digitizing VHS tapes

I have old (16 year old) VHS tapes of my children that I would like to digitize. what are my options and how much?
I think it envolves a video capture card and a DVD writer but I saw an ad for a digital video camera that had A/V inputs. so does that mean that I can plug my VHS player into it and have it record a digital version. Then I would have to plug into the USH port and transfer to my PC.

second question: what is this firewall stuff?

I know you can plug your VCR into a video capture card and digitize your tapes that way. There is also software that will let you create Video-CDs which can be played on (most) DVD players. I’m not familiar enough with digital camcorders to be able to be able to answer that, but I would think that they would work similar to the video capture card.

In simplest terms, a firewall is a piece of software that sits between you and the Internet (or other network). Any data going between your computer and the network has to go through the firewall which decides what to let through and what not to let through. It is designed to prevent unauthorized access to your computer from elsewhere on the network.

I am sorry , its “FIREWIRE” not firewall. some kind of superspeedy port but I dont know if it has video ramification.

Well, handy’ll be in shortly with his usual spiel on using a video camera for vid capture. As for firewire, it’s a high speed port that is used mostly for transfer of digital video (including digital beta, digital 8, etc., and not just “true” DV) to the computer. As for video capture, you can read through this thread, though there are others around (this is the only one a search on ‘capture’ turned up, go figure).

Before I begin, here are a few definitions:

DVD disc - a round, silver disc used to store data; sometimes encoded in a special way to store video data and called Video DVDs.

standalone player - a electronic unit that doesn’t require a computer to view/listen to the contents of the video DVD/Audio CD. And example is the DVD player next to your TV or the CD player in your car.

MPEG-2 - the digital video format used on Video DVD disc. Image resolution is higher than broadcast TV or VHS tapes.

MPEG-1 - an older digital video format used on Video CD (VCD) discs popular in Asia. Image resolution comparable to VHS tapes.

Firewire/IEEE/iLink - a new input connection slot on most newer computers that permits the fast transfer of data from connected devices. You can connect most new digital video cameras to your computer using this Firewire connection. Costs about $120.
A lot of people (myself included) would like to transfer interesting VHS video to a more long-lasting storage solution. The one that seems most obvious is the DVD disc, which - thanks to Hollywood - is widely used to distribute movies for home use.

Because video DVD requires digital data, the question is: How do I covert my analog VHS tapes to digital data and store that data on those little round, silver items called CDs or on those other ones called DVDs?

Believe it or not, there is a very easy way, but it’s gonna cost you. Pioneer sells a standalone DVD recorder (DVR-2000, $2,799 US)… but only in Japan! Basically, you connect your VCR, or camcorder, or TV into this unit, and it converts the analog info into the MPEG-2 video format and then copies that digital data onto a DVD disc. Voila! Instant video DVD which you can play on your grandma’s video DVD player! (For more info on this product, go to: http://www.planetjapan.org/pages2/dvr2000review.html.

But this is probably too expensive for most, so what are the other solutions?

  1. Take your VHS tapes to a company that specializes in these transfers. It’s also expensive. One transfer might cost up to $100.

  2. Get a fast computer with a Firewire port and connect your compatible digital video camera to it and transfer the video data to your computer’s hard drive. If you want to transfer VHS data, then you’re have to buy a video capture card (e.g., Pinnacle DC10+, Matrox G400 Marvel, etc.) and connect your RCA cables from the VCR to the capture card.

Once the data is on yoyr hard drive, convert it from AVI to MPEG-1 format. You can then back the data to a CD-R or store it on your hard drive. Alternatively, you can use a CD burning software like Nero or Adaptec Deluxe to make a VCD disc, which is a CD-R (or CD-RW) disc encoded in a specially defined way and containing a standard MPEG-1 video data file. You can then play that VCD-formatted disc on your standalone DVD player. I have done this with some home movies and it is cool. The quality is comparable to VHS, but it is neat to be able to play home movies on a standalone DVD player from a CD-R disc!

P.S. Digitizing analog (VHS) data won’t make the orginal footage any better. The solution of video images stored on a VHS tape is low and won’t improve if digitized.

Yes KK, here I am! haha…

It’s not practical to do DVD’s yet. DVD Blanks cost a fortune. yesvideo.com can put your video on CD’s for $29.00 an hour, 2 hours $39.00

Of course, you can search for ‘vcd’ here as it’s unique enough to bring a reasonable number of results.

3 questions:
can I use my AV inputs on the digital camera to convert the analog vhs to digital? then I could transfer the digital to my computer thru USB (or firewire if I buy one). BUt once I get it on the digital camera then I could just leave it there until DVD writers come down right?

