Neil A. Young
Cool, Useful, Fun Freebie Tips From Kim Komando
Edit and create movies
One of the best things about the Internet is the ability to instantly share life's little moments. So instead of tossing your videos in a box, why not create one terrific movie. Or use this free program for important purposes, such as creating a movie of your assets in case of burglary, fire, flood or another disaster.
First, you'll want to edit your movies and here's where this freebie can help.You may already have it on your computer.
If not, Microsoft offers its own little known and free program called Movie Maker.
This program is exclusively for Windows XP users. And if you have not experimented with this gem, you're missing out.
By dividing the work area into four distinct sections, the program turns even the novice into a movie making pro. While the learning curve is not steep, don’t expect to initially impress your audience as the next Spielberg. This is software, after all; you’ll need some practice.
Cost: Free Link: www.microsoft.com
Convert audio & video media
One of the great things about the Web is multimedia. You have your choice of literally millions of videos. And music? How many songs are on the Internet? They're uncountable.
There's a downside to this, too. There are a lot of formats for multimedia files. And common media programs, like Windows Media Player or the Real Player, can't handle most of them.
You've probably faced this problem. I certainly have. I've spent more than a little time online, looking for software to play or convert some obscure file format. (And after playing the file, I wonder, "Why did I bother?" But that's a story for another day.)
That's a long way of getting to this week's fun tool-MediaCoder. This is a multimedia Swiss Army Knife. It can convert all sorts of formats into lots of other formats. For instance, it can convert QuickTime files taken with a digital camera. That's a big boon for Windows users.
MediaCoder is under constant development. It's not the easiest program I've tried. So, it might be better for more advanced users. But if you have a file you just can't crack, MediaCoder should do the trick.
Cost: Free Link: mediacoder.sourceforge.net
Mix, edit and share videos online
There's no shortage of video-sharing sites nowadays. You can upload or watch videos on sites like YouTube and Yahoo! Video.
However, most video sites offer little flexibility. To edit or mix clips, you need your own software.
Jumpcut is a video-sharing site that gives you more control. In fact, it lets you take over others' videos as well.
As with other sites, you can upload your own clips to Jumpcut. It provides an online video editor, so you can cut and remix your clips. You also can upload still photos and arrange a slide show. Jumpcut can import pictures from Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site.
You can upload videos and photos through the site or via e-mail. In e-mail, simply include your artwork as an attachment. Jumpcut will automatically add it to your account.
Jumpcut allows you to remix other members' videos. You can reorder the scenes or borrow footage for your own videos. The original version stays intact, so you won't step on anyone's toes. You can restrict your clips from others if you wish.Jumpcut is still in beta (testing), so it may have a few kinks. It recently became part of Yahoo!. That means you can join Jumpcut using a Yahoo! ID. Cost: Free Link: www.jumpcut.com
Transfer your VHS tapes to DVDs
Q. I am trying to get some home movies and art lessons I did many years ago from VHS tapes onto DVD. I have a Windows XP Media Center computer and a VHS player. I just need to know what to plug into what. I called the maker of the computer, but they wanted to charge me for an answer. I could barely understand the person, anyway. Thanks for any help.
A. It can be so very frustrating trying to get help from most computer makers and software publishers. If it’s any consolation, it happens to me, too.
In theory, transferring VHS to DVD is simple. Just transfer the tapes into a digital format on your home computer. Edit your videos and create a video masterpiece.
Afterwards, your digital video can be saved or burned to a DVD. Keep in mind this is no hour-long project. Your best bet is to reserve a weekend, or maybe two.
There are basically several ways to do transfer a VCR tape, which is analog, to a digital format that a computer can use. You can use a TV tuner card, or just use a DVD recorder. Heck, you could also use a camcorder or pay someone to do it.
Since you are using a Windows XP Media Center PC, I bet you already have what you need to do it. So, let’s work with what you have.
Windows XP Media Center Edition is a special version of Windows that is tailored to be a home entertainment center. Aside from running all your programs and goodies like a regular version of Windows, it does more.
Windows XP Media Center Edition puts your television, games, videos, music and pictures into one easy-access menu. And you can burn your videos and music to disc with Media Center's built-in DVD burning support.
Media Center PCs are designed to easily link with televisions (including cable or satellite receivers), DVD players and other PCs in the house. A Media Center PC also acts as a personal video recorder. Similar to TiVo, it can record your favorite shows or allow you to pause and rewind live television.
