Digital video cameras allow PC users to edit and enhance home videos. Now there's a way to distribute those videos on DVDs that can be played on the same players millions of people use to watch commercial movies on their TV sets.
What's more, a DVD burner can also be used as a backup device, able to store as much as 9.4 gigabytes of PC files on a double-sided disc. DVD burners eventually will be as standard as rewriteable CD drives today. But they're not quite ready for prime time.
Sony, Compaq and Apple make PCs with built-in DVD writers, and there are aftermarket drives that can be added to existing systems.
I connected a DVD writer to my machine and am making my own DVD movies to share. But not all DVD players can play these discs. In fact, I had to replace my own DVD player because, like a lot of players that are more than a year or two old, mine wasn't able to play homemade discs. Fortunately, DVD players are getting cheaper. The cheapest cost less than $100.
You don't have to be Steven Spielberg to create your own home DVD, but you do need plenty of spare time, patience and money. I had to use one program to edit the home video and another to transfer it to a DVD. And DVD burners and blank discs are still very pricey. Expect to pay at least $680 for a drive that can record DVD-R, the format that you can play in standard TV players. Blank DVD-R discs start at about $9.
I tested the Que Fire DVDBurner from QPS Inc. My loaner drive, which plugs into a PC's FireWire port, allows you to read and write DVDs and CDs. In addition to DVD-R, it can burn DVD-RAM discs, which can be erased or modified as a medium for backing up PC files.
Single-sided DVD-RAM discs, which are permanently housed in a plastic cartridge, cost about $20 each and store 4.7 gigabytes. You also can buy double-sided discs, which store twice the data for about twice the price. The only problem with DVD-RAM is that the discs can't be read by standard DVD drives.
The QPS drive comes with a very nice DVD video authoring program called NeoDVD from MedioStream. The program allows you to capture video directly from a digital video camera or import it from a file on your hard drive.
The software can be purchased separately for $99 and can be used to create a video CD that can play on many newer DVD players. A CD can store about 10 minutes of video, and all it takes to make one is the right software, a regular CD-RW drive and a CD-R disc, which costs as little as 30 cents each.
NeoDVD is not a replacement for a good video editing program such as Pinnacle's Studio DV, but it does allow you to crop your video to eliminate unwanted sequences. Studio DV and other video editing programs allow you to add transitions, titles, sound tracks and special effects.
Several of the video DVDs I made worked just fine, but some didn't. One disc displayed video but didn't play audio. Another let me view some chapters or tracks but not others. At $9 a pop, a wasted blank DVD is a very expensive coaster.
Pioneer offers a $750 internal drive that can also write DVD-RW discs, which can be erased and rewritten. Unlike DVD-RAM, DVD-RW discs look and work like regular DVDs. But I wouldn't buy a DVD-RW drive yet because there is a competing standard backed by Hewlett-Packard and Dell, called DVD+RW. HP is expected to start shipping PCs with DVD+RW later this month. But it isn't yet clear which standard will prevail.
Eventually, we'll get to the point where everyone uses the same type of drive. That will make life a lot easier. Also, the drives and the media should get a lot cheaper in a year or so. At some point I expect DVD Read/Write drives to be standard issue on PCs, with blank discs costing less than a dollar. So, unless you have a burning desire to burn your own DVDs right now, you're better off waiting.
Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.