Need help with improving very dark footage



I recently converted some old VHS camcorder footage to a DVD-quality MPG file. The original footage was very dark, so it’s VERY hard to see anything. I tried to improve it using CyberLink PowerDirector 5 but its features are quite limited in that respect, it has no feature to alter gamma, and its brightness/contrast controls don’t really work well with the specific footage. Is there a digital video editing program out there that can do this? Thanks in advance for any replies.


Have a look at Ulead VideoStudio 10+, it has a free trial. I know it has some tools for adjusting, but haven’t tried them.


Virtualdub (in it’s various guises ) has many filters to aid this type of adjustment. Whilst primarily aimed at avi type files there is a version that handles mpeg-2 files. Might be worth a look.
The specific version I refer to is VirtualDub-Mpeg2 and can be found at , along with some excellent guides.


I’ve used Ulead Videostudio 10+ and have used the adjustment - but keep in mind that whenever working with MPEG2 files, you will always have to decompress and recompress them and this will lower the quality. Virtualdub MPEG2 using the filters is a good choice too - they do the job pretty similar - however, Ulead can export back to MPEG2 - whereas Virtualdub will have to export to a AVI file [preferably choose a lossless intermediate codec] which you will have to encode back into MPEG2.

However, prepare to be dissapointed, especially since MPEG2 already compresses and removes image data - any noise in the form of artefacts and blocking will be accentuated by the adjustments - and also - the dark regions in the picture may have been destroyed by the first encoding so you might not have that much detail to recover. By all means, do try, but prepare for some dissapointment.

Good luck!


I agree that the real solution is to correct the problem at it’s source, and try to get a better capture of the VHS to start with.


It’s very hard to do anything about it, the footage was recorded back in the 80s at night with a VHS camcorder and without any additional lights, just the light effects from the gig…

I tried the latest Ulead DVD Movie Factory 5 and it constantly throws part of my audio out of synch. This happens regardless of the type of input file, tried different clips with different formats (DV avi, Windows avi, MPEG2), and it recodes all of them out of synch. It’s not a problem with my rig, I have a high-end dual core system with 2 gigs of very fast matched Corsair DIMMS and very fast and defragmented Western Digital Raptor SATA2 hard drives… Ulead support sucks too, they couldn’t offer any useful advice on how to correct this. Apparently this is a bug in the software, many people have experienced the same problem with this particular software and shared their views online. Overall I’m very dissapointed with Ulead, it was just a waste of money.
I think it’s time for the Ulead guys to earn their keep and tidy-up that useless piece of code…
So, I normally use PowerDirector to edit and then encode my DV footage into MPEG2. I made a custom profile of 9544Kbps for video and 256kbps for audio in order to keep the quality high, but within DVD standards. I then use the Ulead program just to create the DVD menus and I use the exact same bitrates making sure it doesn’t re-encode the footage. This way I don’t get out of synch audio.

TimC, CDan, lui_gough, thanks for your input, will try the solutions mentioned to see if it gets any better…


If I was doing the conversion, I would capture the VHS to an AVI (DivX or Xvid) first. Then load into VirtualDUBMod and use the NRS Filter ( to adjust Contast/Brighteness to your liking. Dont save anything just exit out. Then use DVD2SVCD to convert the AVI to DVD but interupt the process and editing the Avisynth file to include NRS in the encoding. One capture, one encode will give best quality results.


Mhmm - out of sync is definitely an issue if your “source” file that you dump in has certain characteristics, mainly related to the codec you use. If you dump a DV file into Ulead [DVD MF/ DVD WS/ VS] it should be fine. If you are using DivX or XviD as an intermediate, I suggest you stop as they’re a little CPU wasteful and lossy quality. A better intermediate is Huffyuv [or most other lossless codecs which are frame-accurate and do not involve keyframes/i-frames/b-frames] as it’s fast, lossless, field-aware and lossless. If you use MP3 audio with your files, don’t. The frame headers and audio chunking don’t line up if you use MP3, and possibly, depending on your decoder, the lag is a variable. VBR only makes things worse. At least revert to PCM [Wave] for your audio - it’s not that big of a difference, and I hope that you’re not so strapped for space that you need to squeeze every drop out of it. I find a Huffyuv stream is about 7 MB / s + PCM Audio 0.15 Mb/s … so every hour you’re using ~ 25Gb. It always depends on your content - but RAW DV is always good to feed into Ulead. I use VideoStudio to make the edits, export to DV, use CCE to encode [because Ulead’s encoder isn’t flexible enough for me], use TMPGEnc to multiplex the ES’s together into a System Stream, plug that into Ulead MovieFactory to create the titles, and export into folder for nero to burn. Complex, but does the job marvellously. If you feed Ulead MF some DVD compatible MPEG2’s - it usually doesn’t re-encode them - I didn’t need to change the bitrate at all because bitrates for menu’s do NOT have to be identical to the video that follows.

Hope this helps.


Involved process lui_gough, but it must be worth it. I used to use CCE (5 pass VBR) for my personal miniDV camcorder footage, but the time it took was too much. I have so many of those DV tapes to convert (I do a lot of filming), so I started using the PowerDirector method to save time. I suppose quality’s not as good for an expert videophile, but to my untrained eye it’s hardly noticeable and it does save time…


LOL - you must be a mindreader - just processed 122Gb of my own MiniDV footage [10 tapes minus some crap beginning and end] from my vacation. Five passes here - just like you :slight_smile: and on a Core Duo laptop, it’s really acceptable in terms of time. However, yes - a lot of encoders are faster, but I find that you’ll really notice the difference when you’re gonna put 2.5hrs on a disc for “distribution” … and almost imperceptible at the 1hr rate :slight_smile: As long as you’re doing one tape to one, and not using a realtime DV-MPG codec - I say the results would be similar. Maybe the colour may suffer a bit, but shouldn’t be any artefacting at that rate.


2.5h or footage per disc needs CCE for sure. I usually transfer an 1-hour tape to a single-layer DVD, I found this to produce very decent results (to my untrained eye at least). For 1 hour of footage I can select my 9544/256kbps (2-pass) VBR profile (which runs at the slowest speed possible), it leaves enough space for ‘fancy’ DVD menu creation, and it does the job pretty well for my standards. If however I need to transfer more than 1h per DVD, I still always go for a 5-pass CCE VRB conversion.

Also, if I rip DV footage as Type I DV avi files, apply my transitions and effects and then save the resulting clips using the same Type I DV avi format, then quality loss is minimal, is this correct?

Thanks again for the latest tips lui_gough & ChickenMan!


I use Type II myself, don’t ask me why but I just find editing them easier … However, working in DV should be lossless if you’re direct stream copying. Most programs which are DV aware do this - say if you use Ulead Videostudio, only the transition frames will be recompressed and those might suffer slight quality loss but segments which are not changed [no filters - applying filters such as colour correction will result in re-encoding and quality loss] will incur no loss [at least with Ulead VS this is true]. Using Virtualdub, be sure to make only cuts, work with JUST Direct stream copy for video and audio and there will be no quality loss. Can’t say that is the case for older software though.