Edit digital video on your PC

Home video has gone digital. The current generation of mini-DV (digital video) camcorders produce all-digital data that you can download to your PC, edit, and then write back to a fresh tape without losing quality as you copy and manipulate the video.

All DV camcorders have a high-speed serial connection for loading video into your PC. On the PC side, you'll need an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) card and, of course, capable video-editing software.

Prices of DV editing components are falling. If you're just getting started, you can buy entry-level packages with both an IEEE 1394 card and editing software from around $300. You can also create a custom editing setup by purchasing a stand-alone IEEE 1394 card (around $170) and editing software. Even lower-end software ($80 to $150) has plenty of capabilities to satisfy most home and semi-professional users, but for really serious work, Adobe Premiere ($1400) is the professional's choice.

Here's how to set up your PC for digital video editing.

Video editing pushes your PC (especially the processor, RAM, and hard disk) to its limits, so you need to make sure that it's in tip-top shape before you install the components.

Before you begin

1. Make a full backup of your PC.

2. Tune up your hard drives.

Open My Computer, right-click the drive icon, select Properties, click the Tools tab, and select Check Now. Once the scan finishes, click Defragment Now. Repeat the steps for all drives in your PC.

3. Stamp out hardware conflicts.

Select Start-Settings-Control Panel, and double-click the System icon. Select the Device Manager tab. If an exclamation mark appears next to any of the entries, highlight those entries one by one, select Properties, and follow the directions for resolving the conflict.

The top down

Benefits: Capture and edit video from DV camcorders
Costs: Starts at about $200-$300
Expertise level: Intermediate
Time required: 30 to 60 minutes
Tools required: Phillips screwdriver, antistatic wrist strap (recommended)
Vendors: All-in-one packages: Pinnacle Systems (www.pinnaclesys.com), Hercules (asia.hercules.com). Video editing software: Adobe (www.adobe.com.au), Ulead Systems (www.ulead.com)Installing the hardware and drivers1. Install the IEEE 1394 card. Turn off your PC, unplug it, and remove the cover. Consider using an antistatic wrist strap to minimise the possibility of static-charge damage. Find a free PCI slot, and remove the metal slot cover. Carefully insert the card, press it firmly into the slot, and screw it down.2. Install the driver software. Plug in your PC and turn it on. Windows should detect the new card and start the Add New Hardware Wizard. Driver installation details vary by card manufacturer, so carefully read the directions that came with your card. Some cards include their own driver on CD-ROM, whereas others require you to install Windows' own IEEE 1394 driver. (You'll need your original Windows installation CD-ROM.)3. Install the editing software and start working. Follow the installation directions that came with your editing software. Then connect your DV camcorder to the IEEE 1394 card, using the cable that came with the card. Now you should be ready to go. If you run into any problems capturing or editing video, first check all your connections. If that doesn't help, read the manual that came with your package for hints and tips, and consult the FAQ section on the maker's Web site. If you still encounter problems, call the manufacturer's tech support line.

Video editing takes a heavy toll on system resources. One way to avoid problems is to free up resources by turning off all but the most essential background operations: open Windows' Task Manager (press --) before you start your editor, and highlight, one by one, all tasks except Explorer and Systray; then click the End Task button for each.

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Stan Miastkowski

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