With their near-theater quality, it didn't take long for DVD players to take over the market for prerecorded movies. And it didn't take long for home video buffs to demand gadgets that would let them burn videos of weddings, baby showers and toddlers' birthday parties onto their own DVDs.
Last year, they finally got the chance to use the new millennium's super medium, when DVD writers fell below the magic $1,000 threshold.
Unfortunately, as we found out, making DVD movies is a lot harder than playing them. Unlike recorders for audio compact discs, DVD writers aren't standardized yet, and even the best aren't quite ready for prime time. But they're close enough to be worth a look, particularly because they're also useful for storing photos, data, software and other important information.
To get in on the fun, I tested Hewlett Packard's dvd100i, a $600 combination drive for personal computers that can create DVDs in a format called DVD+RW as well as standard CDs.
My aim was to transfer some old-fashioned videotapes to DVD and find a method to archive my ever-growing collection of digital photographs. This is important because the analog VHS and 8 mm videotapes that most of us have aren't the best ways to keep movies for posterity; they deteriorate with usage and time.
Digital videos, stored as ones and zeros, don't degrade with each playback, so transferring movies to a DVD will help preserve them for your grandkids. With the right DVD burner and disc, you can play your digitized home movies on most stand-alone DVD players that connect to a television set, as well as on your computer.
Meanwhile, thanks to the growing interest in downloading digital music and taking digital photos, the nation's hard drives are filling up fast. Recordable DVDs offer the largest capacity for digital media storage outside of buying a new hard drive.
One-sided DVDs hold 4.7 gigabytes of data - almost seven times as much data as you can get onto a standard CD-ROM. Four years ago, that was enough space to back up a hard drive. Today, 4.7 GB is enough space to back up your operating system and most essential programs, or to store 1,500 tunes in MP3 format.
It's also supposed to be enough for 133 minutes of high-qualityvideo or 3 hours of VHS-quality video, but I never got anywhere near that with my drive.
Before I started, the folks at Hewlett Packard suggested that I pair the DVD burner with a gadget that would turn my analog VHS tapes into digital video and store the movies on my computer. So, they shipped me the Dazzle Digital Video Creator II, which sells separately for $280.
Installing the two gadgets requires patience and comfort with technical tasks. If you get the shivers when an installation manual tells you to open your computer, get a knowledgeable friend to help or take the project to a reputable shop.
If you already have two CD drives (a reader and writer, for example), you might need to remove one of the old CD-ROM drives to install the dvd100i. An instructional video makes the installation simple enough, but you will be using a screwdriver, moving jumper switches on the DVD and plugging in cables.
The Dazzle device requires a free PCI card expansion slot inside your computer. Once it's plugged in, you attach a "breakout box" that sits on your desk and communicates with your external VCR, camcorder or television set. It has composite jacks for the red, white and yellow prongs on the familiar cables that plug into VCRs and televisions, as well the less-familiar S-video connectors that provide better quality video from devices that support the standard.
Transferring your VHS wedding tape to DVD is a three-step process. First, you hook your VCR to the Dazzle box, which turns the signal into digital video and stores it on your computer's hard drive. Then it's your job to assemble the clips you've stored into a coherent movie, adding titles, transitions between scenes and music if you like. Finally, it's time to store the video on DVD, which requires another program from HP.
The Dazzle card uses a program called MovieStar to capture and edit the video. It can store the final product in a variety of formats. You might want to keep your project as a standard computer video file that can be played on any PC, stored on any disk with enough capacity, or e-mailed and posted on the Web.
Or, you might want to turn it into a real DVD, which uses a different format and includes a menu and chapters you can access through your player's remote control.
Unfortunately, my computer was running Windows XP, and my Dazzle card was manufactured before that operating system was released in October. I couldn't get a picture on my screen until I figured out that I needed to download new XP drivers from Dazzle's Web site (www.dazzle.com) for the MovieStar program.