Best way to archive VHS tapes?
August 21, 2005 1:30 PM   Subscribe

What is the best hardware/software configuration to archive 200 VHS tapes (around 400 hours)?

I have 100s of VHS tapes I want to backup in a digital format. The quality of the source material ranges from OK to bad. What is the best setup I can use to import all these tapes (using Windows or Linux)? One main concern I have is if a tape is over a few hours long, I would like the audio and video to stay in sync.
posted by cowmix to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are a few methods, but you'll need to specify how important a few things are to you (let's say, 1-10 scale):
  1. easy -> complicated
  2. cheap -> expensive
  3. OK-quality -> excellent quality
  4. not much time -> very time consuming
What are your preferences?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:15 PM on August 21, 2005

Better yet, just list your preferences in number order... for example: 4,2,1,3 would mean you value your time the most, the final quality the least.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2005

My main priority is time.. I already have 100s of hours of stuff to digitize.. which will be scanned in at real-time or worse. . so I do not want to have to spend a ton of time doing post processing to the end result.

So I want the best quality possible.. as automated as possible... while taking the least amount of my time. Cost is a secondary issue I guess...
posted by cowmix at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2005

Set top recorders are actually pretty good, skip the PC all together, in my opinion.
posted by rc55 at 3:51 PM on August 21, 2005

I have to second the opinion on going the set-top route. You can now get a high-quality set-top recorder for what entry level units cost not all that long ago. You can even get nice dual-use VHS/DVD recorders that are a matter of pop the tape in, put in your disk, select the quality and push record. There are many reviews and comparisons to be found online and you should have no problem finding one that meets your needs. Bringing the PC into it makes it far more time-consuming. With hundreds of hours of tape to convert, especially of the long-play "let 'er roll" type, I wouldn't even think about doing it any other way. I've done both - no comparison.

Good luck!

posted by Independent Scholarship at 4:09 PM on August 21, 2005

My main priority is time.

Have it done by professionals, then. Easiest method available. Cost about $10.00/tape, but they'll have all the right equipment which would cost you a grand, easily (yes, a grand).

To the DIY naysayers, the video signal processing amp alone will run you $400. Oh, didn't know about that part, huh? Just thought you'd play it off your old 3-head VCR, direct it to a cheap video card, then process the heck out of it afterwords? Ha! Then there's the encoding: a good MPEG-2 codec (like the Cinema Craft encoder) will run you a couple hundred bucks. Sure, you could do it using Tmpgenc, but you'll spend months encoding 100 tapes.

Just save yourself the headache and pay someone to do it, unless your time isn't worth anything. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:38 PM on August 21, 2005

I think cowmix should maybe clarify just how important it is for the output to be differentiated between a videophile and an average viewer of films.

I just have to disagree that one needs at least a thousand dollars worth of equipment to get comparable digital video from a standard homegrown VHS camera or an event taped off TV. Nobody I know, with what I have, can tell a difference between the original tape and the final DVD output. But, I also understand some people aren't happy with mp3 quality audio even encoded at 256 kbs. There will always be those that insist on a thousand dollar turntable/amp setup - and nothing but vinyl. For the vast majority, an mp3 at 256 kbs is more than adequate audio. I'd wager the video output from my set-top recorder is just as adequate to the vast majority.
posted by Independent Scholarship at 4:58 PM on August 21, 2005

Ok.. I am going to fess up here and tell you what my plan is/was... and you guys can tell me if I am on crack or not:

JVC SVHS -> AVT-1810 (a consumer TBC) -> Plextor M402U (realtime DiVX encoding)

I was going to try to fit all my tapes on a 300GB external HD, if possible.

The only piece I don't have is the AVT-1810... it is ~$189.00. I figured that I would consult with the group here before I spend any more dough on this..

BTW.. I tried the GoVideo DVD-R/VHS combo.. and I wasn't thrilled with the quality.. I am temped to try others if anyone has any recommendations
posted by cowmix at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2005

Nobody I know, with what I have, can tell a difference between the original tape and the final DVD output.

Perhaps in SP mode, and even then I'm not impressed with what I've seen. Motion artifacts abound. And compatibility issues are rampant (DVD's not working on other players/PC's). But you're right about them being cheap.

I imagine the OP wants to convert to DVD and then never look at the VHS tapes again. If they're just old movies, that's one thing (beware of Macrovision-enabled units), but if these are family memories, first birthdays, etc., I wouldn't settle for "good enough."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2005

The only piece I don't have is the AVT-1810... it is ~$189.00.

You know you can get the AVT-8710 for that much, too.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2005

Oh, and your idea sounds pretty good to me, except the "realtime divx encoding" part. You really need at least two passes for better bitrate allocation of fast-movement scenes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:51 PM on August 21, 2005

Civil_Disobedient: Yeah.. that model number was a typo.. :(
Also, you are right about the quality.. the lack of a '2nd pass' really bites..
posted by cowmix at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2005

I think you will definately need something like the avt-8710 if you plan on doing this yourself. Naturally, make sure your VCR is 4-head, and clean the heads before playing any tapes.

So: the good news is you've boiled it down to two options. Either one-pass it, which will be faster, or two-pass it, which will be slower, but give you better final results. Both options will take you several hundred hours... but the second will be more like 3 x several hundred hours.

If I were you? Well, I'd want to be rid of my tapes forever, so I'd make damn sure that the final results were as high a quality as I could get given the constraints. Otherwise, years down the line you'll be second-guessing your decision, wondering "Just how much better could this have been?"

Finally, this is probably obvious, but if any of those recordings are available... er... elsewhere (like movies) don't encode them yourself! Every checkmark off the to-do list will make you feel great inside.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:13 PM on August 21, 2005

One option would be:

Have them professionally transferred, then rip to the hard drive.

Obviously requires an extra step, but if there are no time constraints, you can do one in the morning before you leave for work and another when you come home. Shouldn't take too long.
posted by electroboy at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2005

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