Q: I want to convert old videos to DVDs. I have the software — Sony Vegas 5+DVD — but would like to know how I can go about...

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Q: I want to convert old videos to DVDs. I have the software — Sony Vegas 5+DVD — but would like to know how I can go about importing the videotapes into the computer so that I can add menus, etc.


— Thomas Smith


A: If you have only a few videos, you’ll want to consider having a service do the job for you, because it’s easier than investing in a good digitizing card and the headaches that can come with installing and configuring it. And if you go for an inexpensive digitizing card, you may not get as good results as a service bureau can offer.


Even if you want to edit the movies and add titles, you can always take the DVD you get from the service, pop it into your computer and do your editing. Then all you need is editing software and a DVD burner.


If you decide you want to use a conversion service, you’ll want to do some homework. Prices vary a great deal, and it’s wise to first have the service you pick do one tape and then you can check the results.


If you want to do your own digitizing, you’ll need to make sure you buy a digitizing card that supports the kind of input that is compatible with the output on your video player, such as S-video. Expect to spend about $400 for a good digitizing card.


Alternatively, you can buy devices specifically designed for converting some formats of video tape to DVD. Panasonic’s DMR-ES30V, for example, has both a VHS tape player and a DVD burner to make the job easy. And the unit carries a street price of less than $300. The drawback? Generally, these devices are weak on editing tools. The DMR-ES30V, for example, doesn’t even allow you to insert chapter breaks.


Q: I am a Brit living in Seattle who wants to send video/DVD footage to my family in the U.K. I have an NTSC digital camcorder, and I need to get the footage into PAL format. What software do you recommend that allows the footage to be saved in PAL? Do you recommend saving to DVD or is there another computer format that would allow transfer over the Internet efficiently? Are there any Web sites that would allow sharing of the footage a la Shutterfly?


— Steve Rimmer

A: While good video editing programs such as Adobe Premier allow you to save movies in PAL format, you may not need to use them for that. While I haven’t actually tried a PAL DVD player, I’m told that virtually all of them can also play NTSC DVDs. The reverse is not true. NTSC players can’t handle PAL DVDs.

As for sending over the Internet — either directly or through a Web site — it’s going to be slow going. Video files are pretty darn big and if you make them small you’re cutting into quality. That’s why you don’t find very high-quality video offered on Web sites. I’d send DVDs.


Q: I have a new computer with Windows XP Pro and Service Pack 2. I have not loaded any antivirus software, other than the free versions of Ad-Aware, PestPatrol and Spybot. I have a Web-based e-mail service that filters spam, and I make sure my Web inbox contains only messages that I know are clean. When I open Outlook Express, I know none of the messages is contaminated. Other than basic antivirus software, do I really need other supplemental firewall programs, or any other active protection?


— Jon Bonime


A: First of all, I’m not sure how you can be so sure that all of the e-mails in your inbox are so clean. In any case, yes, you should at least be using the software firewall that comes with Windows XP. And I really recommend that you also use a good antivirus program. The programs you name aren’t antivirus programs.


Spyware programs — including Ad-Aware, PestPatrol and Spybot — help protect you from one kind of cyber pest. But they aren’t designed to protect you from viruses or from hackers. Antivirus programs are designed specifically to detect and eliminate viruses, and firewalls are designed primarily to offer protection from hackers.


Beyond this, you still have the question of how safe is safe enough. You can certainly get more powerful firewalls than the one that comes with Windows if you’re willing to pay for them.


On the other hand, even the best firewalls can still be hacked by someone with enough expertise.


Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.