The best PC video capture solution?

I’m in the UK (in case that makes a difference). I use a fairly high-spec PC, Win 98 SE. I want to be able to plug in a VCR, play tapes, and use my PC to grab still frames off the video images. Later on, I may also be interested in creating short sequences, such as .avi files, but for now the still images are the main thing.

It’s fairly important that I can control the resolution of these image grabs, with options to store quite hi-res jpegs if I want to (even though the file size may be huge).

Also, my VCR can play both PAL and NTSC tapes, and I may want to take stills off both types.

I know nothing about this area, so I wondered if any Dopers could point me towards the best solution.

I saw some ‘Win TV’ products that looked ideal, but they say they only work with ‘Windows Direct Draw video cards’, and frankly I don’t know if my video card is Direct Draw compatible / capable, and probably don’t know how to find out. My PC is about two years old (and the manufacturer… Dan… has gone out of business, the bastards).

Here’s where to start:

On the left side you’ll see all kinds of tutorials and reviews and such that should answer any questions you have on the subject.

I was displeased with a couple of those Win TV capture cards I tried – I have the nagging feeling that I didn’t have some settings right, but I felt that they suffered from poor documentation about the subtle details of configuration.

I ceased my search when I got my hands on a digital camcorder: it converts my analog 8mm tapes to DV without a flaw.

Thanks for the reply, minor7flat5, but the site you linked to is principally for people who want to do interesting things with various types of moving images i.e. make MPEGs, transfer video to hard disk, watch TV on their PC or make DVDs. I don’t. My main interest is grabbing high-quality JPG still images from particular frames on my own showreel VHS tapes, some of which are PAL (European TV) format and some of which are NTSC (Merkin).

So I’ll give this a little bump, in the hope that the hive-genius of the SDMB can offer more specific assistance.

The card will be able to capture PAL/NTSC through its composite input. The maximum resolution you can capture at will be 768x576 (PAL resolution, NTSC is slightly lower). Even with perfect picture quality (which you won’t get from a video tape), there would be no point in going above that. Most capture utilities will let you save individual video frames as BMPs or JPGs. If your video card is only two years old, it will almost certainly be Direct Draw compatible (Dan went bust? That’s a shame). Make sure you have the latest release of DirectX.

Re capture cards, I use a WinTV, and I see no reason to use anything more expensive - the BT8x8 chipset it’s based on is very capable. If you do use a BT8x8-based capture card (most of them are), I recommend using the open source “btwincap” driver - much more stable than the drivers that come with the card, and more features too.

If you’re only interested in short video clips, then you probably won’t be too worried about compression, but nevertheless video files can be enormous, so you might need some codecs:
huffYUV - compresses video without any loss of detail.
MJPEG, e.g. PICVideo - compresses more, almost lossless at higher detail settings. Costs about £15.
DivX MPEG - compresses even more, but not much use during editing.
And VirtualDub is very useful for capturing, cleaning up video, and simple edits.

Actually, on reading your second post more carefully - ignore the stuff about moving video, it’s not relevant. And if you just want to grab individual video frames, you might as well use the default driver - that way, you can use WinTV’s TV viewer utility which allows you to capture frames to BMP, which you can then convert to JPG with e.g. Paintshop Pro. Although I’m not sure if Hauppauge’s driver supports 768x576 - btwincap definitely does.