Most Media Center computers are sold with TV tuner cards pre-installed. They can convert analog signals (TV or VCR) into digital signals usable by your computer. In that case, you'll be able to connect your VCR directly with your computer. Such a connection usually involves a composite video (RCA) cable. You could pick one up at your favorite electronics store or Radio Shack.
You could also connect the VCR to the computer using a coaxial cable. It's the type typically used for cable television.
If your computer doesn't accept a VCR connection, you can buy a TV tuner card or a video capture card. If you go this route, I recommend that you stick with an external unit. Otherwise, you'll have to open your computer to install the card.
Adaptec makes the VideOh!; ADS Technologies manufacturers the DVD Xpress; and Pinnacle Systems makes the Dazzle Digital Video Creator DVC-90. Caveat emptor. Be sure to read the purchasers' reviews on Amazon.com before making a decision. Many people apparently have found these gadgets a struggle.
Once you've connected your VCR to your computer, you'll need some video capture software. Fortunately, Windows XP includes Windows Movie Maker. To find it, click Start>>All Programs>>Accessories>>Entertainment>>Windows Movie Maker.
In Movie Maker, click File>>Capture Video. Under Movie Tasks, click "Capture from video device." Under "Available devices," select your VCR. It should be the only device listed. You'll be prompted to name the digital movie file that will be created. Enter a name and click Next. Then you'll be prompted to select a video quality setting. Choose the high-quality AVI setting. It's best for burning to DVDs. Click Next.
Under Capture Method, select "Capture parts of the tape manually." Do not mark the checkbox labeled "Show preview during capture." The preview feature might overburden your computer and affect the video quality. Finally, click Next.
You'll see the Capture Video window with a button to start recording (Start Capture). Push Play on your VCR. Then click the Start Capture button in Movie Maker. Now you're making the transfer to digital! When you finish recording, click the Stop Capture button.
The resulting video file can be edited in Movie Maker. Use your DVD burning program to make your DVD.
If that sounds like too much to handle, a DVD recorder might be the way for you. Most will accept connections from a VCR. Use S-Video if your VCR offers such a connection. Otherwise, use composite video (RCA jacks). Composite video is what most VCRs use to connect to televisions.
If your computer doesn’t already have a DVD recorder, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, JVC, Pioneer and others make them. Prices range from about $150 to $250. More expensive recorders include hard drives, picture viewers and MP3 playback. Those features aren't necessary to transfer your tapes to DVD.
Pay attention to which discs your machine can record. Some might require DVD-R, while others require DVD+R. Don't get stuck buying the wrong blank discs. On the bright side, both types will play in most DVD players.
These machines are simple to use. Plug the VCR into the DVD recorder and turn them on. The DVD recorder makes the disc for you. You don't need to use your computer. However, you cannot edit with the DVD recorder. So, if you want to make changes in the video, you'll have to use your computer.
I hope this helps you out. This is a fun project but does require a certain amount of patience.
Add transitions to Windows Movie Maker 11/1/2007
If you have Windows, you also have a great program for working with videos.
Windows Movie Maker lets you create home movies from video clips on your computer. You can cut out parts and move them around. Or add your own soundtrack.
You can even add fancy transitions and effects between scenes. Yes, it's difficult to believe Microsoft gives this software away with Windows!
But Windows Movie Maker does have limitations. For example, you may want a split screen in your movie.
Well, I have a great, free download that will help. Rehansplit is a package of 24 split video transitions.
They work like the transitions that are included with Windows Movie Maker. But you should read the instructions to learn how to install and use them. Cost: Free Link: www.rehanfx.org
Image converter and resize
Do you need to resize your images before emailing them or posting to the Web? Or how about converting one file format to another? If so, you'll dig this free program.
IrfanView is a quick image editor. Best of all, it's very easy to use. Cost: Free Link: www.irfanview.com
Convert video files
The task of home video editing can be daunting. If your recordings are on mini DVDs, you may have an additional hurdle. Most DVDs cannot be loaded into the average editing program.
One way to solve this problem is to convert your DVD videos into a more workable format. Fortunately, you can do so without spending on professional software.
FlasKMPEG is a free program that can convert DVD video to other formats including DivX and AVI. These formats are more easily handled by editing software.
FlasKMPEG is also a great way to back up your DVD videos to an external hard drive. You can even make simple adjustments to the picture, such as brightness. Cost: free Link: flaskmpeg.sourceforge.net
Streamlined video editing 8/29/2006
The video-editing basics are covered with this product.
