Feb. 6, 2011, 6:30 p.m.
posted by sunlight
Import Footage from a DVD
Perhaps you would like to have Julia Roberts appear in your daughter's movie, cheering for her soccer team?
"Hi. Can I speak with Julia Roberts, please?"
"Who, may I ask, is calling?"
"A little fat girl, from Ohio." 
 This is a reference to Francis Ford Coppola's famous quote from Hearts of Darkness.
So goes your daughter's efforts to get Julia Roberts to appear in her movie. Okay, the scenario is a little far-fetched, but it demonstrates the fact that most of us can't get a celebrity to appear in our home movies—that is, unless we use scenes of them from other movies. Luckily, there are ways you can import video from your DVDs and use the video in your project.
Determining Your Needs
The signal from your DVD player might pass to your computer without any problems. If this is the case, you simply need to convert the analog signal to digital [Hack #37] and almost any breakout box should suffice. However, if you notice the image is fluctuating from bright to dark while you are digitizing, your DVD is probably copy-protected using a feature called Macrovision. If it is, you will have to take a few extra steps to digitize the footage.
In order to import footage from a DVD with Macrovision, you need a way to pass the signal from your DVD player to your computer in a usable state. To do so, you will need a time base corrector (TBC), a breakout box, or a PCI video input card. All of these are different than the IEEE-1394 (a.k.a. FireWire or i.LINK) input you probably use under normal circumstances.
Using a Time Base Corrector
There are also other types of hardware (in addition to breakout boxes, discussed in the next section) that can enable you to import your footage from a DVD. Time base correctors (TBCs) help to stabilize video signals while they are passed from one machine to another. Therefore, they are able to normalize a Macrovision signal.
TBCs tend to be expensive, because they are often considered professional tools. Some of the cheaper models, such as DataVision's TBC-1000 or AVToolbox's AVT-8710, start around $300. Sima Products Corporation (http://www.simacorp.com) manufactures a line of Video Enhancement and Duplication products. Although they are not technically time base correctors, the products are capable of removing Macrovision from a video signal. You can also find decent deals on TBCs through eBay.
If you choose to use a TBC, you will still need a way to digitize the signal coming out of the device. So, you'll need either a breakout box or a PCI card. The nice thing is, you won't have to worry about which breakout box or PCI card you buy. You can simply choose the one that works with your system.
Using a Breakout Box
If you are at all concerned about hardware compatibility with your computer, a breakout box might be your best choice. Most breakout boxes are designed for "plug and play" compatibility, so you can just plug it into your computer and convert your footage easily. A breakout box is a piece of hardware that has multiple connections to take various signals of video and audio and then convert those signals to another type.
Some breakout boxes, such as Miglia's Director's Cut (http://www.miglia.com; $269), ignore the Macrovision signal, while others, such as the Canopus ADVC-100 (http://www.canopus.com; $249), need to be instructed to allow the signal to pass through. For example, to instruct the Canopus ADVC-100 to pass the video signal, do the following:
Turn off all of the dipswitches on the bottom of the breakout box.
Hook up the DVD player to the box, using either an S-Video or RCA cable.
Hook up the box to your computer using an IEEE-1394 connection.
Turn on the power to the DVD player, your computer, and the breakout box.
Launch the program you plan to use to capture the video.
Set the program to manually capture, if applicable.
Start playing the DVD.
If the DVD is protected by Macrovision, the red status light will blink intermittently.
Press and hold down the Input Select button until the status light stays off.
Release the Input Select button and make sure the Analog In light is on.
Using a PCI Card
As with breakout boxes, some video input cards for your computer will ignore the Macrovision signal. The Happauge WinTV-GO is a great deal at around $50 and it seems to ignore the Macrovision signal.
In addition to being able to capture your DVD footage, WinTV-GO includes a 125-channel TV tuner, so you can hook up your cable signal and watch, or digitize, your favorite shows. Other Happauge cards should work just as well, so if you want you can get a card with an FM-tuner or Dolby Surround audio.
There are a lot of software applications available that can copy footage off of a DVD, and a search for "dvd copy" or "dvd rip" on Google (http://www.google.com) will yield a long list of them. Unfortunately, most require you to copy an entire disc, instead of just the shots you want to use. Additionally, the applications usually encode the footage using the MPEG-2 codec.
So, if you plan on using software to get the DVD footage into your project, you will likely have to copy an entire disc, and then transcode the footage [Hack #29] using the same codec as your project's footage (most likely DV). The entire process can be very time consuming, especially if you are just trying to get one shot!
The following web sites provide a lot of information and tremendous peer support (through user forums):
The information goes well beyond just DVD-related topics, so when you have time, it's worthwhile to visit and see what topic each community is currently focusing on.
Knowing What You're Using
Whatever approach you take, you should always make sure you import your DVD footage in the same format you will be editing. All of these approaches, except the software one, are taking the DVD signal over an analog cable, so you need to make sure you digitize your DVD footage with the same setting with which you are editing your project. So, if you are editing a DV project, digitize your DVD footage with a DV setting.