We have a bunch of old videos that we took of the boys when they were younger (the video camera died a year ago and we haven’t managed to get it fixed, since it is now almost 9 years old and would probably cost as much to fix as to replace with a much smaller and better unit). I have a thing called a Dazzle, which I have used to transfer some of these videos to the PC. However, the software that comes with it isn’t so great, so to keep the video quality high enough to be watchable (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “good”), the files are monstrously huge. There was one of Ryan’s first bath in the hospital the day after he was born which is about 32 minutes long, and the resulting .avi file was almost 7.5 GB. In total, there are something like 40 GB worth of videos on our machine and I haven’t yet converted most of the video tapes.
I started looking into backing all of this stuff up (videos and pictures primarily), and I’ll write about that later on, but I figured that there had to be a way to reduce the size of these videos without making them unwatchable. I did a bit of googling, and found that the program I was looking for was already on my system: Windows Movie Maker. In a very simple process, I imported a video file, dragged it to the playlist at the bottom, and clicked “save to my disk”. Then I pointed it at the output directory, gave the file a name (why it doesn’t default to the same name as the import file, I don’t know), and clicked “Save”. Each video takes almost as long to convert as it is long, but once it’s done, it’s way smaller, and I can’t see any difference in the quality. The 7.5 GB file turned into 95 MB. 11 videos of Ryan’s first six weeks went from 11.4 GB to 194 MB. Now, the new format is .wmv, which is Windows-specific, but I’m a Windows guy anyway, so that’s fine.
I played around with the video quality setting in Windows Movie Maker, and found that when I played the small video in full-screen mode, the quality degraded quite a bit. I re-converted them to a higher-quality setting, and the pictures are bigger (now they’re about 5% of the original size, rather than about 1%) and take longer to process, but when you watch it full-screen, the quality is pretty good. If I were to burn a DVD with that quality, it wouldn’t be fantastic, but it’d at least be watchable.
So now that these files are small, I can delete the big ones and start converting more of them without worrying about running out of disk space. I can back them up quickly without spending a fortune on bandwidth or storage (or using a hundred DVDs), and I could even post some of them to YouTube for my family to watch if I wanted.