Bringing vintage VHS material into the digital world.
April 21, 2007 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Turning VHS into digital.

So I used to rent this storage space near my house. And one day, as I was moving a couple of things in, I noticed two employees emptying out the contents of somebody else's storage space and throwing everything directly into the garbage. What a waste - so I stopped them and asked if I could have a look through a few things, and to my amazement I found, box, after box, after box, full of VHS tapes, that contained recordings of things that aired on television during the mid to late '80s and early '90s. I don't know what came over me, but I took 'em all.

So now I want to go about the business of converting many of these tapes into digital format. Some of the stuff is very Youtube-y. I'm looking for an affordable and simple solution that I can incorporate with existing things in my entertainment / computer system. All suggestions welcome - this project has to be done.

Right now I have these basics:

a macbook (with separate screen)
a dvd/vcr combo with a television screen
a separate "closed circuit" monitor (stored away, if need be)

The macbook doesn't appear to have any video inputs (has firewire). Anybody have any suggestions, products or solutions that they've already explored?
posted by phaedon to Technology (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
There are USB video capture devices but having never used one I couldn't recommend any particular brand. I would try to look for one with RCA inputs as opposed to coax only. But that would probably be the simplest and maybe even cheapest way to do it.
posted by Venadium at 2:56 PM on April 21, 2007

There's an article in the May issue of Macworld about this very issue. I don't have it here in front of me, but here is what I remember:

Connect VCR to a digital camcorder (a DV recorder?). Press "play" on VCR and "record" on camcorder. Then you can transfer what you recorded on your camcorder to your Macbook via firewire.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:12 PM on April 21, 2007

If you have or have access to Final Cut Pro and a decent Mini-DV camera you don't even need to go from VHS to DV, then DV in. You can just pass the VHS signal through the camera with RCA cables and the connect the camera through Firewire to your laptop. Set the camera to play back through the RCA and the VHS signal should pass right through to Final Cut. Set the Device Settings in the digitze window to "Non Controllable Device" and digitize with Capture Now. You won't have timecode, but I'm guessing you don't need it.

There might be a way to do this in iMovie, but I sort of doubt it. If you want to use that then transfering them to DV like HotPattata said is probably your best bet.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:19 PM on April 21, 2007

Best answer: Using a capture card (look up canopus) is one way, but in the end i went for a standalone dvd recorder which not only isnt at the mercy of your processor and ram but doesnt glitch when you try to do something else at the same time.
posted by criticalbill at 3:37 PM on April 21, 2007

Best answer: If your'e going to to buy a Firewire capture device I'd reccommend the Canopus ADVC-110. It's a great device and has a time-based corrector in it so that long digitize runs stay in A/V sync, whcih can be a problem with similar devices from Dazzle and Sony.
posted by bcnarc at 3:38 PM on April 21, 2007

Best answer: Not all MiniDV camcorders can take an analog input and digitize it. A lot of low-end consumer ones either don't have the capability, or the capability has been disabled. If you have a camcorder it's certainly worth giving it a try, but the best solution if you can spare the dough, is to get a Canopus.

I have an ADVC-100, and it's just a perfect little device. (The '100 has been discontinued, but the '110 is its successor.) Analog goes into one side, digital goes into the other, it has one button to select which direction you want to convert ... you're golden.

On a Mac, you can either capture directly into iMovie, as DV, but that'll take up a lot of space. If you just want to do a rough digitization, you can actually use Quicktime Player Pro (assuming you've put in a serial number for the pro version) and record from a Firewire input directly to either a DV or MPEG-4 file. The direct-to-MPEG4 depends heavily on your computer's processor in order to not drop frames, but a MacBook ought to be good for it.

Just don't throw out the original analog tapes!
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:54 PM on April 21, 2007

Two points:

1. You do realize how slow this conversion process will be, don't you? Digitization takes place at normal playback speeds.

2. You do realize how much disk space this is going to use, don't you? Low-compressed (e.g. MPEG2) video with reasonable quality is on the order of 2 gigabytes per playback hour.

Your computer almost certainly isn't fast enough to convert the video to a high-compression format (MPEG4) in real time.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:58 PM on April 21, 2007

If you're planning on editing the video, you wouldn't want to use a high-compression format for stage anyway.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:00 PM on April 21, 2007

I converted a bunch of Beta tapes with a Plextor ConvertX usb device. I don't know if it'll work with Macs, but I have heard it runs under linux (I heard it runs MythTV), but I haven't tested it.

The reason I went with that one is it does MPEG2 encoding, but it also does hardware DivX encoding.

It came with Ulead VideoStudio, but again, I don't know what software it would work with on OSX, if it runs there.
posted by chndrcks at 5:45 PM on April 21, 2007

Response by poster: The Canopus it is! Thanks for the recommendations.
posted by phaedon at 5:58 PM on April 21, 2007

Response by poster: Steven - oh yeah, I'm sure, I've got a stack of external HD going here to, and this is so much fun I have to do it.
posted by phaedon at 5:59 PM on April 21, 2007

1. You will be lucky if these tapes still play. VHS degrades fairly quickly.
2. The quality will be shit.
3. Do it as a 2 step process. Get VHS/DVD recorder. They're like $100. Convert a bunch of these, then IF you find something you want to upload, you can rip from the DVD. Quicker, easier, and you'll save yourself time and quite probably money.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:01 PM on April 21, 2007

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