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Welcome to the forum.
I'll take a crack at a couple of your questions.
Can I open a PE4 project in PE7 or PE8
Usually. There can be issues with 3rd party Effects and Transitions, and also with things like Themes, or Instant Movies. Now, you cannot go the other direction, so I would do a Save_As, using a different name, so that you do NOT over-write your PrE 4 Project, once you "convert" it to PrE 7, or 8.
If I do a project with HD media and then burn to a SD DVD, how much better will that be than a project with SD media?
This can be touchy, though some have had good luck. Many feel that Adobe does not do that good a job of converting HD material to SD. Now, one can burn HD to a DVD-Video, with a much reduced Duration (much less room on a DVD-5, or DVE-9, than on a BD). If you do downsample from HD to SD, you will not likely notice much increase is quality. This ARTICLE addresses converting HD to SD, but it is very heavily oriented towards Adobe PrPro CS4, and not PrE.
When I get a bluray burner, is the procedure still to burn the project to a folder and then burn those files onto the disk?
Right now, PrE does not allow Burn to Folder for BD Projects, but only to BD. Should an update for PrE 8 be offered, I do not know if this function will be added.
I'll let some of the HD experts comment on these, plus your other questions.
You might also want to post to the Muvipix "Community" (their fora), as a lot of folk there do HD and many also use PrE. You'll see some of the same posters, both here and there, but there are many on Muvipix, who do not post to this forum.
I also think you're going to run into some problems trying to burn a hi-def BluRay file to a DVD disc. That's just not something you're going to be able to do in Premiere Elements.
Well, if I have HI DEF media and I need to make a DVD, what do I do?