by January 1, 2001 0 comments

The video format you need depends upon the application you’re
going to put it to. So if you want a video with all the data for editing, AVI is
the best option. If you need to save space and yet retain the quality, opt for
formats that use some sort of compression, like MPEG, DivX or even MPEG 4. As it’s
not possible to discuss all of them, we’ll talk about the most-popular ones

Whenever you convert a video from one format to another,
there will be some irretrievable loss in video quality. That’s why for most
video editing work and conversions, AVI is used as the base format. To get the
best AVI file, you’ll need a good quality video capture card or Webcam that
doesn’t drop too many frames during video capture. With these base guidelines
in mind, let’s proceed with the various conversions. Also, keep in mind that
different video formats use their own codecs for compression and decompression.


When you record from a source, say a TV card, a video capture
card, a digital video camera or even from a Beta-cam, the associated software
records the video in raw, uncompressed AVI format most of the time (though
sometimes a simple codec may be used). An AVI file takes up a lot of hard disk
space and is not always feasible if you want to put it on a CD. For that, it’s
better to store the video on a VCD. For this you need to convert it to MPEG-1
format. Simple programs like ‘avi2vcd’ are available to help you do this.
Just select the file to be encoded and the output path and hit Encode. You have
the option of selecting the output standard viz PAL, NTSC or Film. The MPEG file
thus created can be burnt on a CD using any of the commonly available CD burning
software like Adaptec or Nero.


MPEG-2 is more popular than MPEG-1 for storing digital video
as it gives higher data rate and hence better quality. For encoding to this
format ‘bbMPEG’ is a good software. Apart from encoding, the software lets
you do basic editing, like cropping image frames and changing the final movie’s
resolution in terms of its height and width. The output video will not be as
smooth and detailed as the original because of compression, so don’t choose a
higher resolution than the original. Otherwise, you’ll get a ‘blocky’
video. bbMPEG can also be used to convert MPEG-1 streams to MPEG-2.

Click on ‘Encode’ to get mpeg-1 from your VCD


Why would you want to convert MPEG to AVI? One reason could
be if you want to stream your video, for which MPEG can’t be used. For that,
the MPEG has to be converted to an ASF (Advanced Streaming Format) file. Since
there aren’t too many utilities that let you convert from MPEG to ASF, you’ll
first have to convert it to AVI. For this, a utility called ‘VirtualDub’ is
available. The process is time consuming. After converting to AVI, use Microsoft’s
Windows On-Demand Producer for converting the AVI to ASF format. The utility is
part of Windows 2000. Microsoft NetShow Tools has the NetShow Encoder, that can
do the same, but we found the former a lot easier and better.

Directly convert VCDs to MPEG using VCD Gear


As already discussed, video on VCD (file extension DAT) is
MPEG-1 by nature, stored as DAT files. A host of software is available for
ripping video CDs. VCDGear is one package that lets you convert your DAT tracks
on the VCD to MPEG directly. Just load the DAT file and select the appropriate
extraction/conversion option. It also lets you convert the other way round, that
is, MPEG to DAT. Alternatively you can use VirtualDub, which does a lot of
things apart from just ripping CDs. You can use this to rip the video track off
the CD and save it as an uncompressed AVI. This AVI can then be encoded into
MPEG as already explained. Please keep in mind that a VCD holds around 600 MB of
compressed video that’ll balloon up to a large size when converted to AVI. So
you’d better have plenty of free hard
disk space.

bbMPEG gives you many more options than just AVI to MPEG-2

Video tape to VCD

This is a big time business even for small time
professionals. Video tapes are the primary storage for video from live events,
parties and marriages and since video tapes are a hassle to maintain or use,
users want to convert their videos to the easier to use VCDs. You need a video
capture card for this purpose and of course a compression/encoding software. The
quality and frame rates of the final video depend on the kind of capture card
you use. High-end cards allow higher frame rates during capture, but they’re
very expensive. The accompanying software for capturing usually allows you to
specify the capture size, resolution, and colors. They normally save the video
as uncompressed AVI. You can use any of the earlier discussed schemes to convert
this video to VCD-compliant MPEG-1 and burn it on to VCDs. For details read the
story ‘Working with Video’, page 80, in the January 2000 issue. You can also
check out our Website––if
you don’t have a copy of the issue.