You can cut or move scenes around. There is also a good collection of filters. You can use them to adjust brightness, reduce noise from the soundtrack or sharpen the picture. It features two windows to show the "before" and "after" effects of your adjustments.
VirtualDub makes navigation easy with buttons to skip through a video to find clips. It can even be set to detect scene changes to help you more quickly jump to different parts of your video. VirtualDub captures video for editing in the AVI (audio video interleave) format. Cost: Free Link: www.virtualdub.org
Build a panoramic scene
Your camera can only take pictures to a certain width. But don't let that limit you. Take multiple pictures of a panoramic scene and put them together with this program!
The program will put your photos together and create one expanded image of your scene. It even comes with a sample set of photos with which to experiment.
To use Autostitch, you'll have to select the whole set of photos. The program then opens them simultaneously and puts them together. It automatically saves the finished photo and even opens your picture viewer to show you the result. Cost: Free Link: www.cs.ubc.ca
Create a photo-sharing Web site
Would you like to create an interactive photo-sharing community online? Go ahead, share your photos with friends and family. And let them share photos on your page as well.
Why not spruce up your photos before uploading them? Windows XP users can take advantage of a photo-editing program as well. Resize, crop, rotate, eliminate red-eye and enhance colors in your photos. The program even gives you a before-and-after split-screen. View effects before they are rendered.
Shutterfly is an online photo community. You can upload, edit and share your photos through Shutterfly. You designate who can view and have access to your photo-sharing site.
Friends and family can even leave comments on photos. Or they can upload their photos to your page. They can even order prints online! Cost: Free Link: www.shutterfly.com
A quick way to resize images
When you use your digital camera, it makes sense to take large, high-quality photographs. This gives you more leeway when you edit them.
But when you share or upload them to the Web, large photos can be a hindrance. The file size makes them cumbersome.
So, it's inevitable that you'll want to resize your digital photos at some point. But don't use your photo-editing software to resize photos one by one. That's too time consuming!
Instead, use Fast Image Resizer. It's a fast way to resize multiple images. Simply specify the size and JPEG quality you'd like. Then drag your files from Windows Explorer to the program.
In seconds, you'll have resized images. How convenient! Unfortunately, though, this program only works with JPEGs. Cost: Free Link: adionsoft.net
Add a watermark to photos
I'm frequently asked how to protect digital photos. It makes sense. If you post images online, you don't want other people stealing them.
But this poses a problem. Anything you see on your computer screen can be copied. One of the best solutions is to add watermarks to your photos.
If someone takes your pictures, the watermark will still be there. So it will be obvious who created the pictures. Also, watermarks are a good way to take credit for your work. Just add your contact information. Potential buyers will know where to reach you.
WaterMark 0.0.1 will help you add watermarks to your pictures. The program lacks the watermarking features of programs like PhotoShop. Also, your watermark must be in image format. But it is an easy way to add quick protection to photos. Cost: Free Link: www.download.com
Share photo albums
One team of Microsoft programmers has developed a strong competitor to Google's Picasa. It's built with the polished look and feel of Vista in mind. But you can get it free for Windows XP.
You can use it to put together collections of digital photos. Then display your collections as slide shows. The program automatically finds photos on your hard drive.
The new program is called Codename Max, or simply Max. Max lets you scribble annotations right on your photos. The original photos are left unmarked. Added drawings and captions show up only when you view photos in Max.
What really distinguishes Max is its sharing feature. After assembling a particular collection, you can share with anyone else using Max. Select a collection, click Share and enter the recipients' e-mail addresses.
Your photos will show up in the recipients' copies of Max. They can browse your photos along with any annotations you've added. There are no attachments to download or size restrictions typical of e-mail.The Max programmers have resisted categorizing the program. Though it can organize and share photos, one of its latest features is a news reader. The reader tracks updates to your favorite Web sites. Track news, blogs or any site that offers RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
Cost: Free Link: www.microsoft.com
Shrink your photos
These days, cameras are taking bigger and bigger photos. It isn't uncommon to see 7- or 10-megapixel cameras.
On one hand, this is great. You can get large, detailed prints from your camera. On the other hand, this makes sharing photos electronically more difficult. That's because the cameras produce bulky files.
So, resize photos before you e-mail them or upload them to a photo-sharing site. This can take a lot of time if you're using a program like Photoshop.
Give Photosizer a try. This quick program lets you resize batches of photos. It only takes a few seconds. And you can even specify the JPEG compression of the final photos. This is a must-have program for photo fanatics.
