22 April 2007

#17. Putting Movies On Disk Shouldn't Be Hard

Hello again from Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where every week you’ll find new recommendations of useful free and cheap software and cool Web sites. Don’t forget to set a reminder to check this blog every week!

Converting movie files in AVI, MPG, or other formats for burning onto disks and playing in DVD players can be either simple or cheap, but not both. The expensive commercial programs try to simplify the process of converting, copying, and burning movies onto DVDs, but even their interfaces can be confusing. And the free utilities I have tried tend to get bogged down in technicalities.

All is not lost, however. I have found a few utilities that make the time-consuming chore at least bearable. But first you must decide whether you’re impecunious or impatient.

Free AVI Conversion

For converting AVI (including DivX and XVid) files to DVD format for free, I recommend Avi2Dvd. This program comes bundled with other free, public domain utilities, such as encoders, that carry out various steps in processing your files. Many other freeware converters require you to choose and download encoders separately.

Avi2Dvd’s bustling interface is hardly simple, and some technical knowledge is needed to make sense of its many options and to work through the multistep procedure for converting files. File conversion can take many hours, and occasionally fails in the middle. But Avi2Dvd is still the best free solution I have found so far.

The Avi2Dvd home page is at http://www.trustfm.net/divx/SoftwareAvi2Dvd.html. You also should get the official fractured-English instructions from http://www.trustfm.net/divx/GuideAvi2Svcd.html before attempting a conversion. And you’ll still need a burning utility to copy the resulting file onto a DVD (many free burning tools are available).

Easy AVI Conversion

If you can’t be bothered with the technical complexities and are willing to pay to get the job done right, I recommend WinAVI Video Converter. This all-inclusive package supplies everything you need to convert AVI, MPG, and many other formats to DVD, CD, or VCD or to the other supported formats. It can convert batches of files at once. It even burns the resulting files onto disks, so there’s no need for a separate burning utility.

The WinAVI interface is simple and easy to use. Less confusion also means slightly fewer options than Avi2Dvd provides, but I like the trade-off. Best of all, in my trials WinAVI completed the job relatively quickly, and rarely failed.

You can download a free evaluation version of WinAVI or buy the full package for $29.95 (US) at http://www.winavi.com. It’s well worth the price.

Free DVD Backup

Commercially published DVDs hold double the data capacity of a standard blank DVD. If you want to back up a commercial DVD in your library, you need a special utility to compress the file, and perhaps to strip out the extra video material often stuffed onto such disks. Most commercial movies also are encoded for only one region, so if you want to watch your movies in another part of the world, you might need a utility to remove the region code. DVD Shrink does all this for free.

In my limited tests, I have found DVD Shrink to be effective and reliable. And DVD Shrink’s interface is fairly straightforward, once you learn how to configure its settings. All of which might make the movie moguls very unhappy.

You can find DVD Shrink download sites at http://www.dvdshrink.org/where.html, and get more information and instructions at http://www.mrbass.org/dvdshrink.

Note: I do not advocate reproducing copyrighted material, and this advice is not intended to help anyone commit copyright violations.

As always, I urge you to donate money to the authors of freeware that you like and use regularly. You will find donation links on the Avi2Dvd and DVD Shrink home pages.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Tool Bar & Grill, and that you have read all the previous columns, too (see the links to the right). Please send me your suggestions by clicking “comments” below or dropping me a line to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. See you here next week!

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