Video capture on a ThinkPad T42?
January 13, 2008 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Is my ThinkPad laptop capable of video capture?

I've got a ThinkPad T42 laptop that's getting a bit long in the tooth, but since I've got a DVD+/-R drive, I've been curious if it could handle video capture well enough to convert some old VHS tapes to DVDs without having issues with dropouts, poor frame rates, or errors.

It's a Centrino (Pentium 4-M) 1.6 GHz processor, currently 512 MB of memory (I'll probably upgrade to 1.5 GB soon), 5400 RPM 80 gig hard drive (I've got an external 7200 RPM 250 GB that I'd probably store the video on), Radeon 7500 video card (32MB), two USB 2.0 slots, but no built-in Firewire ports.

So my main questions are:
1. Can my computer handle TV/DVD-quality video capture, or would I just be disappointed attempting it?
2. Are there any worthwhile USB 2.0 video capture peripherals with RCA plugs (and possibly others) available, or should I stick to Firewire peripherals?
3. If I'm stuck with Firewire, would video capture through a PCMCIA card with Firewire ports be a reasonable solution?

Thanks, everybody!
posted by stleric to Technology (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hauppauge makes a WinTV USB2 peripheral that has an onboard MPEG-2 encoder that I've had good success with. It takes composite and it has a TV tuner.
posted by wierdo at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: As for the first question: I used to do full 720x540 25FPS PAL video capture on a 400MHz Pentium, 256MB RAM, 40G 5400RPM HDD. That was uncompressed video, too, using a PCI capture card. If you get a PCI card or USB2 interface that does hardware compression, you'll have no problem.

The only caveat may be the external HDD - I presume it's USB as well? I'd be wary of capturing straight to that, in case of bandwidth / contention problems on the USB buss. Capture to your internal HDD, then copy it across later.

Info: depending on the compression bitrate, you'll require a few gigs of free space - MPEG2 for DVD @ ~6Mbps req ~3gig of disk space per hour. More info: VHS captures generally require an MPEG2 bitrate at or near that at least - all the video /colour noise in VHS eats bits - unless you're also doing smoothing at capture time.

I'd lean away from the PCMCIA FW card, purely because it adds another layer of possible complications &/or problems - although, if you've got your heart set on an ADVC55 / 110 or something, then you'll have to.

Speaking of such things, converting VHS can be a hit-and-miss affair. The stability of the video clocking (timebase) is average at best, depends a lot on the individual player / tape / recording quality, and can cause dropouts, loss of lock, etc. As an example, using the aforementioned PCI card (a cheap Pinnacle one) and a good-quality Panasonic HiFi VHS deck, I'd get one or two frame dropouts every few minutes on a good tape, and multiple dropouts per second on a bad one. A deck or capture hardware with a built-in timebase corrector (like the more expensive Canopus ADVC-300) can help that.

Having said all that: buy a cheap USB2 capture device, with or without hardware MPEG2 compression, and try it. In a lot of cases you'll get quite acceptable results.
posted by Pinback at 4:44 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

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