Preserving Home Movies Question(s)

Hey, for anyone here who has a knowledge about converting/preserving home movies/works in the movie industry:

  1. I have a DVD of standard 8mm movies. I no longer, due to theft, have the original reels. Will I be able to convert the DVD to MP4? The DVD was transferred from a VHS (the VHS was a direct transfer from the reels). I still have the VHS but imagine that it has degraded. In any event, can a transfer from DVD to MP4 be done, and will there be any loss of quality transferring between those two mediums?

  2. On the subject of MP4: I have other home movies from the 1990s on Hi8 tape cassettes. As some of you know, the transfer process can become costly. My question is, is MP4 a viable format for having films transferred to? Can those of you who are more knowledgeable than I see MP4 being compatible with newer computers/home video media in say a decade or so? Would I be better served transferring from the original cassette to MP4, or transferring from the DVDs I have to MP4?

My goal is to create a new digital master that can be used to preserve and re-transfer these home movies for generations to come - when the Hi8 tape masters are no longer usable and have degraded fully.

A last question about the 8mm reels: If the person who stole them has kept them in a dark, not wet nor overly humid location, would they still likely look much the same in quality as they did when they were stolen (around 9 years ago)? I ask because there is a (very small ) chance I can get them back from this person - would they have massively degraded in picture quality in the decade since if they were kept in a relatively optimal location?

IIRC, Handbrake converts DVD to should be as good as its source. It’s also free, so you can try it out and see.

Yes, you will loose some information by re-encoding DVDs (which are MPEG2) to MP4. Both are lossy codecs. The loss may not be enough to notice, but it is there. (The reason MP4 was created was to give higher compression at a given bit-rate, and is not inherently “beter” than MPEG2.) So you will want to reconvert as seldom as possible. For the purpose of future-proofing, MPEG2 is as good a creaky antique media as MP4, and should have as good a chance of future computers being able to play it as any. (MP4 is already yesterday’s news, as leading-edge codecs go.)

Your concern at this point should be more about the medium the video is stored in than the codec. Make backup copies of the DVD to other DVDs, to more than one hard drive, and to more than one flash drive. And don’t just toss them in a drawer and assume that they’ll still be good many years from now, every year or two check on them and possibly resave them again.

BTW, about “As some of you know, the transfer process can become costly” that is only true if you are ignorant enough to pay someone to do it. If you still have a device capable of playing yourHi8 tapes, your cost for doing this is 10 bucks. I used one of those to capture my old VHS home movies (and I may have paid less than $10 for it–they had them at at the time.)

I think that MP4 (at a high bitrate and with appropriate settings to preserve maximum quality) would be a good choice. Nobody can guarantee that you will be able to view these for X years, but past experience shows that most codecs remain available for many years and that new OSs will continue to support popular legacy codecs. I have older videos encoded with early Indeo and have no problems playing them.

If you are truly concerned about quality, you can always capture them in uncompressed form (raw video and PCM audio), but you can’t do this with an inexpensive USB capture device and the files will be huge. Nevertheless, I keep uncompressed copies of my important videotapes and movies in that format because storage is so cheap.

Finally, I will second the recommendation to work from a source as close to the original as possible. Don’t transcode DVDs to MP4s if you can avoid it.

Vidcoder uses the Handbrake engine but is easier to use in my humble opinion…

Do you do this yourself or pay someone to do it? What sort of equipment do you use if you’re doing it yourself?

How did you work this? Also, the only thing that would play Hi8 tapes directly is a camcorder…:confused: That doesn’t look like it’d tie into a camera. And I don’t have a VHS player anymore.

I don’t remember which program I used to capture the video–now that I’m thinking about it, I may have captured them as high-bitrate MPEG-1 files before converting them to Divx (the extra step to make sure that my CPU could keep up with the encoding) in VirtualDub. But the capture device came with a software driver that allowed the capturing to be done through any video software that could access it (much the way scanners come with TWAIN drivers for photo editors to access them.) It came with a “lite” version of some video editor, but I don’t think I ever used it.

