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Grab screenshots from videos and DVDs

One of the most frequent questions I receive is "How do I capture a screenshot from a video or DVD?" Most video players will let you do it by disabling hardware acceleration, but two freeware players make it easy as pie.

Screencap of Neil Peart YYZ animation.

Screencap of Neil Peart YYZ animation.

(Credit: Bobby's Brane Dot Com/CNET Networks)

The response to my post last week about how to convert digital photo collections to DVD slide shows was a resounding, "Whatever. How can I grab a screenshot from a video or DVD?"

Who knew that the number of would-be "screencappers" was so legion? Regardless, I'm your humble servant, and your wish is generally my command.

First off, for image screen captures of digital video files, I highly recommend VLC Media Player. I know I mention the free media player quite a bit, but it's still the cream of the freeware video crop for me due to its light footprint and flexibility.

VLC includes wide support of various video file formats and a built-in feature for easily creating screencaps. While your video file is playing or paused in VLC, simply hit Ctrl-Alt-S to capture a screenshot that will automatically be saved to the "My Pictures" directory of your "My Documents" folder in Windows. (You can also find more useful keyboard shortcuts for VLC Media Player in a Download.com article from this spring.)

It's important to note that your VLC screencap will always be the same size as the source video, regardless of whether your player is enlarging the screen when you snap it. You can specify in the VLC preferences whether you want to save the image as a PNG or JPEG file, but I haven't yet figured out how to change the destination directory for VLC screencaps. If you figure that out, please fill me in.

The major downside to VLC Media Player is that it doesn't have the ability to move a video forward or backward by one step at a time. Since it was designed to play network streams, it's "packet-based" and doesn't recognize the notion of a "frame." Getting the exact video frame you want to capture can be difficult in VLC, but the ease of exporting digital images makes it very much worth it for me. There are, of course, a variety of alternate solutions.

The KMPlayer capture options

The KMPlayer includes a long list of capture options.

(Credit: The KMPlayer/CNET Networks)

If you're willing to get a bit more advanced than one-click screencaps, I also recommend looking at the free Korean media player The KMPlayer, which has proved friendlier than VLC for me with non-mainstream DVDs.

The KMPlayer includes a vast array of video and audio capturing options. There's no included help file and the site itself is mostly Korean, so you'll have to learn the ropes yourself, but a few minutes in the Capture options should have you snagging lovely DVD screenshots, such as my pic of Jeff Lebowski below, from my test DVD The Big Lebowski.

The KMPlayer screenshot

A frame-forward feature in The KMPlayer is helpful for screencaps.

(Credit: Universal Studios/CNET Networks)

Most importantly for me, The KMPlayer does include a frame-forward feature, which is actually a fractional play button, but the difference is negligible. The pause button also responds faster than VLC. Combined with the ability to move fractionally forward and backward, I may have found a replacement for making video screencaps.

The truth is that you can usually create a screencap of any video or DVD from Windows Media Player itself (as long as you have the necessary decoder to play your DVD), as well as RealPlayer and QuickTime. However, if you just click Alt-PrintScreen, you're likely to get a black screen where you video should be. That's because your computer is probably overlaying the video on top of your player application with its graphics acceleration. If you're willing to experiment and delve through the Options menu of these major apps, you should be able to disable your hardware acceleration before snapping away.

What's your favorite tool for capturing screenshots from videos or DVDs? Have you used The KMPlayer or VLC Media Player? Tell me about it in the comments.

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