Cost: Free Link: www.fotosizer.com
Space for sharing photos
Are you looking for free image hosting? This is a free site that does that and more. Plus it is very fast and easy to use.
Although a bare-bones site, it offers a lot. You get 100 MB of space and 10 GB of bandwidth with free registration. Individual file sizes can be up to 1,024 KB.
Once you've uploaded your photos to MyImageHub, you will be given a link. Use it to share pictures online with friends and family. You can post them to a blog or Web site with ease. No coding needed!
MyImageHub includes a photo album feature. You can also choose to allow user comments on your pictures. There is also a bulk upload feature for uploading many pictures at once.
Cost: Free Link: www.myimagehub.com
Make your own custom posters
I have a great motivational poster in my office. It shows a dark and foreboding storm cloud. The photographer caught a bolt of lightning stretching to the ground. Beneath it reads: “PESSIMISM”.
Then: “Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it”. I guess it’s more of a de-motivational poster.
I found a great free program called Poster Forge. It lets you make custom posters. You can share them over the Web. And even print them out in full poster size. All without any knowledge of design or graphical skills needed.
Poster Forge has three poster templates: Motivational, Movie and Wanted. Within each template you’ll find several easy-to-use customization fields. You can use any image or photo on your computer. Have fun with the text, including changing the font and color. You can even customize the style and color of the template.
The motivational posters are like the one hanging in my office. They can be deep and meaningful, or sarcastic and hilarious. Pick a witty title and subtext. Don’t be afraid to get cheesy. The professional ones certainly are.
You can also make movie posters with Poster Forge. Turn you and your friends into movie stars. Stick with the default text to make it look like a professional poster. Or, go crazy and make something totally new.
The final template lets you create a Western-style wanted poster. Get pictures of your favorite people and turn them into criminals. You can make up your own crime, or choose from a list of presets. These cover everything from spamming to homicide.
Hint: If you delete the default text it will not automatically return. Not even if you restart the program. To get it back go to File>>Options. Then select English and hit OK.
For Windows XP and Vista. Cost: Free Link: www.ronyasoft.com
Read your photos' secrets 7/18/2007
Are your digital photos telling secrets about you? They know more than you think.
The problem is metadata. This includes details about your camera, its settings, even where the picture was taken. And it's invisible, unless you know where to look.
That isn't a problem if the picture is on your computer. But what if you put it on the Internet? You can bet that the computer whizzes worldwide will find the metadata.
So check it out before you go to the Internet. Use EXIF-O-Matic to read your pictures' secrets.
Cost: Free Link: www.instituteofthefuture.org
A batch photo resize 4/6/2007
If you're like me, you like to take photographs at the largest possible setting on your camera. And you take them at the highest quality.
This gives you more flexibility with your photos. You can always make photos smaller or compress them. But, if you try to make a small image larger, the results often are poor.
Still, it is a hassle if you want to shrink a folder full of files. It could take forever using a photo-editing program.
Every photographer should have Multiple Image Resizer .NET. This program will resize batches of photos. You can also use it to change compression settings or add borders and text to photos. It's a great program!
Multiple Image Resizer requires the .NET framework 2.0 or 3.0. If you're running Windows XP, you may need to install it. There is a download link on the site. The .NET framework is installed with Vista.
Cost: Free Link: www.multipleimageresizer.net
Touch up your digital photos 2/17/2007
Photo-editing programs offer countless ways to touch up snapshots. You can alter colors, lighting and more to turn photos from bland to breathtaking.
However, photo editors present a steep learning curve. Faced with numerous options, you may not know where to start. Even practiced photographers may be confounded by software.
virtualPhotographer makes it easy to add professional effects to your digital photos. It's a collection of filters that plugs into editing programs such as Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro. The filters allow you to add polish to your snapshots without learning hundreds of menu options.
With virtualPhotographer, you can simulate the look of different types of film and film speeds. You can instantly apply tints, such as blue for night shots. You can also fade shots to black & white or anywhere between.
Many of virtualPhotographer's presets bear descriptive titles. For example, Reminiscing turns photos black & white and adds softness to the lighting. Dreamy adds an ethereal glow to ordinary scenes. Landscape revives colors washed out by bright sunlight. You can customize virtualPhotographer's presets to your tastes.
When you first run virtualPhotographer, it will create a folder including all its necessary files. However, your editing program still needs to know where to access those files.
For Photoshop, copy and paste virtualPhotographer's folder into Photoshop's Plug-Ins folder. Look for the following location:
If you have Photoshop CS, you'll see a Filters folder inside the Plug-Ins folder. Open the Filters folder and place the virtualPhotographer folder inside.
