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Convert Video Formats

This guide will help you understand digital video formats and convert them to suit your needs.

Cable Glossary

Composite or RCA (Analog) - The inputs/outputs are found on most VCR and DVD players, and some camcorders.  Yellow cable is for video. Red and white are stereo audio.

Mini-Pin (Analog) - The 3.5mm mini-pin input/output is found on many portable devices. Two black bands around the pin means it is for stereo audio only.  This photo shows a mini-pin to composite conversion cable, with three bands around the pin, one for video and two for audio. 

S-Video (Analog) - Better video signal than Component, it can be found on many VCR and DVD players, and some camcorders. No audio signal.

Component (Analog) - The best analog signal you'll get on high end DVD players and monitors.  Red, blue and green are video, red and white are audio.
VGA - (Analog) Similar video signal to component, this 15-pin connector is found on many video cards, monitors, projectors and laptops. No audio signal.

Image of DVI Cable

DVI - (Digital) For a direct digital connection between a computer's video card and a digital monitor, the DVI soon replaced VGA, but was then replaced itself by HDMI.  No audio signal

HDMI v.1.1-v.2.1
 (Digital) - For carrying an uncompressed high-def video signal and 8 audio channels to your monitor or HDTV. Its not designed for encoded data streams, such as Closed Captioning. Each new version of HDMI saw enhanced capabilities, including stronger copy protection, support for 3D and a 4K Ultra HD resolution (horizontal resolution of around 4000) at 60 frames per second.

Firewire 400
 (Digital) - Also called IEEE 1394a.  Developed by Apple and widely used to connect media devices with computers.  Carries audio and video signals.
Firewire 800 (Digital) - Also called IEEE 1394b.  At 800 mbps, this cable is twice the speed Firewire 400. Carries audio and video signals.

(Digital) - Common to most computer peripherals in recent years, USB 2 cables transfer at 480 mbps. Carries both audio and video signals. Type A, pictured to left, usually connects scanners or printers, where Mini and Micro work with mobile devices.

USB 3.0

USB 3 
(Digital) - USB 3 cables transfer at 5 gbps. Carries both audio and video signals. The ports are usually blue and, thankfully, backwards compatible to USB 2. USB 3.1 was announced in July, 2013, catching up to Thunderbolt at 10 gbps.

Image of Thunderbolt Cable

 (Digital) - By Intel and Apple, this cable boasts transfer speeds of 10 gbps for each of its 2 channels. It supports data, video (and greater than 1080p), audio (up to 8 channels) and power. 

bps vs Bps

Data Transfer Rates
 - Just to clarify, the bit rate is the average number of bits per second passing between equipment in a data transmission system. Most of us think in Bytes, not bits (with Bytes, the first letter is always capitalized). 8 bits = 1 Byte, and 1,000 bps = 125 Bps. Therefore, Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 cables, capable of 10 gbps, transfer data at 1250 Mbps.




Most computer owners have used their USB inputs or Firewire inputs for transferring data, possibly with a USB Stick, Memory Card Reader, External Drive, Printer or any of the growing number of plug-n-play devices.
  If you are working with video that is already compressed as a digital file, you can transfer the file to a computer or work from your storage device.

If your video is not yet compressed into a file, you will need to output it in real time from your device to a computer. The computer should automatically recognize the input source when you connect a USB or Firewire cable. 

If you are attempting to transfer footage from an analog source, such as an old camcorder or VCR, you will need to output the video in real-time from your device to the capture card inputs on your computer.  

If the computer does not have an internal video capture card, you can use an 
external analog to digital converter.  These have inputs for your device, such as Composite or S-Video, and then output via Firewire to the computer.

DVD and Blu-ray players can have both analog and/or digital outputs, but the easiest means to convert video from discs is to rip them. Through your computer's disk drive, you can extract video, or parts of video, using ripping software (see Conversion tab), Also, software that comes with your computer for authoring DVDs will often have features that allow you to pull video off discs    



Your video and/or conversion software will recognize the input signal, capture and compress the video into a file. You will choose a format, a file name and the location for saving the project and/or file(s). There may be other settings you choose to adjust at this time, like audio sample rates, compression amount, the connection speed of your target audience if you are streaming, etc. Two free examples of this type of software are Windows Movie Maker (PC) and iMovie (Mac).

Once you've got the file on the computer, its yours to play with.




Image of Copy Protection Icons


Many commercial VHS tapes and DVDs utilize some form of encryption to protect against copyright violation (DRM, Digital Rights Management or CPSA, Content Protection System Architecture). 

There are ways around this with special hardware or software, depending on how determined you are. The most important thing to know is whether you have the right to circumvent the DRM encryption.

Until July 2010, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalized circumvention of this protection. Now, for certain educational purposes, it is permissible under the Fair Use doctrine of the US Copyright Law. 

Refer to the Resources tab for links to US Copyright information, or consult with your department's administrative office.




Formats: Televisions in different parts of the world broadcast video using different scanlines, framerates and aspect ratios. The three standards for these video formats were NTSC, PAL and SECAM. NTSC is the North American standard, but if you own a Western European video, it may be PAL, and can't be viewed without a Multi-System player. VHS Multi-System players are getting harder to come by, but many of the newer DVD and Blu-ray players are already Multi-System.


Regions and Zones: To allow motion picture studios more control over various conditions of a release, commercial DVD and Blu-ray player specifications require that a player to be sold in a given place must not play discs encoded for a different region. For North America, the DVD Region Code is 1 and the Blu-ray Zone is A. There are Region-Free and All-Zone players on the market, and most computers will allow you to change the region on its disc drive a couple times for free.

Image of Format Region Zones Map