Converting VHS to digital and then editing it
October 30, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

When converting my childhood VHS tapes to digital, what format should I be using? How can I trim the length of (avi,mpg,mov,etc) video files without losing quality? And do you have any recommendations for local video store vs vs

I am in the midst of an epic project to scan and convert the photos, negatives, and home movies for my entire immediate family. I will be sending everything out to a company (digmypics, scancafe) or going to a local store. I have some questions about converting video.

1. It looks like I can have videos converted to DVD, mpeg-2, mpeg-4, MOV, AVI, or WMV. My main goal is to cut up videos at the scene breaks (~2-5 minutes each) and upload to my phanfare account. Phanfare accepts all of these formats and limits videos to 20 mins and 2GB. I want good quality, but it doesn't need to be top of the line, professional level quality. I am on a mac if that makes a difference. Which format best fits my needs?

2. Converting to DVD is cheaper than converting to a digital file on a hard drive (mpeg, mov, avi). Will there be a loss of quality if I use handbrake to rip the DVDs to, for example, avi as opposed to if I had received an avi file directly from the company?

3. What program can I use on a Macbook Pro to trim one video file into multiple smaller clips without losing quality? I have no video editing needs other than this trimming. I have the iMovie application that was already installed when I bought the computer, but have never used it. I am not opposed to buying something - Quicktime Pro? Something else?

4. And finally, any recommendations for local store vs scancafe (cheapest but has some bad reviews) vs digmypics (most expensive but they say they go each picture/video manually to make it look its best)?
posted by Nickel to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Try contacting this He does a lot of different format transfers and he can tell you better what you should go with.
posted by Yellow at 5:04 PM on October 30, 2011

I have used digmypics for large scale photo scanning and was very happy with the results and with the general customer service from them. I would suggest they are worth the money. Do not know about the other questions.
posted by jessamyn at 5:09 PM on October 30, 2011

DVDs are MPEG-2, and burning a DVD is an extra step, so if anything it'll be cheaper to get them as MP2 files on a data DVD. You don't gain anything by having to rip from DVD, and besides, most DVD players can read data discs anyway.

For editing, you can use anythning. iMovie, FC, VirtualDub...MP2 is pretty generic. There's quite a bit on the web about editing without having to re-encode, so while packaged software might not be able to easily deal with that stuff, you should be able to do what you want using existing tools.
posted by rhizome at 5:35 PM on October 30, 2011

1. Don't convert to DVD. Discs are going the way of the dinosaur. Keep everything as a digital file. If you're a Mac user, I would go with H.264 compression (mpeg2 and 4 are fine too) in a MOV (don't go with AVI or WMV--these are PC preferred formats).

2. Technically, yes: there will be further quality loss if you transfer VHS>DVD>Digital file vs VHS>digital file. However, don't sweat it--this level of performance is for the pros and critical level work. However again, avoid recruiting DVD's if you have tons of files--using handbrake is a slow and painful experience if you have lots of files (although I use it a lot and it does an extremely good job if you select the high quality settings).

3. iMovie is great and easy to learn. Just jump in. Check out a tutorial on YouTube before you begin. That said, I'd use Quicktime Pro if you're just trimming some clips down--it's super efficient for that (heads up: use Quicktime 7, not the newer Quicktime X which is a joke).

4. No opinion (I do all this myself).
posted by Murray M at 5:37 PM on October 30, 2011

I've converted old VHS home movies straight to DVD (MPEG-2 is DVD's native format) and thought they looked pretty good. More recently, I've converted some of the same old movies to H.264 MPEG-4 (I capture to a Mac Mini using a Hauppauge HD PVR) and they definitely look better. I'd second the recommendation to capture using H.264 if possible, using the MOV wrapper if you're on a Mac, as long as you can find an appropriate editing solution. (Happily, H.264 is going to be high enough quality that even if you do have to re-encode, you'll probably still be satisfied with the results.)
posted by Joey Bagels at 6:08 PM on October 30, 2011

I would also recommend doing all digitisation at the best possible quality. This is probably the only time anyone's going to bother doing this level of digital capture, especially with the videotape. While it may seem like "this level of performance is for the pros and critical level work" at the moment, when your children/grandchildren/whoever come to view this stuff in many years time, they'll be very grateful for the high quality version available.
posted by Magnakai at 8:38 PM on October 30, 2011

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