How to Convert a VHS collection to digital format (and do it right the first time)?
October 11, 2007 12:22 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to convert a VHS collection into digital format?

As a Christmas gift to my parents, I'd like to convert our family video tapes into digital format. Toward that end, here's my general plan.

1. I would like to create a workstation with a TV tuner card connected to a VCR.
2. I would like to set up a system where I click record and then press play on the VCR so that it plays through the entire tape and records while I’m at work or sleeping. When I had the time, I would edit and splice the footage into individual events.
3. I would deliver the completed video collection in in one large hard drive.

My concerns:
- How would I set up the station to record video and then stop after a certain amount of time (six hours, the length of a tape)?
- Would a six hour clip be too large to work with in a video editing program?
- What video setting would be best for quality / file-size / future-proofing the videos? I anticipate that someday soon televisions and computer will combine and my parents will be watching the stuff from an Apple TV like device.

Please note:
- I do not want to convert to DVD. It would be a waste of my time since I want to preserve these files on hard drives in the future. (And in 15 years I would be looking to move these movies off of the DVD's because they would be decaying too.)
- I would like to spend less than $400. I have access to a lot of two-year old workstations, but I would need to buy a new TV card and large hard drives.
- There’s about 40 mostly unlabeled VHS tapes. Some of them only contain old episodes of ST:TNG and Quantum Leap, but I gotta play through them to find out.

Any advice you can give me on my project would be much appreciated.
posted by jmprice to Technology (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd probably outsource it to a company that does that sort of thing, then rip the resulting DVDs back to the hard drive.

One you have all the digital footage, you can use something like Windows Movie Maker to edit and create the produced videos.

However, I absolutely would not depend on a hard drive copy for archival purposes. You'll be one bad hard drive away from losing it all. I definitely would want the source files on disk, preferably stored off site if this material is that valuable to your family.
posted by COD at 12:38 PM on October 11, 2007

I agree with COD. I have a number of VHS tapes and wanted to preserve them and edit them.
I used DVD recorder (with a built-in) VHS VCR. It was a simple matter to use their dubbing process to move the recorded information to a DVD.
Then I could edit from that DVD and in the process have a duplicate of the VCR just in case of problems.
A DVD recorder with a built-in VCR costs less than $100 (if you don't need the dvd recorder to have a built in tuner).
posted by JayRwv at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2007

I use this Dazzle USB device at work. It seems to work fine for what we do. It also gives you several options on quality so you can determine how to work out the space vs quality aspect.
posted by sanka at 1:33 PM on October 11, 2007

I am doing the same thing. Started earlier this summer. You will need a unit to take tape to digital (I'm using this)
What it does more that anything else is keep the video and audio synced up. I have 3 tape formats to deal with. The mid 90's camera that working with Adobe elements would shut off automatically. For what ever reason the old VHS unit won't shut off automatically and I have not used the camera with the micro cassettes.
I'm dumping the avi fie to hard drive. 1 hour = ~11 gig. 2 hours will drop down to a 2 hour DVD. Until I get done I'm saving the avi which means that I'll have about a TB of data.
The difference is that I'm doing this for my kids and since they are in their late teens they may not mess with this for a few years and the issue is how to store in a format that when they are ready to do something with it the will be able to. I'm giving them DVD and a hard drive copy of the DVD. I'll keep the avi and maybe update the avi files to new storage methods every few years. The back up is when I am done to store the tapes cameras and recorders along with software and drivers so hopefull the future people can load it in their flying cars can take it somewhere and have them digitized.

Also dont underestimate the amount of time to review the data onec it has been transfered.
posted by mss at 2:11 PM on October 11, 2007

Response by poster: I really don't want to do DVD's. I would rather put them on a hard drive and backup the content on my parent's and my brother's computers.

Putting them on DVD's creates more work for me later. This is a forward looking project.
posted by jmprice at 2:17 PM on October 11, 2007

You dont need DVDs. The idea is that you capture them (with the aforementioned dazzle device) into mpegs. Once they are mpegs you can do whatever you please with them. Make DVDs, make woodcuts, etc. You'll always have the original captured mpegs. That's forward thinking. Transcoding them into the format de jour is trivial once you have your originals. You'll of course need to learn how to capture video, edit video, etc. Most likely if you are asking this basic question you're going to need to put in a lot of time learning and trial and error. Depending on what your time is worth you're probably better off having some pros do it. Ask them to give you a the source mpeg capture at a decent bitrate along with the DVDs they will make for you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:11 PM on October 11, 2007

Maybe some other people will shoot me down, but I really think you should consider putting those family videos into a format accessible online. The problem with a hard drive, obviously, is that they fail; they get lost; they get damaged.

On the other hand, if you upload a bunch of family videos to Google Video, they're not going anywhere. They will be indexed, they will be accessible to anyone anywhere, and they will be permanently archived. They will be there for the rest of humanity's existence and probably beyond.
posted by jayder at 6:37 PM on October 11, 2007

You have an awful lot of faith in the longevity of Google. Plus, the quality of all (that I have seen) on-line video formats is awful. If you are determined to use HDD for your primary storage, why not set up a RAID array so that one dead HDD can't bring down everything and/or store the data on multiple HDDs in different locations.

In any case, the tape media you currently have the video on will most likely not last as long as any digital media you are likely to use.
posted by dg at 7:54 PM on October 11, 2007

I use a Hauppauge 150 PCI card (not the USB). It works great. You can experiment with data rate/sec to check the quality. You hit the 'one-click record' button and each time you hit it you add 30 minutes to the record time, so it stops automatically at the end of the tape.
posted by underwater at 9:02 PM on October 11, 2007

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