Video to DVD


The one thing I’d say is that 5 years is probably a lot longer than we’ll have to wait to easily transfer video to DVD.

Right now you can order (and perhaps even receive, though shipments appear to be slow) the newest generation of PowerMac with a built-in DVD recorder and very easy-to-use iDVD mastering software. It ain’t cheap for your average consumer (about $3,500, but it is a top-of-the-line Mac) but also not out of reach if this is something important to you. You have to get the analog video into the computer, but that’s neither expensive nor hard to do right now.

This is pretty new, but give it six months or a year and the costs will be down, and the software even easier. Probably the Wintel world will respond with an equivalent set up (maybe already have) for those who don’t like Macs.

(And, for the record, I don’t have anything to do with selling Macs in any way. I happen to own one, but I also happen to own a Wintel PC and have no religious feelings about either one. I like both my computers.)

An additional problem with magnetic tape is the thermal loss of magnetic domains on storeage. This is further complicated by the cross-talk between one layer of tape and the those wound adjacent to it where the magnetic domains of one layer can with time create domains in an adjacent layers. That’s another reason why periodic rewinding of the tape is useful–it offsets ever so slightly the adjacent layers.

Though an analog copy of a tape will be degraded relative to the original, it is still sometimes useful to periodically make copies through a video enhancer to “refresh” the magnetic image.

Time will tell whether the dyes used in writeable DVD/CDROMs have significantly better lifetimes. The obvious advantage of digital storeage is the lack of noise introduced in making copies, which allows one to “refresh” the image periodically without degrading subsequent generations.

Those of us with old audiotapes face another problem: loss of plasticizer from the base which creates brittle tapes that do not suffer playing, much less palliative rewinding, very well. Newer polymers used in modern tapes do not require plasticizers (though they stretch a bit, creating minor timing issues).

As for device compatability, my drawers full of 8-inch floppies are testament to not having solved that one.

All that said, the advice of low temperature, low humidity, and dark, along with shielding from magnetic fields, is good counsel.

Odd coincidence that this came up today… just a couple of days ago I began a concerted effort to preserve my VHS by transferring it to digital media.

I wouldn’t use any solution that involved careful storage of VHS tape. No matter how well you preserve it, all you’re doing is slowing down the degradation… and VHS isn’t that high-quality to begin with. If you have video that’s important to you and that you want to keep in as high quality as possible, get it off of that analog medium and transfer it to digital, and the sooner the better. Digital doesn’t degrade.

My setup begins with a Sony TRV120 Digital8 camcorder, which goes for a very reasonable price (~$450 online) and is capable of doing a good analog-to-digital conversion. Dubbing VHS to high-quality digital tapes is a good way to preserve it, and the tapes are much more compact than VHS, too.

But even digital tapes are subject to the perils of magnetic media, so I’m sending my video on through the camcorder’s IEEE 1394 port (iLink to Sony, FireWire ™ to Apple) and on into my computer. If you’ve got a newer Mac or a Sony VAIO, you’ve probably got a 1394 port built-in, and if you don’t, you can pick up a decent 1394 card with a good software bundle for less than $100.

Of course, the digital video files are huge (about 12GB/hour), so compression is pretty much mandatory. But one of the silver linings of starting with a crappy format like VHS is that you can apply some pretty darned aggressive compression without making the quality worse. I can generally hammer my ex-VHS video down to less 100MB/hour with no noticeable loss of quality.

Once you’ve got the video to your hard drive, the next step is to burn it out to optical media. There’s no need to wait for DVD-R to reach a sane price… VideoCD (VCD) offers an effective solution today, and uses plain ol’ compact discs. Most popular CD burning packages can make VCDs, and most DVD players can play them. VCDs use MPEG-1 compression, which has vastly inferior quality to the MPEG-2 used by DVD, but a good compressor can make MPEG-1 video at least as good as VHS.

Videos that are of great sentimental value to me I keep on digital tape and in uncompressed video where feasible. But stuff I just taped off the TV goes great on a VCD. I’m in the process of transferring dozens of old Simpsons episodes, and once I do, I’m going to throw out those bulky videotapes and keep my whole collection in a fraction of the space.

Be warned that some DVD players can’t handle CD-R, and others are very picky about what types of CD-Rs they can read. The definitive site for information about making and playing VCDs is

DVD is not the only digital storage format. There are also AVI files that are very popular for PCs. You could buy a video card <> for your PC which would cost about $100.00, an audio card for about 30.00 and a CD writer for about another $100.00. You will be able to plug the output of a VCR into the video and audio cards. The video card comes with an application called vidcap that would allow you to save the audio/video to a disk file as well as view it on your PC. You can then save the file generated on the CD just like any other file.
You can use Windows Media Player to view the file, and other tools to edit the files as you please.
For less then $300.00 you could have a system for preserving the information on your VHS tapes
You may want to surf the web for someone who has bundled theses items together for just the purpose you have in mind

For those interested, check out:

This is a report by an actual user of the new PowerMac with SuperDrive and iDVD software. The user tells of some pros and cons of the hardware and software. The process clearly isn’t perfect yet, but the fellow seems pretty happy overall.

I think the key is that even though you may not have an interest in buying a new PowerMac to burn DVD’s, the cost of entry is low enough that a lot of small shops will buy one. If so, there should be a fair amount of competition between shops that can burn the DVD’s for you cheaply using this technology.

Try the Yellow Pages, under Video Production Services. I took a quick look in the Baton Rouge Yellow Pages, and found three columns of ads for various studios. If you call around, I bet you’ll even find enough companies that offer this service to collect competetive quotes.

Time’s on your side, and I suspect that simple DVD archiving costs are about to nosedive.

In this month’s PC World, there is a quite favorable review of the Video Blaster MovieMaker from Creative Labs. For 200 bucks you get an appliance that will allow you to convert analog to digital and save as Video CD, MPEG-1, or MPEG-2 on your desktop computer via USB.

Sweet toy.