VCD to DivX

DivX is making waves in video similar to what MP3 did in
audio. What’s the advantage? DivX is a format that achieves a high level of
compression, even more than conventional MPEG files. You’ll find many movies
in DivX format on the Internet for download. The advantage is that DivX gives
you good picture quality despite the compression. It’s sometimes confused with
MPEG-4, but the two are actually different formats and use different codecs. If
you have a VCD and want to put up a movie server in the near future (when the
bandwidth situations improve), you can readily convert your VCD movies to DivX
for download. To do this, VirtualDub is an easy-to-use software. It rips the
video data track (along with the sound) from the VCD, and its data stream can
then be processed to give you a DivX movie. The beauty of the software is the
amount of experimentation you can do it. You can select the video codec to be
used for compression; the audio codec can be specified separately and could be
DivX audio or even MP3.

An all-in-one utility. VirtualDub has lots of options to play around with

DivX to VCD

Now why the other way round? DivX playback requires a lot of
CPU power. So if your PC is slow, the playback is jerky. On the other hand, VCDs
can be played back even on an ordinary PC with a decent video card or even on
your home theatre. For this, you’ll first have to strip the audio from the
DivX file using VirtualDub. Load the file and then click on ‘Save WAV’.
Though this WAV file can be played back normally, it’s not an ordinary WAV
file, but a Windows Media Audio V2 file for DivX audio. You have to convert it
to a PCM WAV file for your use. Our good old Winamp did the job with its output
plugin set to NullSoft Disk Writer. For the final encoding, the audio and video
have to be merged. You can use either Xing MPEG Encoder or Panasonic MPEG for
the purpose. Load the DivX AVI in the video box and the normal WAV in the audio
(after unchecking ‘Use identical files’). Start encoding and you get the
MPEG that can be burned into a VCD using either Nero or Adaptec Easy CD Creator.

Video tapes to Streaming video

So you videotaped your daughter’s birthday and want the
whole world to see it. What do you do? Put it on your Website. And for that you
need to convert it to Real video. Though video can be streamed in other formats
also (like ASF), Real media is popular because it is easy to encode, distribute
and play back on client machines. This is a two-stage process–the first
involves capturing the video as an AVI and then encoding it to RM depending upon
your bandwidth considerations. For the first part, any graphics capture card
would do. For the second part, RealNetworks’ Real Producer again comes handy.
The software encodes AVI, MOV, and even QT files. It can also take input
directly from a media device like a camera or a VCR and publish it as streaming
media. The data rate of the encoded file is determined on the basis of target
bandwidth say 28.8 kbps, DSL or intranet LANs.

RealProducer handles all your audio and video streaming needs


Why do you need to convert a DVD movie to a VCD? Well,
suppose you have a standalone VCD player at home, and a DVD drive on your PC.
You can convert all DVDs you have to VCD for viewing on your larger TV screen.
The process can be divided into four steps:

  1. Rip the data
    tracks (VOB files) off the DVD

  2. Strip the video
    from the VOB file

  3. Strip the audio
    and convert it to stereo or mono, and

  4. Combine the video
    and audio to generate a VCD compliant MPEG file.

Though you can see the VOB files if you explore the DVD, you
may not always be able to copy them directly because DVDs are copy protected.
VOBDec is a command-line software that rips the VOB files and stores them on the
hard disk. It also has a GUI, which makes it easier to use for a novice. Other
tools like CladDVD or SmartRipper also do the same job. Then you need to extract
the video and also the Dolby AC3 sound from the file. Use DVD2AVI, a utility
that creates a project file storing the two.

The next step is to convert the sound to stereo from Dolby
AC3 5.01 format to simple stereo format for putting on to the VCD. Any good
sound-editing package like Sonic Foundry’s Soft Encode lets you do that and
gives the output as a PCM WAV file. Now we use an encoder to merge the audio and
video. TMPGEnc is one such software. Load TMPGEnc, select the project file that
you made earlier as the video and the WAV file as the audio and hit ‘Start’.
It takes a while to generate the MPEG output, which can then be used to make a
VCD. You might have to use a MPEG splitter to split the MPEG into two files so
as to fit on CDs.

This list of conversions is in no way comprehensive. There
are a lot of other things you can do with your videos. For this, you need to
keep experimenting and updating yourself.

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