VOB's your uncle

Lately, I've been getting an increasing number of requests about editing VOB files - the video content on DVD movie discs - and whether it's possible to convert them into a format that's more readily editable or shareable. I'm sure the reason for this curiosity is that you want to use footage from old DVDs that you've created, and not because you're up to no good with your copyright-protected retail DVDs.

If you fall into the latter camp, then you should know that, while tools like DVDFab Decrypter can strip the content protection from your DVD movies, to do so is still illegal in Australia, even with the new copyright laws being drafted (see All rights reserved). So if ARIA goons teargas your spare room and steal your PC, don't say I didn't warn you.

Let's drive

Fortunately, most new consumer video editors (Adobe Premiere Elements, Ulead VideoStudio, Pinnacle Studio and Sony Vegas MovieStudio) have the ability to either import these VOB files directly, or at least turn them into a file format that can be edited. However, if your software is a little behind the times, you may find that it can't. If that's the case, you may be able to trick your software just by renaming the VOB files with an MPG extension instead. I can't guarantee that this will work, but it's worth a try - obviously you'll need to copy the files to your hard drive before they can be renamed.

In Ulead's VideoStudio, you'll find the import tool hidden in the File menu. Click on File-Insert media file to library (or File-Insert media file to timeline if you don't want to trim it first). Then select DVD/DVD-VR, browse to the VIDEO_TS folder on the DVD and select OK to bring up the import dialogue - see Figure 1. This will then let you preview and select the individual chapters that VideoStudio will convert to MPEG files and add to your project.

Pinnacle Studio works in a similar fashion. Just click on File-Import DVD titles to bring up the title selection box and preview the elements you want to convert. The only real difference here is that Studio lets you choose the name and location for the imported MPEG files.

Ironically, while Adobe's high-end editor - Premiere Pro - can't handle or import VOB files (though the MPG renaming trick works here), its little brother Premiere Elements has no such difficulty. Unlike Studio and VideoStudio, Premiere Elements works directly with VOB files, so you can either import them just as you would a regular video file (click the Add Media button and select Files or folders), or you can use the Add Media-DVD camcorder or removable drive option. The latter will bring up the Media Downloader; just select your DVD from the "Get media from" drop-down menu, and check the thumbnails of the VOBs you want to keep. The shortfall of this method is there's no way to preview the content, so some guesswork is involved - see Figure 2.

That said, at least it's not as peculiar as Sony Vegas MovieStudio, which is all over the place. There's no explicit DVD import function, but you can use the File-Import-DVD Camcorder disc option, which will convert the VOB files to MPEGs, but this has no preview or scene selection, so you'll be forced to import the entire disc, which is hardly ideal.

However, while it's not immediately apparent, MovieStudio actually supports raw VOB files, but it can be a little shy about letting you know this. When you select File-Import-Media and navigate to a folder on your hard drive, VOB isn't listed under the default "All media files" view: you won't see them until you switch the "Files of type" drop-down menu to "All files" (see Figure 3). You can then import the ones you want, and work with them without conversion.

Final note

You should already know this because I've said it often enough; MPEG-2 video is a bad format for editing. As well as significantly increasing the amount of time it takes to edit your video, it's already been heavily compressed once, and it's never a good idea to re-compress video unless you absolutely have to. This will introduce noise and compression artefacts into your export. When you've finished editing, use a high bit rate for your exported file (at least 6Mbps for DVD-video) to minimise the compression damage.

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Laurence Grayson

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