In Paint Shop Pro, click File>>Preferences. Select File Locations. For the file type, select Plug-ins. Then click Add. Browse to the location of virtualPhotographer's folder. Select the folder and click OK.
After you've installed virtualPhotographer, close and re-open your photo-editing program.
Cost: Free Link: www.optikvervelabs.com
View RAW images in Windows 6/14/2007
By now, we all know the benefits of digital cameras. Probably the biggest is the ease with which they can be edited.
But you shouldn't edit JPEG photos. First off, the quality declines each time you save a JPEG. Also, editing options for JPEGs are limited.
That's why I recommend shooting in RAW format, if your camera supports it. RAW captures all the data from your camera's sensor. I like to think of it as a digital negative.
In your editing software, you have greater control over the final image. You can change the exposure, color balance and more.
Unfortunately, you can't browse RAW images in Windows by default. But you can download Microsoft's RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer. It works with RAW images from certain cameras.
With this program, you won't have to open every image on your computer to find the one you want!
Cost: Free Link: http://www.microsoft.com
Phonebook search tool 2/23/2006
The Internet makes it easier than ever to track down long-lost friends. There are numerous sites that help you find people. But the search can be time-consuming.
Fortunately, I found a free program that makes things a little easier. It's will search some of the more popular directories.
Argali White & Yellow Pages will help you find e-mail addresses, phone numbers and physical addresses. And you can search by a number of different ways. So if you want to rekindle an old friendship, this is a great place to start! Cost: Free Link: www.argali.com
Better uninstall tool 2/23/2006
Want to remove programs from your Windows PC? I found a free program that does more than the one included with Windows. It cleans up the Add Remove list and finds programs that Windows sometimes does not.
This program is an alternative to Windows' Add or Remove Programs tool. But it does more than mimic what Windows provides. This tool shows much more information about your programs. And it can help you with programs that don't include an uninstaller.
MyUninstaller provides extra information including product descriptions, registry entries and installation dates. It also displays programs lacking uninstallers and others that don't show up in Windows Add or Remove Programs. You might discover old programs you had forgotten about.
Of course, you can also use MyUnistaller to remove programs just as you would the Windows tool. You can also select multiple programs to remove them at the same time. Cost: Free Link: www.nirsoft.net
A quick way to send large files 4/18/2006
E-mail makes it easy to send photos and videos to friends and family. But it is rude to clog their inboxes with large files.
And don't even think of sending your photos and videos the old-fashioned way -- your friends and family want to see them now!
So try YouSendIt. You can send files of up to 1 GB. The files remain accessible for seven days or for 25 downloads, whichever comes first. They are then deleted.
Keep in mind, though, you may not want to send any confidential files through this services. You just never know... Cost: Free Link: www.yousendit.com
Share big files
E-mail makes it easy to send messages along with an attached photo or document. But larger files like digital audio or video can be difficult.
Most free e-mail services impose limits on the size of files that you're allowed to attach.
Dropload sends files of up to 100 megabytes. The files remain accessible for seven days and are then deleted from Dropload. You must create a free account. A notification is sent to the recipient of the file so they can download it. This can be a real life-saver! Cost: Free Link: www.dropload.com
Send large files easily
You don't have to resort to snail mail to send digital home videos to family and friends. There are online services that specialize in helping you send large files over the Internet. In fact, here's one you can use for free.
This program saves the files to its Web servers. Then it lets you send an e-mail message along with a link to the file. They're convenient, but they're probably not suitable for confidential information like financial documents.
Mail Big File sends files of up to 1 gigabyte. You can encrypt the files, if you like. The files are accessible for seven days or three downloads, whichever comes first. The site does not mention if or when the files are actually deleted. Again, don’t post confidential files. Cost: Free Link: www.mailbigfile.com
Speed up and resume downloads
It's happened to most of us. You're downloading something when all of the sudden, it stops! You have to go back and re-download the whole thing again.
This is a great program to help eliminate download frustrations. It does more than work to resume dropped downloads. It also accelerates them.
Fresh Download works with most browsers. You can schedule your downloads. Or drag-and-drop links to download them immediately. Fresh Download even has a built-in Zip file extractor. Cost: Free Link: www.freshdevices.com
Find free Wi-Fi on the road
Just about anywhere you go, you'll likely be near a Wi-Fi hotspot. Internet access is especially handy on the road. You can take advantage of online maps and Yellow Pages listings for unfamiliar areas.
