Importing mini-DV tapes as AVI


What is the AVI format?

AVI stands for Audio Visual Interleave. AVI is not actually a video format but rather a container for the video. The video inside can be encoded in a variety of ways and to access it, you need a compatible translation kit (called a codec, which stands for compressor-decompressor). Video players like Windows Media Player typically come with basic codecs but it’s still commonplace to have to find AVI codecs from third party, typically an online site (although there’s no central clearinghouse for them), to get the AVI to play on your computer.

Why import your miniDV tape as an AVI file?

The AVI format is widely used for video editing purposes since a lot of Windows-based video editing program only work with AVI files. (Note: If you simply want to burn the exact contents of your miniDV tape straight to DVD with no editing in between, then import the video as an MPEG instead.) If you’re looking for an end product in a different file format, though, not to worry: Once you’ve edited the video footage, you can then export it as a different file format, such as Flash (SWF or FLV), Windows Media Video (WMV) or Quicktime (MOV), among others. If the video editing application you’re using doesn’t have that capability, there are many video conversion programs out there that can do the task.


Assemble all these items together before you start the importing process.

  • MiniDV tape(s)
  • MiniDV camcorder kit (including power cord). The lab has Canon ZR100 digital video camera kits for iSchool students to check out for up to three days.
  • Firewire cable — You’ll need one with a 6-pin connector on one end and a 4-pin connector on the other end. These cables are available at the IT Lab for in-lab use.
  • Storage — You will need roughly 7 gigabytes of space for every hour of footage you’ll be importing, so an external hard drive would be ideal, but a flash drive with enough storage space would be fine as well. If you use an external hard drive, remember the power cord and cable for connecting it to the computer. This may be either a Firewire cable or a USB cord.

Setting up the camera

  1. First you’re going to need power. Plug the power cord into the camera in the AC slot at the back. Plug the other end into a power outlet. If you see a red light blinking at the base of the camera don’t worry; that just means the battery is charging.
  2. Put the miniDV tape in the camera: Slide the Open/Eject button on the buttom of the camera toward the front of the camera and gently pull open the tape cradle. Wait for the tape carriage to pop out. Slide the tape in and gently press down on the carriage lid. Wait for the carriage lid to slide back into the camera before closing the tape cradle.
  3. Plug the Firewire cable into the camera and computer. The 6-pin connector goes into the computer and the 4-pin connector goes into the camera.
  4. If needed, rewind the tape. Turn the camera on by pushing in the green tab and sliding the arrow to point to “Play (VCR).” Pull out the video camera’s LCD panel. Use the rewind, forward and/or play buttons to get your video to the point where you want to start the capture.

Windows Movie Maker

  1. By this point, the computer has likely sensed the connected video camera and a window has popped up asking you if you’d like to capture the video using Windows Movie Maker. Click “OK.” (You can also find Windows Movie Maker from the Start menu → Microsoft Tools → Windows Movie Maker. Then choose File → New Project)
  2. Captured Video File: Movie Maker will ask you to give your project a title. Give your project (remember this is different from the actual AVI file) a name. Choose where you want the project files to be saved. (For the purpose of this tutorial, we’re saving the AVI to the Desktop.) Click “Next.”
  3. Video Setting: Choose the second option, “Digital device format (DV-AVI).” Click “Next.” This tells Movie maker to capture the video in AVI format. Click “Next.”
  4. Capture Video: If you want Movie Maker to create separate clips (which occur every time the camera was turned off and then on) for editing within Movie Maker, check the “Create clips when wizard finishes” box. If you don’t plan on editing your movie in Movie Maker, uncheck the box. Check the “Mute speakers” box if you do not want to hear the video as it is being played (don’t worry, the video’s audio will still be captured in the AVI file). If you have a specific time limit that you want to import from the point that you’ve got your video cued, enter that beside “Capture time limit.” When you’re ready, click the “Start Capture” button. If the video camera does not start automatically playing after that, press the Play button on the video camera. You should see the video playing in the “Preview” box.
  5. At this point, you’ll see the computer tracking the video’s length beside “Video captured” as well as the growing size of the video file. Leave the computer and camera alone during the importing.
  6. When the tape has ended or you want to stop the capture process, click on “Stop capture” and then “Finish.”

Saving the AVI to the external hard drive

  1. Movie Maker immediately deposits the AVI of the contents of your miniDV tape wherever you originally chose to save the file. In this case, we saved the AVI to the Desktop.
  2. Movie Maker also displays the video in its Collection area. You can use Movie Maker to edit your video here without harming the original AVI. You can export the finished movie as an AVI or some other video format by:
    1. Click “Finish Movie” and then “Save to my computer.” Click “Next.”
    2. Saved Movie File: Name your movie and choose where you want it to be saved. “Click “Next.”
    3. Movie Setting: You can save the movie by default as a Windows Media Video (WMV). If you want the movie as an AVI or some other format, click “Show more choices.” Beside “Other settings,” choose “DV-AVI (NTSC) or whichever format you want. Click “Next” and Movie Maker processes the edited project into a finished video file.
  3. Connect your external hard drive to power then attach it to the PC via USB connection or Firewire. It should come up as the E: Drive. Drag the AVI file into the E: Drive, and you’re done!

Last updated April 14, 2009