The Kiwi Personal Digital Video Recorder
A PC-Based Personal Digital Entertainment Centre
A project diary describing the process of building a PC-based home entertainment center based on regular off-the-shelf computer components and software.

Essential Software
Whatever tuner/capture card you choose, it will come with a suite of manufacturer-supplied software.

This software will include drivers (check that they support your chosen OS before buying) and one or more applications that will allow you to watch TV on your computer screen and probably record video to disk.
Virtual Capture Devices
When Microsoft launched Windows 98E they made a significant change to the way that video was captured.

In prior versions of Windows (95/98), the capture drivers created a "Video For Windows" (VFW) device that applications could then read from when they wanted access to a video stream.

From Win98SE onwards however, the VFW device was replaced with a newer "Windows Driver Model" (WDM) device.

This has caused a few compatibility problems that has meant not all the software designed for Win95/98 will run satisfactorily under later versions of Windows.

In an attempt to provide some backwards compatibility, Microsoft have created a "wrapper" that tries to provide some compatibility between the two (VFW/WDM) models. Unfortunately it's only partially effective.

Unfortunately, the chances are very high that these applications will be very poorly designed and implemented.

When it comes to actually recording video from a TV broadcast or your handy cam-corder, chances are that you'll get far better results if you use a piece of third-party software.

Visit the sponsor
If you'd like your own system, it is recommended that you purchase the parts, or a ready-configured version from the project's sponsor.

Some of this third-party software is distributed as freeware or shareware, which is great news if you're on a budget.

The best of the free/shareware products include:

VirtualDub: Capture/Editing
VirtualDub is an incredibly useful program and, being Open Sourced under the GNU GPL, it's also astounding value.

This program allows you to capture video from your tuner/capture card and store it to disk using any of the codecs already installed on your computer.

Once you've captured your video, VirtualDub let's you edit, squeeze, fold, spindle and mutilate the footage at your leisure, using a good range of filters and effects.

Unfortunately, VirtualDub is limited to capturing video from the older VFW device so when using it under later versions of Windows you may find that you can't capture at the expected frame-rates or at higher resolutions.

TMPGenc: MPEG encoder
TMPGenc is another indispensable pieces of video software.

It is an MPEG encoder/editor which allows you to convert your captured video into a format suitable for burning to CD as a VCD or SVCD.

The "free" version of TMPGEnc allows you to convert video into MPEG1 (VCD) format and offers a time-limited trial of the "plus version" features that are available for the very modest fee of US$48.

These extra features include the ability to generate MPEG2 files, essential for creating SVCD or DVD disks, plus a very simple to use MPEG stream editor that allows you to quickly and easily edit an existing MPEG file without having to re-encode.

Now I know that there are cracks out there fore the "plus" version of this program but I strongly suggest that you simply cough up the $48 -- this software is worth every penny and the writers deserve the money!

VCDEasy: CD Writing
Although there are a number of commercial programs out there that will create VCD or SVCD disks, VCDEasy has the advantage that it's free -- and it works very well indeed.

Not only does this software ensure that your MPEG files are correctly formatted, it also allows you to do things such as create your own menus and chapters, for adding that "professional" touch to your disks.

It also (optionally) includes some handy tools that let you perform some oft-needed tasks such as quickly blanking CDRW disks.

DVD2SVCD: DVD to (S)VCD conversion
Some countries have copyright laws that allow the purchasers of copyrighted material to make limited copies for their own "fair use".

In such countries, it's quite legal to copy a DVD you legally own and convert it to a format such as VCD or SVCD so that you can perhaps watch it on a computer that has no DVD drive.

Alternatively, while DVD writers and media remain expensive, converting to (S)VCD and writing to a cheap CDR disk is often the cheapest way to back-up those valuable original disks.

DVD2SVCD is a shell and suite of freely available programs which take care of the entire ripping and transcoding (converting MPEG formats) process.

Unless you're a total moron, don't waste your money buying a commercial program which claims to do what DVD2VCD does. With a little experimentation and practice, you can get results that are every bit as good (and often much better) than that produced by those wallet-emptying programs.

Using a 2GHz Pentium class machine, it will generally take around 5-6 hours to convert a single DVD into two SVCD disks with "near DVD quality" results. Most of this time is spent re-encoding the DVD video into an MPEG format compatible with the SVCD or VCD standards.

Note, if you want to create SVCD disks then you will need to have forked out the $48 to purchase the "plus" version of TMPGEnc (above) but VCDs can be made using the free version -- but VCDs do not look anywhere near as good as SVCDs.

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Published and © 2002 by Bruce Simpson and Aardvark Net Publishing. All rights reserved