Connecting old 8mm camcorder to modern TV
June 18, 2019 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to connect an old Sony 8mm camcorder to my shiny new TV and need to know how to make them be friends.

The camcorder in question is a Sony CCD-V3 from 1986. A PDF of the manual, if you so desire, is here.

The camcorder has 1 video out and 1 (combined?) audio out as well as an RFU DC out which I have never heard of (picture of outputs).
My Sony X690E TV has an assortment of HDMI inputs as well as these component inputs (picture of TV inputs).
I have this random cable I found in the camcorder case but am unsure if it is of any use currently (picture of random cable).

Can you tell me how to put stuff together to make movies appear on my TV screen? I presume I will need to buy some new stuff to do this. Some kinda component-to-HDMI cable? Some kinda converter? That's where you come in! Please be explicit in your directions, for I am audio-visually ignorant.

Thanks in advance for helping me figure out how I can relive my most embarrassing childhood moments in vivid 1986 video.
posted by rachaelfaith to Technology (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like the yellow-and-green jack on your TV can serve double duty as either a composite video input (which matches the output of your camera) or as 1/3 of a component video input.

If so, that means you shouldn't need to buy anything else. Using the cable you found, connect the yellow jack on the camcorder to the yellow-and-green one on the TV, and the black jack on the camcorder to the white one (mono audio input) on the TV.
posted by teraflop at 7:07 PM on June 18, 2019

Response by poster: Getting somewhere! I have OK video with lotsa static running through it and the creepiest dull/slow/garbled audio feed I've ever heard. Maybe the cord is just in bad condition? I tried with 2 different tapes and had the same result. If I were to replace this cord, what should I get?
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:22 PM on June 18, 2019

You want a high quality RCA-Male to RCA-Male cable for each connection.

However, that's analog video and audio on the tape (see specs page 60), and that composite video output is literally the lowest common denominator in video. It's THE WORST. But it works! Amazing! So, I don't know that you're going to get much better. And be aware that you may not get too many plays out of those 30 year old tapes, soooo you might want to dub those out to something digital the next time you play them. Some tapes only play ONCE and then crumble to dust.

Don't plug anything into that "RFU DC OUT" jack -- in fact, tape over it now. It supplies DC power out for some outboard equipment, and if you connect it to a video or audio input it'll probably fry it. By the way, that outboard equipment ("RFU-88UC" per manual) provides another way to get the video and audio, via a signal modulated to Channel 3 or 4 so you could watch on a TV. Which is THE WORST form of video there is. So above where I said composite video is the worst, I was wrong. It's the second worst. Video modulated to a TV channel is the worst. You kids are spoiled with your digital whatnots and gigantic flat screens! When I was a kid, we had 19-inch black and white screens that weighed 50 pounds and had no remote control and we watched seven grainy channels over the air and we LIKED it! *shakes fist*
posted by intermod at 8:25 PM on June 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also, remember that you are never going to get better quality video than its source, which is archaic 8mm tape. AND, consider that you are going to display it on a TV with much better resolution and quality, making the ancient source footage seem even worse.

In other words, be happy with ANY video you can get from that camcorder onto your TV.

(I mention this because a quarter of my day job is spent explaining to customers why their video looks so "bad" when they try to blow up video from cameras from the 90s onto their fancy HDTVs for viewing and it looks like garbage, while back in its day it looked amazing.)
posted by TinWhistle at 6:00 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

lotsa static running through it and the creepiest dull/slow/garbled audio feed

It's very unlikely that the cord would cause these specific issues - a bad RCA cable doesn't make audio slow or garbled, nor are those issues likely to be an artifact of the TV. It could be the tapes, but if three different tapes do the same thing it becomes increasingly unlikely.

Most likely it's this: in old tape machines, both the belts that go from the motor to the tape spool and the rollers that guide the tape are rubber parts that will degrade with time, and when they wear out, the tape will run slow or at an inconsistent speed, resulting in the kinds of problems you're seeing. After 33 years, that camcorder may be in a state where it won't be able to play anything back reliably until it gets some replacement parts and a cleaning.

I would first see if anyone in your network has a known-working 8mm camcorder lying around and try that. However, if these are especially important tapes to you, it may be worthwhile to see if there's a local firm that has a recently-serviced 8mm machine that can transfer the tapes to digital for you.
posted by eschatfische at 6:28 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Try fast forwarding the tape then rewinding, sometimes there is slack that needs to be snugged up.

Sounds like it could belts in the camcorder, it's possible to find old machines for cheap at goodwill and such, but get a tape you don't care about to test any candidate machine.
posted by sammyo at 7:18 AM on June 19, 2019

Those cables don't look like world's highest quality, but they should do the job reasonably well.

As others have suggested, you want to run one (doesn't matter which) from the "Video Out" on the camcorder, to the Yellow/Green "Video In" on the TV (far right). And you want to run the other side of the cable from "Audio Out" on the camcorder to the Left Audio input on the TV. That camcorder only does mono audio, and by convention when you only have mono, you put it onto the left channel.

Next, you need to see if there's a setting in your TV to tell it to expect Composite rather than Component inputs. Might just mean toggling through all the Input channels. Or it could be buried in a menu somewhere. (It's sometimes called "NTSC" and not Composite, by some manufacturers.) Your TV uses the same input connector on the back for two video formats: "composite", which runs the entire video signal (the brightness and all the color information) on a single wire, but also "component" (YPbPr) which separates out the brightness and color information onto different wires for better quality. In theory the TV should be able to sense and determine automatically the type of input, but I have seen ones that don't and need to be told explicitly.

IIRC, if you put composite video into the Y input of a component-expecting display, you will get a grainy, greyscale image with (sometimes) a lot of distortion and wavy lines. If that's what you're seeing, it's almost certainly because the TV is still expecting component/YPbPr instead of composite/NTSC.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 AM on June 19, 2019

Also if you want to add a picture of what you're seeing, in terms of the video quality, folks may be able to help diagnose it as a product of either the inherent quality of 1986 8mm video, or a connection problem. 8mm isn't exactly DVD quality, but it's not that bad.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2019

Response by poster: Yeah, new cables didn't change anything. This is a video of what I'm seeing. I looked through my TV manual but didn't see a way to specify composite vs component. The manual does state that it accepts composite cables and I'm using the inputs they designate (same as Kadin2048 suggested) but they don't seem to say that the TV needs to be set in a specific way.

This is a short video of what the feed looks and sounds like:
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:56 PM on June 19, 2019

Okay so you are getting color, so the cables are okay.

It looks like the tracking on the camcorder is off. Does it have a tracking adjustment? The manual doesn't mention one, but it might have been assumed back in the VHS era.

There's a mention of an "Edit" switch, apparently on the back of the camcorder. It says it somehow improves the picture during tape-to-tape transfer; I am not sure exactly how that is accomplished. But you might try changing it from whatever position it's in, just for the heck of it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:23 PM on June 19, 2019

Response by poster: No options for fixing tracking other than getting in there with tools. The Edit switch didn't do anything notable. I found a lot of people online trying to fix the tracking but all of the service manual links were dead and the descriptions seem a bit beyond my ability anyway.

I'll continue futzing with it and check my social networks for A/V-handy friends but looks like this may turn into me researching digitizing services. Thanks everyone!
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:44 AM on June 20, 2019

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