Some hotspots charge, while others are free. You'll need help to find the free hotspots. Fortunately, there are easy ways. Here are three:
Wi-Fi-FreeSpot is one of the largest directories of free hotspots on the Web. It can help you choose hotels and resorts with free Wi-Fi. You will also find restaurant and store chains offering free Wi-Fi. RV parks and campgrounds are listed here, too. To browse by location, simply use the list of states on the site's home page. Individual hotspots are categorized by city.
Find Wireless Networking in Libraries
As its name implies, Wireless Networking in Libraries is devoted to Wi-Fi in public libraries. You can browse for Wi-Fi access in nearly every state. You can even browse locations in other countries.
You might notice that the site looks a lot like Wikipedia. Wireless Networking in Libraries allows people to submit or edit sites. If you find an unlisted library offering Wi-Fi, add it.
Download a list at JiWire
Finding a hotspot is difficult if you cannot get online. That’s where this download can help. JiWire keeps an extensive list of pay and free hotspots in dozens of countries. You can search for specific types of locations, such as a campgrounds or restaurants. Put the directory on your laptop or handheld.
Access the Internet for free
Hitting the road? Taking a wireless machine? Then you'll want to find free wireless hotspots, wherever you go.
Hotspots are wireless access points that let you surf the Web. Or, you can just check your e-mail. The key word here is "free."
Some stores offer free wireless access to their customers. Local governments also are helpful, with access points in parks and libraries. But, of course, you have to find them. That's what this is about!
If you're using a Windows machine, give NetStumbler a try. This program will tell you when you hit a free access point.
For Macs, there's the JiWire Dashboard Widget http://www.anchorfree.com/wipod/. It can find hotspots for you. And it also has immediate access to JiWire's hotspot directory.
There are other tools for Apple enthusiasts. If you have an iPhone, try the JiWire Wi-Fi Finder. Just browse to www.jiwire.com and you'll be detected automatically. You'll be given the option to view the Wi-Fi Finder.
There's even something for the iPod. It is AnchorFree's wiPod. This is a database of hotspots. It uses the notes functionality of the iPod.
Finally, there's a great directory on the Internet. The Wi-Fi Free Spot has a state-by-state listing of hotspots. It also lists retailers, airports, lodging, RV camps and campgrounds. With any luck, you can avoid having to do without Wi-Fi. Cost: All Free For: Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPod
Software for editing videos
If you're looking for an easy way to piece together your videos, I would suggest you start with Windows Movie Maker. This is included with recent versions of Windows. It will help you create a single movie from multiple files.
Windows Movie Maker lets you select options for video type and file size. It also offers rudimentary video effects. For someone new to video editing, it is ideal. But if you want to get fancy, you should look elsewhere.
If you visit an online retailer, you'll find many video-editing solutions. As with photo-editing programs, many of these will be more software than you actually need. For example, Adobe Premiere, Avid Liquid and Ulead VideoStudio Pro are aimed at more expert users. And the prices range from $350 to $1,000.
You'll even find video-editing programs more costly than these. Unless you're an expert, which it sounds like you're not, save your money.
You'll find more reasonable solutions for your needs. For example, Adobe offers Premiere Elements (a stripped-down version of Premiere for the average Joe).
Other programs include Pinnacle Studio, Ulead VideoStudio and Roxio Video Wave.
With the exception of Roxio's Video Wave, you can download free trials of these programs. I recommend you kick the tires before settling on a program.
What to look for
First, you should look for ease of use. Video editing can be a complicated process. So you should look for a program that makes it as simple as possible. You should be able to clip and rearrange segments of video with relative ease. Also, controls should be easy to find and the help files, well, helpful.
Next, you should consider the features. Look for a program that allows you to add special effects, titles and the like. These features can make a more interesting video.
You also want a program that creates high-quality video. The resolution of the videos should be high enough that they will look good on a large TV. If you want a program that handles high-definition video and surround sound, you'll find it. But expect to pay more for these features.
Finally, you'll want to package your movies. Look for a program that will create a DVD for standalone players. If you want to transfer the movies to a portable player, the program should optimize the videos for this.
Also, you should visit my Downloads section. I have a few video-editing programs. You might just find what you need there – for free!
Once you get the hang of your software, you'll probably want to transfer some of your old VHS tapes to DVD. I have a tip on that.
And remember, video-editing requires a lot of drive space. So make sure you have plenty of room for your work. If you need it, add another hard drive to your computer or build an external one.