Is this a good way to transfer my VHS tapes to digital files?
December 20, 2018 11:21 AM   Subscribe

If I buy a machine like this will I be able to (pretty easily) transfer my VHS tapes to digital files? Somebody I know says "yes" but I am skeptical. These things are always more complicated than that! What would be the process, anyway? Is there anything else I would need, other than a VCR and a TV?
posted by DMelanogaster to Technology (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have used a Hauppauge internal PCI-E card to take the RCA output of a VCR and capture it using their built-in WinTV software without issue many times in the past. It dumps out a pure transport stream (.ts) file and you can take that and run it through Handbrake to get an mp4 or whatever compressed format you might want. This PVR looks like it has an analog input option so it should work? I would avoid relying on anything using HDMI purely for HDCP DRM issues that might creep up.
posted by msbutah at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2018

Do you need the PVR stuff? There are USB video capture devices you can plug an existing VCR into for like $20. Note that VHS tapes do not need Hi-Def or surround sound, so those features would only really be for other video files you might have on that box.
posted by rhizome at 12:05 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's a howto on using one of those devices with (free) VLC to do the capture.
posted by rhizome at 12:07 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Old video tapes can degrade in ways that increase difficulty of copying. Some of the problems can be corrected at the cost of hardware and expertise. Here's a relevant wikipedia article. Personally, I would use a service and would enquire about their ability to handle degraded tapes. Here's the service recommended by the Wirecutter.
posted by conrad53 at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The short answer is yes, you probably can do a VHS transfer with that device (plus a working VCR, of course).

But I wouldn't do it that way; there are easier/cheaper routes. An old Hauppauge MPEG-2 PCI card with an NTSC composite input will do it, and the old ones are essentially freeā€”the challenge is more finding a desktop PC with a PCI card slot that you can put it in. (If anyone wants one of those cards, I think I have several in a junk box from an old MythTV box, feel free to MeMail me.) There are Linux drivers for them, so you could avoid any software purchases if you are okay booting the machine into Ubuntu or whatever.

If you really want to get a standalone device, what I have used to good effect is a DVD writer. They are not terribly expensive anymore, generally have both Composite and Component (or at least S-Video) inputs, and can work without a computer. Basically you just press record on the DVD writer and play on the VCR, and you get your transfer. And then you'd have a DVD for archival purposes, which you can also copy to a computer and convert into the format of your choice. (The DVDs produced from home DVD writers don't have the copy protection of commercial DVDs, so you don't need to "rip" them with special tools. You can literally just copy the MPEG TC files off of them and convert with any number of tools, or play them with VLC or other programs.)

Years ago I used to recommend MiniDV camcorders with analog inputs and digital passthrough as the best method of digitizing old tapes, because the DV codec was better (in the sense of less compression) than MPEG-1, which was the cheap alternative at the time. Today I wouldn't bother to go that route unless you just happen to have one in a closet somewhere. But if you do, it might be worth seeing if it will pass through the analog input signal onto the Firewire bus as a digital stream.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your video tapes are interlaced so you will want something that allows you to deinterlace the digital video unless you're guaranteed to be playing back the video on something that supports interlaced video (e.g. 1080i - the i at the end is for interlaced). I would personally use a video capture device to get it to a computer and Handbrake or VLC (mentioned above) to do the capture and encoding. With a computer you can also do things like more precise trimming and post-processing than a standalone video capture device (or at least way easier). Another thing you'll want to do is normalize the audio, which will keep your captured video from being softer than other files.
posted by Candleman at 12:19 PM on December 20, 2018

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