Workshop: A Digital Facelift for Your Analog Movies

Picking The Right Codec And Program

You won't get the very best video recordings until you have the right codec. Virtual Dub is top dog in the video editing world. Despite being freeware, it does more than many commercial programs.

The codec you pick will play a big role in the quality of your video footage. Codecs (algorithms that compress and decompress multimedia data) determine the quality of audio and video data in films. Depending on the capture device you use, the codec will be either nestled in your PC system as software (TV or graphics cards) or in a device chip (DV camcorders, DV converter boxes, capture cards). The installed codec not only allows you to edit the videos, but also to play them back using third-party software such as Windows Media Player, which has no problem playing DivX videos after the right codec has been installed. If you want to attain the image quality of the original when editing digitized videos, you should keep the compression factor as low as possible with an installed DV codec or the like.

Before archiving the movies later, though, you should first convert the video stream into a space-saving format such as SVCD (576 x 480 pixels), which is sufficient for storing VHS films in high quality. If, on the other hand, you want to archive DV or DVD movies without losses (format of each is 720 x 576 pixels), neither the VCD nor the SVCD resolution will suffice. In that case, the best thing to do is to keep the original MPEG-2 data rate (some 0.80 MB per second). The only problem is that a 60-minute-long MPEG-2 video compressed at that data rate will take up a whopping 2.8 GB of hard-drive space.

When you start out, though, your digitized videos should have the highest possible data rate, no matter what format the original, because condensing the quality level will produce better results than extrapolating it later.

Optimal Restoration With Virtual Dub

The freeware Virtual Dub is a powerful alternative to commercial video editing software. The program is compatible with all standard codecs and, through its import feature, provides users with a large number of freeware image-editing filters (see table). The procedures for integrating the codec and selecting filters explained below refer exclusively to Virtual Dub. At the time we wrote this article, version 1.5.0 was available for downloading at

If you're interested in commercial video editing solutions with a similar range of features, you can try programs such as those from Ulead (DVD Powertools, DVD Movie Factory) and Dazzle (DVD Complete). They're often much easier to use than Virtual Dub; however, they're designed almost exclusively to process high-quality videos, making them of limited value as restoration tools.