by Illustration: PhotoSpin

A basic DVD recorder is fine if you’re just copying home movies. But what if you’re a budding Spielberg and want to edit and then record your directorial efforts onto a DVD?

You can do it–with the right software and a computer.

DVD-R drives for PCs are now priced at less than $500. So to make your discs look as good as Saving Private Ryan, all you have to do is download your video to your computer to create professional digital effects. Once your video has been digitized, in addition to making precise cuts and fades, you can add special effects like turning a color scene into a black and white dream sequence. Or you can spin one image to blend into another.

You can even turn an action shot into a slow-motion scene and add elaborate animated titles and credits to your opus. Unfortunately, there a confusing array of software options: Some are great editors but don’t let you make DVDs; others let you compose sophisticated DVD menus but don’t offer many editing options.

For those who want to make minimal adjustments to their mini movies, there’s MyDVD 3. The $99 Windows program makes it easy to put your home videos to disc. You can choose from a variety of premade menu designs–ranging from birthday to vacation themes–and apply your own titles, menu buttons, and thumbnail images of specific scenes. But it won’t let you do much more. You cannot, for example, custom design individual DVD menus or do extensive editing of your videos.

For more precise control, check out VideoWave 5. This $130 Windows package lets you compose and edit your DVD movies. There are storyline and storyboard features to help you stay organized, transitions like fades and wipes, and dozens of special effects. You can, for example, overlay two different scenes (chroma keying, in video parlance) to make it appear, say, that you are standing on a beach or the top of a mountain when you were really in your living room. And VideoWave 5 has its own DVD recorder component, letting you create menus and scene selections for your disc.

If you’re new to the idea of editing video on your computer but want to give it a spin, try Adaptec’s all-in-one DVpics Plus package. For just $72 you get a FireWire (1394) adapter to connect a similarly equipped camcorder to your computer, plus basic versions of the MyDVD and VideoWave software. It’s not the same as going to film school, but with a little practice, who knows?