance, a $120 laptop bought from surplus at Diane’s college to replace her failing Dell, miscellaneous hard disks for our files, and a desktop upgrade almost completely underwritten by a generous donation from one of my readers here. We are still using daily a desktop computer bought used around 2002.

So doing anything to the video machine had to fit two constraints: I still needed to be using WinXP for the OS, and it needed to cost nothing but a bit of my time. I located two hard disks that had been replaced in other systems by higher-capacity drives, a 60GB and a 200GB drive. I used a partition cloning tool to copy over the 20GB boot disk to the 60GB. This would let me install various new software packages, including the Microsoft C# Visual Studio Express development environment, which uses 1.1GB all on its own. I cleared off the 200GB with a new NTFS format to add it as a second data disk.

Why video and why now? My time at MSU is drawing to a close, so we will be moving shortly. I have a stack of video tapes in DV, Hi-8, and VHS formats. I’ve always intended to get these digitized, and between having little working space and not having a good workflow sorted out, it hasn’t happened. It seemed to me that if I got things squared away, I could be doing a basic video digitization and archiving sequence in parallel with other activities. After all, most of the time is going to be tied up in either playing a video source for capture, or rendering captured video to an archival format.

So given the extra space and some sprucing up of the installed system, I’m ready for moving video bits around. My goal is to have the video available for non-linear editing in nearly-pristine condition. Raw DV is too large to be efficient. After asking around a bit, I’ve started with the aim of rendering to a multiplexed MPEG-2 stream as a format that is easy on storage requirements, but loses little of whatever quality there was in a DV source.

This starts with capture, which for my system comes through the Pinnacle DV 500 DVD. I’m starting with the DV tapes, as this promises to be easiest all around. Pinnacle has their DVTools package that does a fine job of capturing from a DV source. I’ve done about four tapes so far with no dropped frames at all. It does, however, continue past the last actual image from the DV source if the tape isn’t completely full.

When the capture is done, I fire up Sony Vegas and put the capture file on the timeline. It doesn’t take long to snip out various unneeded bits, including the extra stuff at the end of the capture file. If it was all related to one event, I’m ready to render that. If the capture file includes multiple events, I save the Vegas project file for the complete thing and then begin rendering each sub-section separately.

Because these are intended for further editing sometime when I have free time, I’ll just be putting these out to DVD as data. I have ImgBurn installed to handle that. There are at least three tapes in there that I will also author a video DVD for that I know of off-hand. Those will take a bit extra effort, but I’m not doing that for most of these.

Of course, suggestions are welcome. Please do remember the constraints I have, so software package suggestions should be for open source or freeware packages. I do have a laptop that dual-boots Vista and Ubuntu, plus a desktop running FreeBSD 7.2, so video processing on those systems could be done if there’s a suitable benefit.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.