Thursday, December 25, 2008

Early spring cleaning: videos

What started the early spring cleaning is the real mpeg4 codecs, and the death of analogue TV.

After dragging on for a couple of years, finally the real mpeg4 standard appears as H.264, the video and audio codecs are simply called advanced AVC and AAC, with the container file format mp4. Open source software are freely available. If future players will play only one standard, this is it. AVC is used for Blu-ray so it's future proof. AAC isn't, but used in ipods, so it's not going to go away. Unless you are making sound for movies, there's no point to use the new Dolby Digital standards, even if you can get hold of some software.

DVD will be around for a long time, but there's no point storing video in it. You can store a lot more files on it and play it on the computer, or send it to the digital TV.

It's a joy to to the spring cleaning. Home movies can be 5 times or more compressed than DVD, and 25 times smaller than DV from camcorders. You clean up and have a lot more spaces. I got my 320G hard disk because of the videos. Now I have space to play with a lot of other things, like operating systems and virtual machines.

I still have some valuable home movies in VHS-C tapes!!. They are the best, not because of the format, but they use big lenses back then on big machines. The camcorder broke down a long time ago. A few years after that, I realize that we cannot get back the quality without buying a new but old VHS-C camcorder. There are same version loaded on to VHS tapes, and we still have the VHS-C to VHS adapter that hopefully works.

Surprisingly, I just searched online and found that plenty of VHS-C camcorders still on sale, while I thought digital DV tapes are already obsolete.

Of course there are format conversion shops. Firstly, you shouldn't easily trust them. Historically at busy times such as Christmas, when you send your films to develop, it could be lost forever. And I listened to online forums too much, and I believed that you have to touch up the videos and use manual settings to get the best out of the videos. This is plain wrong for home movies and I should have picked the best format or best solution at the moment rather than waiting for the future.

I have both PAL and NTSC VHS library to covert. I brought a dual standard player for the purpose but other than one or two conversions, it's sitting on the garage. I also have a analog to digital box for capturing the video, but I used it for something else and it broke long ago.

I have a DV camcorder with an analog input, designed for people moving from analog to digital. I never did the conversion seriously because I usually ran out of DV tapes, and I was convinced that the DV standard is bad for converting to DVD directly without some sort of color space compensation. I hope it doesn't break down anytime soon, otherwise I have to buy a useless DV camcorder for the purpose. There used to be PC graphic cards capable of TV capture, which give you twice for the same money. But now it's worthless because analog TV is dead. Also, I never brought any graphics card anymore, all integrated, there's no need to unless you are a true gamer.

Now most of the library in in DV tapes. I didn't know how to deal with it before. Compress to DVD and it would have been playing in blu-ray discs for years to come. But I was let to believe that the conversion need some compensation on the color space. And I was let to believe that noisy home movies will benefit a lot from noise filtering and color adjustment before compression. After a couple of years staying in the garage, I don't believe in the crap anymore. Home movie is home movie, that's little you can do about it, and the quality doesn't matter that much, the content is. So I brought bigger and bigger hard drives, and I load DV tapes into it, because it's cheaper and more convenient than tapes.

The other reason I didn't convert DV is because of interleaving. I don't believe the free interleavers are good enough and I had a hard time picking the right one. Also, I believe interleaved source, if compressed to DVD, will look better in analog TV. On the other hand, I was more like to watch in the computer, where interleaved version is more appropriate, and more future proof. Mpeg4 standard such as Divx and Xvid offers so much more compression, and had stand alone players for it. I was so tempted but it turns out that blu-ray players don't support, only DVD.

I don't care to put clips in DVD anymore or blu-ray for that matter. The only function is to impress kids after their birthday party. I got Sony Scenarist and used it a lot, but all comes to nothing. Even the full features of a DVD is quite coomplex, and the software cost a lot. So I don't bother anymore. A clip is a clip no matter where you see it.

So the target is set. I hope to finish everything before the next decade! Hopefully the PAL & NTSC VHS player doesn't break down, now that they don't make it anymore. Same for my DV camcorder, which plays the DV and converts the VHS too. And I will be watching the price of VHS-C camcorders. If they ever drops down to $100, it's worthwhile to buy one instead of sending the tapes to conversion shops, if the tapes are still working. And if I have the money, the time, and the motivation. Watching time flying by isn't always a good thing.

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