MiniDV vs. DVD camcorders, DVD movie aspect ratios

Week of June 6, 2004

Q: Which is a better camcorder format-Mini DV tape or the new recordable DVD?   I realize the MiniDV camcorders are lighter in weight, making it easier to travel with.     But is the media in a MiniDV easy to use as far as transferring video to a DVD? What hardware do you need?

Valerie Griffin, West Frankfort, IL

A: I have a strong preference for MiniDV camcorders over DVD camcorders.   The ability to take a DVD from the camcorder and place it into your home DVD player for viewing is a great convenience, but this convenience comes with many compromises.

The first compromise is recording time.     DVD camcorders only provide 20 minutes of recording time per disc at the best quality settings.   A MiniDV camcorder provides 60 minutes of recording time per tape.

One of the most appealing features of digital camcorders is the ability to download the video data to your computer, edit it to remove unwanted footage, and then add titles, transitions, and special effects.   After editing, you can burn DVDs or Video CDs of your new movie, or transfer them to a new tape if you have a MiniDV model.   It’s like being your own movie producer, and it’s great fun!

This download and editing process is simple and straightforward with MiniDV camcorders, but much more involved for DVD camcorder users because of the way the information is stored on the DVD discs.   I would never recommend a DVD camcorder to anyone who wants to edit their videos with a computer.

Finally, there is the issue of cost.   For the price of a DVD camcorder, you can buy both an entry-level MiniDV camcorder and a component DVD recorder.   You can connect the camcorder to the DVD recorder and make DVDs easily.   You can also use the DVD recorder to record broadcast television programs and transfer old VHS home videos and recordings to DVD.  

For more information on editing digital video with a computer, read “Home Moviemaking in the Digital Age”, a newspaper feature I wrote in 2002.   Though two years old, the information is still largely current.   You can read the column on my website at .

Tape may be obsolete in many ways, but for camcorders, it is still the way to go.

Q: Don, on motion picture releases in DVD “widescreen”, why doesn’t the picture fill my screen on my LCD Hi-Def 16×9 screen?     When I watch a movie from HBO in Hi-def, it fills the screen brilliantly, but on some DVDs I still get small bars on the top and bottom.   Is there a difference between the picture on movie releases in Widescreen and the same movie on HBO in High definition?  

Frank La Forge, Wichita, KS

A:   Not all DVD movies are released in 16×9 format, though they are widescreen presentations.   If you look at the back of your DVD case, you will usually see the aspect ration listed, as a number such as 2.35:1.   Viewing a 2.35:1 movie on a 16×9 TV will yield small black bars on the top and bottom the screen, like watching a letterbox movie on a traditional non-widescreen TV, though the bars are much smaller.

If your DVD player has a zoom feature, you can press the zoom button on your remote to fill up the screen, though you lose picture information on the sides of the screen.   This will also remove the letterbox bars when viewing a widescreen movie on a non-widescreen TV.

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