When you started your Premiere Elements project, which settings did you select? (You can see -- but can't change them -- by going to Edit/Project Settings.)
Also, what model(s) of camcorder did your footage come from and how did you get it into your comptuer?
I am at work and my laptop is at home, so I can't verify the settings for the project at this moment, but I didn't change them so I would assume they are the default (if there is one).
The bulk (widescreen) of the footage came from my Canon ZR 900 mini DV camcorder. I had to use a Pinnacle box to pull the footage into Pinnacle Studio 14 before I could move it over to Premiere Elements 9 because my new laptop didn't come with a firewire port. The camcorder connects to the box's firewire port and the box connects to the laptop with a USB port. The old footage (4:3) was recorded an older model (Canon ZR 100 mini DV) of the same camcorder.
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Unfortunately, you can't capture miniDV over a USB connection or thorugh a Pinnacle box and get true DV-AVI footage. This is probably why you are having trouble with the footage. It's video doesn't include the correct codec, pixel aspect ratio and other identifiers to work as true widescreen or 4:3 video.
If you capture the video over a FireWire connection using a program like Premiere Elements or the free utility WinDV, you won't have this problem and your video should work perfectly.
I know your laptop doesn't have a FireWire connection, and that's going to be a problem if you plan to do any video editing on it. (A FireWire/USB adaptor won't work.) Even if you edit the video on your laptop, you're going to need to at least capture it on a computer with a FireWire connection or you're going to have lots of these types of challenges. Sorry.
But why did my first project turn out fine? Same camcorder, same capturing process. The burned dvd came out widescreen with the letterbox, which is how I hoped this project would come out. The only thing I can think of is that the inclusion of 4:3 footage caused the entire project to switch to 4:3 when it was burned. If I took out all those 4:3 clips, would it come out widescreen or is the damage done?
Most likely the "damage" is done. Otherwise, rather than being letterboxed, your widescreen video would have like squished to 4:3.
If you'd like, you can open the video in G Spot and post the specs here (codec, pixel aspect ratio, etc.).
But the fact is that it will only work 100% of the time when you capture over a FireWire connection.
I want it to be letterboxed instead of not seeing the full picture (you can't see the sides when on the TV). When I get home tonight, I will check the project settings on the two projects I've done. If they're the same, my mind will be boggled because the output (i.e. burned disc) is different. At this point, I am thinking I may have to reopen a new project and re-edit to exactly how the current project is (countless hours of work), but not include any of the full frame clips.
Checked project settings, but I don't see any difference between the two projects. I played around for a while and put footage into the project that came out letterboxed (as desired) and it maintained its letterboxed format even in the burning. Leads me to believe it's not a problem with the capturing, but something with Premiere Elements' editing settings. Not sure what caused the settings in the two projects to be different, but I am just going to resave the old project with all the new footage. Lots of re-editing, but at least I know the finished product will work. It would be nice to know what caused one project to open letterboxed and the other one not.