Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Project

For my brother-in-law.

He and his wife have a stack of VHS tapes that they've wanted to get archived to DVD for quite some time now. I loaned them one of my "spare" VCR's so they could sort through their tapes after the VCR they had died, and I couldn't fix it.

They went through ALL of the tapes they had, and found the ones with their kids growing up, and brought them over before I went out on the last launch.

Since I have professional ("Studio Quality" as of 2005) video capture equipment, and a couple of studio-type editing decks with S-VHS outputs, I got started on the project Thursday afternoon.

I hadn't fired up the PC that runs my audio and video capturing software since last January when I digitized a whole stack of LP's I have, so I spent most of Friday just updating all the software. The PC is running Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit, and after I hooked everything up and powered up the PC, Windows informed me I did NOT have a "Genuine" copy.


Then I realized I had no network connection, having plugged the cable into an "Uplink" port on the router.


Once I got an Internet connection, it called home to the mothership, and the "NOT GENUINE WINDOW$" warning was replaced by a "Validation Period Has Expired. Would You Like To Validate This Copy Of Windows?", which is a whole lot better than "contact us to buy a new serial number"!

Turns out the PC hadn't been online in so long, and was missing so many OS updates, that Micro$oft didn't know what to do with it.

SO.....after spending most of yesterday updating the OS and most of my utilities, I had things running smoothly again.

Then I realized I *really* need two monitors to do video capture and editing with, so off to Best Buy. I lucked out on the monitor, and was able to get a 27" LG that they had just put on the shelf for $100 off! It had been a return from somebody who bought it, didn't have the right hardware to use it with, and dragged it back to the store for an exchange.

It "only" does 1920 x 1080 (they made the pixels bigger), but it's beautiful, and has an LED backlight, so it's very light, thin, and puts out practically no heat.

And while I was there I picked up a newer video card, an ATI Radeon HD7700.

I usually get NVidia-based cards, but ATI/AMD has a very slight edge in displaying video, as opposed to NVidia, who rocks the gaming world, and has FAR better Linux support.

So I've now captured about half the tapes, and have a rough idea how I'm going to organize them on the DVD's I'll author using all the Adobe software I have.

I might even get creative, and add some period-correct music for the opening titles, as each tape has the date on it.

I won't be done by Christmas, but I should have a nice stack of DVD's for them for the new year.

And yes, they both realize that just because it's on a DVD doesn't mean it will be "DVD Quality", although I'll clean up the color balance and fix as much as I can.

I've done video capture and conversion for people before, and some of them simply didn't understand that you're strictly limited by the quality of the source material. Somehow they thought that putting their old tapes on a DVD would magically make them "DVD Quality".

The old adage of "Garbage IN => Garbage OUT" definitely applies!

Back to work......


  1. Doc, ole buddy, you just gave me a headache...and I read your post twice. I'm so analog.

  2. That's a LOT of work! I hope they appreciate the trouble you've gone to. (And yes, it occurs to me that may be why you published the 'trials & tribulations' here...)

  3. Those VHS tapes will die soon, the DVD's would then stand as the only backup of precious memories, for posterity's sake, I would get an external hard drive and copy all the DVD's to that also...

    1. Yeah, the days of analog tape are definitely numbered, Mike.

      When I worked at DirecTV we had tape decks, but they were BetaMAX Digital, and were stunningly good quality. Viewing one of those tapes on a studio monitor was amazing, as they looked much better than watching some beat-up print in a movie theater.

      When the tapes would come in for us to air on pay-per-view, they came in an armored car, with several big, nasty, ARMED dudes bringing them in to the vault area. The tapes were literally worth MILLIONS of dollars, as they were pristine digital "prints" of first-run movies, and even a cheesy DVD service could make stunningly good DVD's from them.

      You bring up a good point, though., and it's something else I might do for them after I've authored the DVD's.

      Seeing how reasonably priced portable disks are, I'll pick one up in the after Christmas blow-out sales that are sure to come, and copy all the finished work to the drive. That way they'll have a "back-up" that they can view on any PC in the house.

  4. Nothing wrong with being analog, Stephen!

    After all, it's an analog world!

    I play the tapes, and the VCR outputs an analog signal, which my Matrox RT.X2 video capture card digitizes and writes to hard disk.

    After I've recorded the relevant sections of all TWELVE ( ! ) tapes, I'll go back to each recorded "clip", clean up the beginnings and endings (it's IMPOSSIBLE to get a clean "cut" with analog tape), do a nice fade transition on the beginning and ending of each clip, make the title cards for each clip, make the main menu so they can view any individual "Chapter" (the clips) on each DVD, then transcode and "render" them to NTSC 4:3 video at 29.97 frames-per-second, and save the completed "project" in an Adobe Premiere Pro project file.

    THEN I can go ahead and burn them to DVD.

    And people winder why getting this done on a professional level costs $125 per VHS tape.

    Sure, you can buy an all-in-one box that will directly "dupe" your tapes to DVD, but have you ever seen the (lack of...) quality of those DVD's?

    It's not very good, and usually not even as good as the source tape, as they have "consumer grade" video encoding chips in them.


Keep it civil, please....