Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Converting Old Video Tapes

Like most families, we have a ton of video that we've taken, most of it since the kids were born. On the rare occasions where we've gotten everybody together to view some of the old tapes, it's been a blast. One of the classic scenes was from when daughter Tiana was 4 or 5 years old and she goes into total tantrum mode because she couldn't have any ice cream after not eating her dinner. It was totally hilarious! I only wish the tapes were better catalogued so that we could find our favorites scenes more easily.

As the kids got a little older, they started playing around with the camcorderby themselves. Tiana, especially, loved making her "movies." Inevitably, the camera became broken and started eating tapes. I was able to resurrect it a couple times, but finally it just quit and could not be re-started. It wouldn't have been a big deal--we probably should upgrade to a smaller digital camera, anyway. The problem is/was, without a compatible camera, we had no way of playing back our old tapes. Basically, we just needed a player.

Well, as it turns out, it's a lot cheaper just to buy a used camera. All our old tapes were 8mm, so we needed an 8mm camera, or better yet, a hi8 camera, which while still being compatible, was able to produce much higher quality video. I finally found a three-year old Samsung on eBay and am anxiously waiting for it's arrival.

After the camera arrives, I think I'll purchase an inepensive DVD recorder. Those have come down in price so much lately, that I'm sure I saw one on sale at Walgreen's the other day for less than $100. At that point, it's a simple matter of hooking up the camera to the DVD recorder and making DVDs of all our tapes, which would be great. From the research I've done, it seems that most, if not all, of the current crop of DVD recorders can convert an analog video signal (whether it's from a camera or broadcast source) and convert it into a digital mp4 file, and from there burn it to a DVD. Depending on your machine, you can do some indexing and titling (is that a word?), which for archival purposes would be a huge help. And from what I understand, the quality of the transfer is usually pretty good. I'm not clear about whether this digital file can then be used by my computer's video authoring software to make more extensive edits.

I found that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the conversion of analog video tapes to a digital format. It seems to me that it must be a terribly popular and important subject, considering how ubiquitous the "camcorder" has been for the last 20 years and how many millions of analog tapes (VHS, VHS-C, 8mm and hi8) are out there. It was surprising that I had to do considerable research to be assured that DVD recorders could not only record an already present digital (such as from a digital video camera) file onto a DVD, but could also convert an analog video signal into a digital file. One link that I found helpful is:

  • Converting Analog Video to Digital

  • I'll let you know how the archival process works out once all the pieces are in place.


    Sue said...

    This would be another way to do it, and he had another column about it after this one. All those DVD formats out there are still confusing to me, but it would be great to get it done, we could get the Aspinwall movies done as well. Depending on the format, I would think you could even pull a video frame out of the movie in Photoshop and print it. Can you put your 8mm tape into a VCR? Would you get a dual deck VCR/DVD recorder then?

    Published December 20, 2005

    Q. I would like to take some old VCR tapes and download them onto my computer and put them on DVDs without spending a fortune. Can it be done with my 10-year-old VCR into my 3-year-old Sony Vaio computer?

    -- Ben Freda, Valrico, Fla.

    A. In theory, this is a cakewalk, Mr. F., and the price tag isn't all that high. The downside is that you face big-time boredom standing by while the VCR tapes are converted into computer code in real time: 1 hour of tape = 1 hour of computer time.

    Some time ago I reviewed a $99 product called DVD Xpress by ADS Tech Inc. designed specifically to transform home video--including VHS tapes--into DVDs. It also can transfer video onto CDs in the VCD and SVCD formats in which a 700 megabyte CD acts like a far larger 4.7 gigabyte DVD in one's player or on a computer.

    Consisting of a box to connect to a USB port and software, the ADS system lets users plug in regular RCA video and audio out cables from a VCR in those familiar yellow, red and white openings.

    You make the connection, fire up the software and, when prompted, start feeding VHS tapes into your VCR and the video displays in a small box on the computer's monitor as the digitizing progresses.

    Included software starts with ADS' own "Easy Capture Wizard" program and Ulead's "DVD Movie Factory" and "Create Disk."

    The basic software just captures video, down and dirty, and turns it into files to archive and play on your PC. The Ulead movie software is a standout for ease of use and lets you trim out all those shots of tennis shoes and clouds that clutter homemade tapes and the commercials in recorded television programs.

    The hardware includes circuitry called audio lock to keep sound in synch with lip movements, and it has various filters to reduce video noise. Happily, it also includes software settings to adjust hue, chroma and saturation, which can be very useful if your tapes have aged and lost some (or a lot) of color and contrast.

    Keep in mind that once you've transformed those VHS tapes' contents into video files, there will never again be a color fading problem.

    Let me add that I've learned through bitter personal experience that it's always a good idea to make simple backups of raw video files in addition to burning them into the sorts of CDs and DVDs that are supposed to play as shows with menus and chapters on home DVD machines or computers. Those homemade DVDs can be dicey, but it's always easy to play raw video files using software already built in to computers.

    Anonymous said...

    The idea of a dedicated video digitizer is something I should have mentioned. It's a good option as it gives you nice editing capabilities, once the video's on your machine, and for $99, the price is certainly right. The only real concern, at least in my case, is tying up the computer for 70 or 80 hours during the conversion process, plus additional time for burning and finalizing the DVDs. Still, as you rightly pointed out, there is so much turmoil regarding future DVD formats, that any kind of DVD-R, and hence any DVDs made from said machine, may soon be obsoleted.