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Paul, I still have version 3 on my computer because it worked pretty darn good. I still use it quite often even though version 7 seems to be quite stable and works very well also.
If you are going to open a version 3 project in a newer version all you have to do is save a copy of the project file (.prel) and name it something like 'myproject_v3.prel' then open the original project in the new version. If you have to you can always open the saved/renamed project file in version 3 again :)
Have you tried cutting a few frames out of the clip at the point where it turns black?
Funny, I had some awful times with version 3. True, I was apparently taxing it by editing MP4's but dang it... it CAME with the camera. I was in hopes that version 7 would be better. In some ways I think it is. But it is still plagued with stuff like this. I keep struggling because I am still pretty convinced it is the best bang for the buck. So far.
It is too late to save a separate copy of the prel files for use with version 3. I have re-organized my files, uninstalled V3, installed V7 and opened the projects with it. With this one exception, all went flawlessly after I pointed each project to the new location for the files. In some cases, I deleted all temporary files and in others I did not. No problems either way.
This one project is a mystery. The project insists there is no audio or video past a certain point but opening the same clip in a new project shows all audio and video. I deleted ALL files for the project except the prel and the raw video and it persists. There must be something special about that clip but I can't see it. That, or there is data in another file somewhere that I am not aware of. I'll try deleting a couple frames in case there is something there, but I doubt it. It was a continuous capture from VHS and has always played just fine in Studio (now THERE'S a truly AWFUL program) and PE3.
I guess there is the possibility that the file is corrupted.... between "then" and "now" I moved all files from my former video drive (500MB IDE) to my new, larger one (1TB SATA). I still have the original copies. I suppose it would not hurt to re-copy the file and see what happens. Come to think of it, I still have the original prel file and all temporary files on the old video drive. But again, the file in question opens and plays fine in a new project.
I would never recommend opening a previous version's project with a newer version of the program. Although some people haven't had problems doing it, it can lead to unpredictable behavior, as it sounds like you're seeing.
I'd recommend re-installing the version you started your project in and completing the editing for that segment in that. (I'm glad to hear you've still got copies of the old project files. Once you've opened them in a newer version of the software, you can't go back.)
Then use the newer version for projects created by it.
Premiere Elements is the best editor for editing video captured from a MiniDV camcorder, any other format is guess work 8/
I should say that I do not have any immediate need to edit the project in question. It was completed and rendered (with many headaches) and put to bed. It was, in fact, part of a larger project that has also been finished and rendered in PE3. When I upgraded to PE7, I checked to see if I could open each PE3 project "just in case". They all opened perfectly except for this one. If worst came to worst, I could re-create it without too much work since the input file opens fine in a new project.
It is more of an annoyance and a curiosity. If an MPEG opens OK in a new PE7 project, what in the world could cause it to open incorrectly in this existing PE7 project? Remember, I have deleted ALL auxilliary files (that I know of, at least) except for the prel itself. The first time the project is opened, it re-creates all the necessary auxilliary files. What could be embedded in the prel that would cause PE to fail to reproduce video and audio from the second half? This happens part way through a clip, not at a clip boundary. And FWIW, the cursor is positioned at the boundary where the video disappears when PE opens.