How many minutes will fit on a cd-r?

How much is a video capture card? why the price range? Is the difference a resolution issue?

  1. Yes, you can transfer your VHS video to MiniDV (camcorder tape). But in doing so, you will be losing a “generation” - that is, the transfer will have caused some degradation in the signal. I think you can buy an item that lets you feed the VHS signal to the camcorder without actually recording the signal on a MiniDV tape. Not sure what its called. I guess ask Radio Shack or search the Web.

  2. Yes, you can leave in MiniDV tape. In fact, some people think a properly stored MiniDV tape is the best way to archive video. Why? Because if a CD or DVD is your archive media, it could get a scratch, and then you’re scr*wed.

  3. CD-R discs can hold 750MB of data. Depending on what kind of video data you put on there, you can get different amounts of video. For instance, some videos you get by email from friends are highly compressed and you can fit several hours of stuff (Quicktime, RealVideo, etc). But with MPEG-2 video format (the format used for DVD movies), you can probably fit only about 10 minutes or so. So it really depends.

Now, if you want to make a VCD-formatted CD-R (like I described above), you must use MPEG-1 video data. Even within that format, you can fiddle around with the bit rate to improve or reduce quality. However, a standard VCD-formatted CD-R can play about 50 minutes or so of video.

Of course, if you are no interested in playing the video on your standalone DVD player, you don’t need to create a VCD-formatted CD-R disc. You can simply copy a regular MPEG-1 file to a CD-R. Of coruse, then you can only play that file on a computer.

  1. Video capture cards range in price from $100 (for consumer models) to $500 (for prosumer) to $2000+ for (profesional models).

What’s the diff? The capture card takes analog data and converts it to digital data on the fly. That is, I connect my old 8mm camera to the capture card with regular yellow/white/red RCA cables and “capture” the video to my hard drive. If you hard drive isn’t fast enough, the video file being saved to my computer will be more compressed (and less clear) than if my hard drive was faster. The better capture cards allow for a better range of compression rates.

The other major diff has to do with the editing of video on your computer. The more expensive ones will do a lot of the work for the CPU. This speeds things up. For instance, suppose you want to add a title over an image. Cheaper capture cards require you to “render” the superimposed titles at the end of the editing process. This rending could take several hours to complete. But with a more expensive capture card, the time is greatly reduced. The $1000+ models don’t require rendering at all! All titles, fades, etc, are done in real time. Very cool. But do you need it for home movies? Probably not.

One last difference: audio/video sync. High-end capture cards also include a sound card built in. This is important. On cheaper cards, the AV goes out of sync after about 10 minutes (or more). You can work around this by creating separate files. But in the end, it is annoying. (Believe it or not, a partial solution is to use your old Sound Blaster 16 sound card. For some reason it seems to be more compatible than sewer sound cards! Less sync problems.)

Which capture cards should you buy? Look into the Pinnacle DC10+ ($100), Matrox Marvel G400 ($250, but comes with the highly rated Matrox video card). Those are the two most popular consumer models. If you want some more, look into the Pinnacle DC500 ($700).
But again, digital video cameras come with Firewire connectors which will connect to cheap Firewire ports on your PC. This is all you need to capture digital data from a digital tape. So all the talk about capture cards is moot if you will only be transfering digital source data to your hard drive. (Of course, you won’t get all the speed benefits when rendering your movie as mentioned about. The most expensive capture cards include Firewire connections AND analog connections.)

Hope this helped!

My DV camera has a (highly non-obvious) way to record from its analogue input to the DV tape. This digitizes the input. I can plug a VHS VCR into it, play a tape in the VCR, and record on the camera. Afterwards, the video is just a large file, which can be transferred to a computer by the Firewire link.

jdl is correct in that this transfer and digitization may cause loss on quality, but once it’s done, there will be no firther losses from simply moving the resultant video file from place to place.

Most DVD players I’ve seen in the Toronto area will play VideoCDs, and these can be made on a regular (i.e.cheap) CD burner. VideoCDs have approximately VHS quality; if you’re coming from VHS, it may not be worth your while to go to the extra expense of making your own DVD.

I’ve put together a few links about various video formats…

justinh, Sony said at 15 years video starts to turn to fuzz & there is nothing you can do about it. I would copy those videos promptly to some fresh vhs cassettes if you want to preserve them.

1.You cannot input to a dv camera unless the camera has analog in. All have analog out, some have analog in.

