Today’s random findings

Sometimes lack of structure and certainty is a good thing. I know a lot of people don’t like that, but sometimes just not knowing is a good thing.

Today was a day of experimentation. Let’s just say that if we ever go buy a new digital video camera we will be doing a LOT of research beforehand. Why? Simply because I will not be trading my MacBook Pro in any time soon. Sorry, not happening. Love it too much.

For my camera and my needs, iMovie works just fine. It recognizes my camera, captures the video via Firewire cable, and does what I need to do. I have a Canon Zr85 and it works just fine, thank you very much. It takes miniDV tapes and while they aren’t the cheapest thing on the planet, they work and they are fairly user friendly.

That being said, the newer digital video cameras use mini-DVDs to store the digital video. This in itself is not a bad thing. I won’t knock it. I think it is a space savings over the mini-DV tapes to be real honest with you. Since I always run my mini-DV tapes in standard play and get the shortest amount of time usable on the tapes, they still seem to have something on the mini-DVDs in that regard.

The problem I have found is that the mini-DVDs aren’t the most Mac friendly things on the planet. At least, not out of the box. Please keep in mind that I am still working with iLife ’06 and your mileage may vary.

First off, they are small, hence the label “mini.” I was not brave enough to stick it into my on board DVD drive. Nope, not going there. I was afraid of having to have it removed by a repair guy. Not going to try it. Upon looking I am glad that thinking was a great service to my sanity and my computer’s well-being. From the Apple website:

Warning:Do not attempt to insert mini DVDs or other nonstandard video discs into a slot-loading or tray-loading disc drive on your Mac. Doing so can damage your computer. Standard discs are circular with a diameter of 12 cm and are between 1.2 and 1.5 mm thick.

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This problem is only as big as you allow it to be and was easily remedied by using an external Firewire DVD drive (which we already had because the CD/DVD drive had gone out on my old PC).

The other thing I found was that the DVDs are in a format that is that they save the video information in a VOB format. Now I won’t go knocking the format outright, simply that iMovie cannot read the format and therefore cannot import the video information. This is of course from the mini-DVD itself. Evidently different rules apply when capturing from the camera itself.

Maybe an upgrade it iLife ’09 is soon going to be in order for one Mac addict here. I am going to be researching this as well. It looks fairly interesting and more chalk full of features than iLife ’06 (at least in the iMovie category).

I have even considered an upgrade to Quicktime Pro today. Yeah, someone is here drooling. I had to move myself to the floor so I wouldn’t slip and fall out of the chair. OK, so I really moved to the floor because it was a bit further from the window in the living room and I was burning up and didn’t want the body-heated chair to continue to add my over-heated body. That has worked nicely, by the way. Not perfect, mind you, I am still hot but I am cooling down as I sit here on the cold floor and drink ice cold water – refreshing, cooling water.

Now keep in mind that I will not be defeated, these are only stumbling blocks not solid brick walls. So what is one to do to capture VOB files on a Mac when the native tools are not sufficient enough to get the job done? *think* *think* *think*

I ran through the list of options on the computer:

• iMovie
• iDVD
• Quicktime (video player)
• Handbrake (video ripper for making movies for iPods)
• Microsoft Media Player
• Microsoft Movie Maker (remember I am running Windows XP after all).
• ffmpegX (video conversion)
• DVD Player (dvd playing software on the Mac)

I think that is all.

I was grateful that I had Handbrake on my computer to be real honest with you. It made quick work of capturing those VOB files from the mini-DVDs. It went very quickly. It did a pretty dang good job of slicing the whole video recording into shorter clips too. It didn’t mess up too many. That was a totally unexpected but totally welcome aspect. I was able to save each “chapter” or Handbrake read “break in the flow of the movie” individually very quickly and easily using. Now it doesn’t do so well with these splits when there is a lot of “stop and start” action changes in the clip, but it does well with long spells of consistent movement. One thing I want to verify is if you can preview the chapters before saving them.

Of course using Handbrake left a new turn of events – how to get the movie from the MP4 format and into something else. Handbrake only saves in 4 formats (one of those being MP4). This isn’t a big deal if you don’t need the video footage in another format. I was shooting for either MPG or MOV.

At least iMovie imports MP4 formats. That’s one bonus. Of course it is time consuming to (1) import the clips and (2) save the clips in MOV format as you have to render each clip you want to save. Time consuming.

In comes ffmpegX. It isn’t completely user friendly. It is definitely not 100% intuitive. After a bunch of fiddling with it, however, I was able to relatively quickly convert the MP4 format video clips to MOV. I was trying to keep file sizes relatively small, so I opted for MOV but still needed the clips to be “web friendly.”

This, however, does not solve the problem with the video clips that were split in multiple spots so I had some where I had 2-5 clips to piece back together. These, I did do in iMovie so that I could do a nice transition to piece the pieces back together. The sizing on the saved videos in iMovie did not match what I was doing with the straight conversions. Another interesting problem. I then saved those re-joined clips as DV format, then used ffmpegX to convert the DV files to MOV. It took a little adjusting of settings and some cropping, but once I figured out which settings to use I was once again quickly converting video clips.

The point of all this is that sometimes you have to think outside the box and experiment to get the things to work out like you need to. That being said, I am going to be researching various options for doing this in the future whenever the need may arise.

Now, I need to go clean off my hard drive so that I can work in Photoshop. *grin*

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