Living Happily with Hitachi DVD-CAM and Mac OS X

I’ve owned a very basic, first-generation Hitachi DVD-CAM (the MZ-230A) for a long time (about 2 years). I recently sold that one and bought a more recent one, the MZ-730A. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, because it didn’t have the USB feature for downloading the video straight out of the camera. But I don’t even think about that any more. Given a couple cool tools, I can do anything I want with high quality (even 16:9) video.

The Setup

I have three critical pieces of software to make this work:

That’s it.

The Method

It’s important to note that I don’t take advantage of Hitachi’s DVD-RAM format any more. That format allows you to reuse a single disc over and over. With my old MZ-230A, I could download a bunch of MPEG files out of the camera, erase the disc, and shoot some more. While this saves money, it actually has some disadvantages. I now buy 8cm DVD-Rs and shoot my video onto them. This has some disadvantages, too, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages to me.

I shoot my video on DVD-Rs, and when I’ve filled the disc (or reached a logical stopping point), I “finalize” the disc. This makes it playable in my DVD player, or in my Mac. The best thing about this is that it is easy to get software that understands how to rip a properly written DVD. Miraizon’s Cinematize 2 is the best I’ve seen of this kind of software for the Mac. Anything format QuickTime can understand can be saved by Cinematize.

One of the main disadvantages to shooting to DVD-R is that it’s a little like developing film in old film cameras. I can’t really use the disc until I have “finalized” it. This means that I might wait days or weeks until I’ve accumulated enough footage to justify finalizing the disc. I don’t always wait until I have exactly 30 minutes before I finalize, but if I finalize too early, I waste some of a DVD that I spent between $1 and $3 for. I have a solution for that (see below).

The main advantage for using DVD-Rs is archiving and storage. I had previously been storing big piles of MPEG files on my computer’s hard disk. I’d usually mess with them for a little while, make an iMovie out of them, and then roll them off to a full-sized DVD-R for archiving. There’s really no reason to do all that. Now I just shoot to DVD-R and it’s already in its archiving format. Plus, it’s handy if I just want to show it to friends and family in its raw state. I just find the disc, pop it into the DVD player, and off we go. When I want to make an iMovie, I use Cinematize to rip the tracks that are good, and rip them in to DV format. I make my movie, and then erase the raw DV. If I just want to make an AVI or something that I can put on the web, I can do that, too, straight from Cinematize.

The workaround for using video before the disc is finalized is to use my EyeTV from Elgato. I plug the DVDCAM into the EyeTV and record the video as if I were recording from a VCR or television. EyeTV allows me to save that video to any QuickTime format, just like Cinematize does. This way I can get extracts of my video out of the camera and off to friends and family before I’ve finalized the disc. Given that the EyeTV costs only a little more than Hitachi’s stupid software for downloading MPEGs out of the camera, it’s much more worth the money.