  1. MiniDv cassettes are very expensive to use compared to Digital8, which is digital but uses those regular 8mm cassettes. Digital8 cameras are probably more likely to use analog in.

  2. Why should you input your vhs into a digital camera when instead if you input it directly to the computer it becomes digitalized anyway?

Actually, there is some slight generational loss even when transfering video data. It related to compression - that is, the extent to which video data is further encoded to keep size down.

For instance, if you take your original AVI video clips, put them in a timeline, and render another AVI file, there will be some compression done during that final rendering stage. It isn’t as obvious as what you get between VHS to VHS copying, but it is still there.

great info, of course it helps, the alternative is to go to a video store and find some punk to give my credit card.

Ok, in summary, I have vhs tapes and a compac presario PC about 500mhz and 8 GIg drive with 128meg ram.

option 1: buy a $797 video camera and firewire. plug the vhs into the video camera and record on digital tape. If you I want, I can use the firewire to copy to the harddrive.
BUT I will lose a generation by copying the tape. there might be a piece I can buy to copy directly thru the camera to the pc but I dont know the name.

option 2: buy a $100 video card and copy the vhs tape to it. then write to my cdr.
BUT I will have trouble with the sound. and I need special software to copy to my cdr.

That sounds about right to me. A few notes:

1/ You don’t have enough hard drive space for option 2. I recommend at least 20-30MB if you want to transfer, say, an hour or so of video captured data to your computer. Also, the drive should be at least as fast as 7,200rpm or 10,000 rpm. (Some hard drives are only 5,400 rpm. You won’t be able to capture the analog video data fast enough with a slow hard drive - or else you’ll have to compress the data to unacceptable levels.)

The benefit of option 2 is that you can experience the joy of editing video and making fun montages. The editing process is extremely easy. You import clips into a timeline and simply drag and drop them to different spots as you see fit. You add some fade between them. And a sound track. And presto! Instant kick-ass home movie. You friends will be impressed. (Okay, I’ll stop now…)

2/ If you just want to archive stuff for a few years (until DVD-R recorders will be cheap enough for all of us to use), then I guess you can transfer to MiniDV tapes. But there will be some generational loss.

Good luck!


What kind of camera are you using? And what is so “un-obvious” about getting an analouge signal? I have been trying to figure this out for months. Any clue? We are using a Panasonic camera. What kind is yours? and what do you do to record an analouge signal?

sorry for my redunacies…


MY panic is due to the VHS tapes being 16 years old and I am afraid to play them because of the age of the tapes.

how can I tell the speed of my harddrive? how many GIG do I need for a 2 hour tape?

  1. I don’t think that 16 years is terribly old for VHS tapes. Just be sure to store them away from computers and light and heat and cold, etc.

  2. If you don’t know the model number of your hard drive, then I recommend using some kind of hard drive speed test utility. Got to www.hotfiles.com and search for some kind of free software that can test the sustained rate of you hard drive. I don’t have the scale of what is good with me, so I’ll have to check to see how fast my is tonight.

  3. The amount of space you need depends, again, on the quality of the data image you want. But as a rule, I would say that you could fit about 20 minutes of raw AVI video data on 2GB of space. But remember that if you decide to edit your video and produce yet another AVI file, you’ll need room for that one too on your hard drive.

Finally, keep in mind that everyone recommends that if you capture video to a hard drive, it should not only be fast enough, but also be decicated for that purpose. That is, don’t capture video to the hard drive that contains all your program files and operating system files.

"MY panic is due to the VHS tapes being 16 years old and I am afraid to play them because of the
age of the tapes. "

If you can’t play them, you can’t copy to the computer. A two hour video would use a lot of space. 1gig for ten/ minutes = 12 gigs & the time to process it after capturing could be all night. You’d need a lot more than 12 gigs cause it needs processing room.

Go look at the Dazzle, its made so that it does the processing, not the computer.

Yes, if the video is re-encoded or re-rendered or combined with titles or whatever, there may be losses. I was simply referring to moving the fole from camera to hard drive.

<pulls out manual of JVC GR-DVL9800U (Canadian NTSC version of camera), turns to page 64>
Slightly paraphrased quote:

I’d say that qualifies as being rather non-obvious. :slight_smile:

For me, 1h20m of NTSC from Mini-DV tapes filled just over 20 GB. YMMV…

“For me, 1h20m of NTSC from Mini-DV tapes filled just over 20 GB. YMMV…”
Yes, DV uses more space. But products like StudioDV can manage to do it with much smaller files. An hour of video takes up like 150k, which is a small preview file & the program does the work with larger files on its own later.