To download my miniDV tapes to PC I decided to use the camcorder's firewire connection, as using the serial connector and the video editing software that came with the camera when I bought it in 2000 would be v-e-r-y slow (I think it's really just meant for downloading the 6-second "photo shot" still images that can be recorded with the camcorder). It was a bit off-putting to see that Panasonic had a special document entitled "Cautions for Connecting a Video Camera to a PC" that stressed that the PC should be turned OFF before using a firewire cable to connect the PC to the camera - otherwise there "may" be potential for static electricity damage to the camcorder! Not exactly "plug and play" ;) In practice I've had no problems when unplugging the firewire cable from the camcorder the normal way - using the Windows "disconnect USB device" tool and then turning off the camcorder before unplugging the cable.
The recommended IEEE 1394-1995 i.Link cable from Panasonic (VW-CD1E) is apparently discontinued, and in any case was simply an overpriced 4-pin firewire cable (apparently it cost around $100!). I purchased a generic 4-pin to 6-pin Belkin firewire cable from the local JB Hi-Fi store for $16.95 and it works perfectly. It was a relief to find that Windows Vista detected the camcorder device as soon as it was connected, and installed a working device driver without any problems.
I'm using Windows Movie Maker to download the mini-DV tape contents to my Dell PC. In AVI format a standard 60-min (SP) miniDV tape will occupy approx. 13 GB of harddisk space. Unfortunately the 1TB drive is formatted with Fat-32 file structure, so the maximum size for a single file is apparently 4GB (~19 min of recording time). I found this out when trying to download the first miniDV tape. So I'm splitting each tape into 4x15 minute segments, with a 1-min overlap to make editing easier. As I have around 26 used miniDV tapes this will result in approx. 100 raw video segments in total! As the play-back/download process occurs in "real time" I'm only transferring one or two of my 1-hr miniDV tapes each evening. If I saved the downloaded video files in WMV format I could store each complete 1-hr tape in a 1GB file, but I'm not sure how much the image quality would be degraded using WMV rather than AVI format. I've already had one of the miniDV tapes get damaged (tangled during tape ejection) and was lucky to be able to still rewind the tape and download it without further problems (the data in the damaged section of tape was unusable), so I think its best to make a "master" copy of each tape in AVI format. As I'm storing all my video and digital photo raw files onto my external 1TB harddisk file size isn't an issue yet. For data backups I'll eventually need to buy a second cheap 1TB HDD when ALDI has one on special, and store the second drive off-site (in case of a house fire). But I may put this purchase off for a while as storage media keeps getting cheaper each year. I still remember paying hundreds of dollars for a tape drive and tapes to back up my old 3.5" FDD last century, and the technology was continually being superseded by larger capacity media that were much faster and cheaper (per MB) than what had been available the previous year.
I found manuals for the various Panasonic NV-DS15 camcorder models online, although I eventually also located my original hard copy manuals.
So far we've just been enjoying viewing the unedited tape segments as I download them. Once I've finished all the data transfers from tape to HDD I'll start playing around with editing some footage (meterage? byteage?) using Windows Movie Maker (DS1 is already an expert). My first project will be editing last year's European vacation tapes and burn it the result onto a DVD. I'll insert some relevant still digital photos that DW, DS1 and I took, and maybe make up some graphics showing our journey (I recorded daily way points using my GPS and kept the road maps) and some title frames. Dubbing in some background music and commentary might make the end result look more like a travel documentary and less like the old-fashioned "home movie". The DVD burner software apparently lets you create a DVD "index" to make the finished product look more like a "professional" (rental movie) DVD, but I suspect that the more "professional" I package the finished product, the more obviously amateur the actual camera work will appear! I've been reading up on basic camera techniques (pans, tilts, etc) and will make sure I use a tripod on our next holiday. I'd gotten used to making do with hand-held recording while on previous back-packing holidays, but nowadays we travel by car (or camper van) so there's no reason to leave the tripod at home. Another benefit of using a tripod and remote control for the camcorder (if I can find it!) is that I'll appear more frequently in our holiday movies.
Depending on how the finished DVD turns out, I may just send a copy to our relatives, or maybe we'll even make some of our friends suffer through watching a "home movie" ;)
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