I asked about you doing the transfer because it was always possible you still had the camcorder. I still have my 8mm camcorder from the early 1990s (though I haven’t tried turning it on in 20 years or more, it may no longer work.)

Look on craigslist for Hi8 or Digital8 camcorders. Pawnshops, too. Many of them can produce digital output to USB and lots of video software can capture from the USB. Check the specs to make sure it can do digital out. Many Digital8’s can also play Hi8 tapes.

I did some conversions of 40-year-old 8mm movies and the their picture quality was excellent. I would suspect that your films would still be in great shape. The films will likely look better than the DVDs. When I did my conversion, the colors didn’t come out as well as the original images.

Converting 8mm film is much harder than Hi8. To convert film, you need to find a variable speed projector so you can sync the shutter rate to the camera rate. If you don’t, the captured image will dim and brighten. And even if you have a variable speed projector, you need to continually adjust the white balance of your camera so that the captured colors look correct. I can get into more details about that process if you get the films back.

Former film archivist, here. Low temp/low humidity is optimal for storing any film, and just as important is that there’s not a lot of variation to these conditions (moving them from one location to another often). So it’s not enough that it’s dry; it also has to be consistently cool (65F minimum; 50 preferred).

8mm is still susceptible to vinegar syndrome: part of the deteriorating process as the acetate base degrades. This affects less the image quality as it does the film stability itself (with shrinking, warping, etc.). And vinegar syndrome is “contagious” as the offgassing from one contaminated reel can affect others, so if they’re stored together and one goes, isolating that reel is key. Otherwise, they’ll all eventually go down the same destructive, irreversible path.

Good points. Also, ALWAYS store both films and videocassettes in a PLAYED state. Do not rewind them after playing. Playing films and videocassettes produces a more even packing on the take-up reel/spool. This will stress your film or tape a lot less during subsequent storage. When stored properly, films are “tails out,” where the film has to be rewound to another reel to play. Same with videocassettes. The only reason that video stores asked you to “Be Kind, Rewind” is to prevent irritating the other customers.

I will tell you how I do it, but you probably won’t like the answer.

I use a PCI video capture card in a (pretty old) PC running WinXP. It has a 2TB SATA HDD as a slave. The video cards I use are very simple ones.

I use the s-video and audio outputs from the camera, VCR, or other source and connect the video to the capture card. The audio goes straight to my line level audio input on my sound card.

I then use VirtualDub to capture uncompressed 640x480 video and audio in an AVI format. The files are quite large (more than 160 GB for a 90 minute videocassette). At this point, I can use Handbrake, VirtualDub, or any of a number of video programs to crop, deinterlace, enhance, and compress the files to a different format. It is not unusual for this part of the process to take several hours. One advantage of this is that I have a (virtually) perfect copy of the source to work with. I can try different compression levels, crop it different ways, change the AR, and so forth.

The reason that some people don’t like this answer is that it requires a desktop PC, or you need to buy a fairly nice external capture unit. My only cost was the video capture card and the 2TB HDD. The capture card was less than $40. The PC was an old one I had sitting around.

Nah, i do very similar, old desktop with a matrox mystique/rainbow runner
reason for it is that it is totally unaware in both hardware and drivers of macrovision and will happily digitize those old disney macrovision protected vhs tapes, and anything else similar.

I capture to motion jpeg at highest quality, lowest compression, so it also makes pretty big files. usually 720X480 depending on the incoming video.

It works really well for digitizing that old stuff.

Agreed. I was anticipating the people who really, really want a $10 USB widget to be able to do the trick when connected to their laptop. I probably tried at least five of those and always had problems with dropped frames or audio getting out of sync. Using my internal capture card, I tried compressing on the fly, but still had some dropped frames. That’s when I figured out that simply saving the data raw eliminated ALL the problems (except big files). I do two-pass compression and I’m good to go.