video capture: the quest for quality


I’ve been messing around with digital video since my first video camera (JVC GR-DVJ70), and have played with capture on BeOS, {Windows 98}, {Windows 2000} and {MacOS X}. If I knew at the start what I know now, I’d have saved up the extra for a unit with Firewire output… As it it, the camera is a fully digital MiniDV unit, but it only has analogue ouputs, and no video inputs (external Mic is provided, but no headphone out).

stuff i’ve used

It varies a lot: operating systems, capture cards, capture software, processing methods, editing software, viewing options. Have a look at the list of subpages as I’ve tried to keep each part as a nice small segment, each with its own set of experiences and links. There might end up being a large summary of handy sites at the end, but it makes more sense at the point to simply link off when it suits the narrative.


The problem with a lot of my experiences are probably down to simply wanting to do too much with the systems of the time. All of this started back in early 1999 (Feb/Mar) and things have moved on apace since then. I also have refused to spend my way out of the situation, which may have cost me a bit in terms of now unused hardware, but overall it possibly cheaper than having bought expensive items which are now junk 🙂

The latter portions ({MacOS X} stuff) are from May 2002 onwards, and are really, really amazing compared the the tools available 3 years ago. I hope that the knowledge I’ve gained the hard way wasn’t wasted, and so just for anyone else who’s thinking of playing with home movies since they bought a PC with a USB webcam/TV card, I’ve tried to explain why I was forced to take another step, when all I wanted to do was get my home movies on the TV…


Due to the size of the posting, I’ve split up the body into three main portions: Part 1 deals with my first steps and the stuff that didn’t work. Part 2 is where I actually manage to get to a point where I’ve produced a full wedding video. Part 3 is how to do it properly (!) and what to actually do with the files once they’ve been captured and edited.

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  1. Christine

    Hi, I noticed you started doing video capture using a GR-DVJ70, a camera which I recenlty inherited and have used. The camera came with the docking port, cables and an S-video cable, the S-video I have connected to my laptop as it also has one. I’m using XP but when I did all this connection stuff my machine didn’t recognise that the camera was there. I don’t have any of the video/audio in/out ports like a standard PC would so I was wondering if you could tell me how to connect the camera to my machine and get my videos onto disk. The laptop does have USB2, if that’s any help. Thanks very much.

  2. Ok, let’s get the hard bit out of the way first: video editing under Windows was the reason I switched to a Mac running OS X and I haven’t looked back. If you want to do a lot of editing, then it’ll save you hours of frustration and money.

    Right: now to be more helpful – the S-Video port on your laptop is for output to a TV set: it will not accept any images from your camera. How much quality are you prepared to sacrifice ? Do you want to keep the final result as close as possible to what the camera can manage ? If so, the easiest way to do this is to get a DV input for your laptop (also called Firewire or IEEE1384) which can be bought as a Cardbus card although some more recent laptops do have them already, and an analogue to DV bridge (I have a Hollywood Dazzle, but make sure that it does DV and not MPEG 1 or 2). The Hollywood device has a large (6-pin) Firewire connector, and if your laptop has Firewire built-in it’ll probably be a tiny 4-pin one – connector cables are readily available.

    That box will turn the DVJ70 into a ‘modern’ DV camera and you will be able to capture the video using something like Pinnacle’s Studio DV software (I think it’s up to Studio 9 now; I used 7 and it was the only good thing about editing video on Windows) although you can’t use the FF and Rewind buttons in the capture software – you hit record on the PC and then Play on the camera manually. The DV link means that you are as close as possible to the quality of the image on the tape, but the movie captures will be large: 25GB or so for an hour.

    If you can take lower quality video, then look for any of the direct to MPEG 1 or 2 capture cards: there are plenty of USB devices that are far cheaper than the DV bridge, but the results will not look as good, and editing the video may be restricted to the software that comes with the capture card (which usually sucks). The size of capture files from these devices are also smaller, which is an indication of how much quality has been removed.

    Hope that helps !

  3. Christine

    Hi, many thanks for the advice. I have managed to get hold of a GR-CB3 JLIP analogue box with all the cables/software etc, will this do the same as the Hollywood Dazzle?

  4. Hiya – I don’t think so, if it’s the box that’s described in this 14 page PDF file:

    That box allows you to do two things: capture a single still frame from the camera on to a PC via the serial port, and it will also allow you to control the video camera and another JVC JLIP compatible VHS machine from the PC so that the PC can start and stop the VHS as well as fast forward and rewind the video camera so that you end up with the scenes from the camera in your desired order on the VHS.


  5. Christine

    Ian, that’s great, thanks so much for all your help on this. As per your previous advice on ANalogue/DV bridges, I’ve had a look on a local PC Manufacturers website and they seem to do quite a few, some Pinnacle Systems (who do the Dazzle you recommended) and some others. I’m taking a stroll down there tomorrow to see what I can find out from them. I’ll let you know how I get on. Thanks again.

  6. Christine

    Hi Ian, following my trip to the local PC shop and some intense reading on the web i’ve ended up with a Dazzle DVC80 which links up the analogue outputs of my DVJ70 docking station directly into my laptop. So far I’ve done about three transfers and the.avi quality is really good. I know the DVC90 has even better resolution but couldn’t afford that. Again, many thanks for all your help on this one, if it wasn’t for that I’d never have heard of Hollywood or Dazzle or even had a clue where to start.

  7. Cool ! I’m glad you managed to sort it all out: I’ve not needed to update my hardware so I hadn’t heard of these other Dazzle products out there, and it certainly looks portable too. Now you just need to look for a larger external hard drive to cope with your next 3 hour epic production 🙂

    Have fun.