Home Video Hints: Video on CD -- You Can Do it Too!

Videomaker reader Greg Askins received a wonderful response to his holiday cards last year. Instead of a run-of-the-mill greeting card, he used his computer to craft a video greeting, encapsulating his family’s entire year into a video montage set to music. Then, he used his computer’s CD burner to make copies and sent them off to his family, friends and the editors here at Videomaker. Want to know how you can make one? Read this letter from Greg telling us how he did it, step-by-step.

– Chuck Peters, Managing Editor

Hi Chuck,

Thanks for your recent e-mail regarding my Christmas "video card." I appreciated you taking the time to watch it and was thrilled with your positive feedback. Instead of sending traditional cards, I thought that a video greeting on CD might be a great way to let everyone share our family’s life experiences during the past year.

In your e-mail, you asked me to explain how I went about creating the CD so other Videomaker readers could do it too. I think they’ll find it a fairly straightforward process and I think they will love the final product. What follows is a rundown of the process I went through to get my edited video project transferred and burned onto a CD-R for distribution to family, friends and associates.

My CD Rhyme and Reason

Since I wanted to send out about 20 copies of our family Christmas project, copying it onto to VHS tapes seemed to be too time-consuming and expensive, especially when I factored in postage costs. Streaming video across the Web sounded like a great idea, but too few people have broadband Internet connections, and video files can be large. My edited Christmas video came in at about 300MB. For large numbers of copies, I found CD-R a great alternative. Good quality CD-R discs can be purchased on sale for as little as 25 cents each and most newer computers already have a CD burner. With today’s inexpensive color printers and CD labels easily available, it’s a simple process to make a creative, 21st-century Christmas card.

It’s Really Easy

Depending on what program you use to edit your video projects, the steps will vary a little. I used iMovie for my production, but many new computers now come standard with editing software and an IEEE 1394 card. While the specific CD burning steps might differ depending on your computer hardware and software, the general advice and procedures described here are the same.

Once you have your video on the computer, you can edit it or just burn it as-is to a CD-ROM. First though, you have to convert it to a different format. The biggest problem is that you need to compress the video so that the file will fit on a 500-700MB CD-ROM, but you also need to make sure it is written in a format that your friends can play back. I like to use QuickTime because it is widely distributed on PCs and Macs and it can be played back using a free player that anyone can download off the Web.

Converting Takes Time

When your project is completely edited, select the Export command from the File menu. Then select a file format, such as Windows Media (*.wmv), QuickTime (*.qt) or MPEG-1 (*.mpg). After you select a file format, you may have to select a codec to encode the video. There are many good choices, like the Sorenson codec for QuickTime movies (.qt).

There are a couple of other choices to make at this stage. To ensure a finished CD-R that would play on a large range of computers, select a frame size of 320×240 and 15 frames per second. Audio is easier to compress. Consider a mono setting, to help make your final file size even smaller. Decide where you want the computer to put your converted video, and click the Start button.

Now, sit back and wait…and wait…and wait. And wait some more. Plan on a 15-minute video taking anywhere from five to 15 hours to complete the conversion, depending on the speed of your CPU and the complexity of the conversion. But, the good news is that you should only have to do this once (unless you make a spelling error, which you catch after your conversion is complete, like I did). Then you’ll get to do it again. The conversion process can be slow going, so it’s a good idea to start this late in the evening and let it finish while your sleeping. Or, start it in the morning before you leave for work.

Look at Your Work

When the conversion is complete, you’ll be eager to see what your converted project looks like. You’ll find your new video file in its assigned location. Double-clicking this file should launch your media player, and you’ll see your video presented at its new 320×240 size. Click on the large Play button in the window and enjoy your converted project. Now you’re ready to start burning your video onto a CD-R.

Many new computers (both Windows and Macs) come with built-in CD-R burners already installed. If not, adding an external one using your USB or FireWire connection is a very simple process. And if you’re comfortable getting inside your computer, you may choose an internal CD-R burners, the least expensive option. Most burners come with software that will usually suffice for burning your project, but other programs are available.

Along with your video, you can include other items on each CD. You might consider a collection of family photos (usually in the .jpg format), audio clips of your family playing or singing (maybe some .mp3 clips that were left on the cutting room floor of your video project), or even a more traditional Christmas letter (in a word-processing format such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat).

Another original idea is to create a couple of Web pages that serve as an index to the video files on the disc. Make sure, however, that you use relative links to the source material or the links will be broken when you burn the CD. Your only limitation is the amount of storage available on each CD-R, usually 600-700MB.

Burn ‘Em

After you’ve collected all of your media, start burning your CDs. Depending on how much data you have and the speed of your burner (and the speed rating of your CD-R media), burning should take less than 20 minutes for each disc, a whole lot quicker than that dreaded conversion process.

While your CDs burn away, it’s time to start thinking about a label for your soon-to-be-completed Christmas video card. Of course, pictures of the kids, family and pets are always great starters.

Here’s another chance to use your creativity in this project; have fun creating your labels. After you have finished burning, printing and labeling, all that’s left is mailing them out and waiting for all the accolades to roll in.

I’m looking forward to finding your Christmas video CD in the mail next holiday season!

– Greg

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