win98/ati all-in-wonder

Around this time I was also putting a bit more thought into how I was going to present the final movies. Not all of my family have computers, and those that do don’t necessarily have a PC or a Mac – with the Buzz it was fairly obvious: simply use the composite video out connector to dub straight to VHS, and keep copies of the MJPEG AVI’s on CD-R for archival.

I started to get interested in MPEG-1 compression after I bought a VCD adaptor for my Playstation (SCP-1001, now deceased) and imported a few films from Malaysia (Dark City, Michael). The quality was quite remarkable, even if they also seemed to have audio drift issues, so I started thinking about capturing in MPEG-1, which was a more readily viewable playback format than MJPEG. The cards in this area weren’t as cheap, but the AGP version of the All-in-Wonder Pro was out, and a friend built a machine with one in. I got to see what it could do for capture, and I decided it was the way to go.

Because I didn’t have AGP, I also needed a new motherboard, and given that I’d sussed out the amount of data I needed to move for lossless capture, I went for the ABit BE6 as it had the normal IDE interface and then an integrated HighPoint HPT366 controller, which offered ATA-66 performace. Having scoured on-line reviews, particularly Tom’s Hardware Guide, I had decided on IBM drives as giving the best performance for long captures. Then I just bought the fastest CPU I could afford: a PIII 450.

This was good. I could now capture in MPEG-1 realtime full-frame, and I could almost manage sustained uncompressed capture if the hard drive was totally empty (I had one 20GB for programs, and one 40GB for capture) and if I pulled up the task list often enough to kill off all unwanted programs. This took quite some time: I often had to uninstall software if it left too many extra tasks lying around, as the machine was quite apt to tumble and start dropping frames during uncompressed capture sessions.

I wasn’t 100% impressed with the quality of the MPEG-1 files: they certainly weren’t as good as the best I could get with the MJPEG Buzz card, but they did stay in sync for much longer. The other problem was editing the stream, as MPEG is referential in its compression, with any one frame referring to those that came before it for the full picture to be extracted. This makes any sort of off-line editing tricky, as only the I frames (every 12 frames or so) are complete, but there are some tools out there that will do the trick, as well as some that will allow simple cuts only on the I-frames. This would be good enough for my purposes: I was only trying to beat dubbing from the camcorder directly to VHS afterall.