NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2006
How Do I Get My Home Videos Into the Computer?
By Elise Edgell, President,
North Orange County Computer Club, California

eliseedgell@aol.com (click to email author)

I have stacks of VHS and 8mm tapes that I want to convert to digital format before they are no longer accessible. I know that once I get the analog videos converted to digital format I can preserve them, edit them, back them up, etc. But, what technology is available to me?

First of all, let me explain that I have never been good at reading about a technology, learning all it’s terms and features before I have had a chance to use the technology. When I am making a decision about software, frequently the feature, which sounded so good on the box and enticed me to purchase it, is not the feature which I really use. It often is something that I was unaware of when I initially got the program but which I use the most and like the best. An example of this is the “Reveal Codes” feature in WordPerfect.

When VCRs first came on the market, I wanted one. I heard about the pros and cons of VHS and BETA formats. I had a hard time remembering which was which. I had never used a VCR before I purchased a VHS model. I rapidly learned the different recording speeds and how they affected the quality of the image. The next VCR I purchased was a BETA format. The image quality was much better and I couldn’t understand why it was not the format of choice for everyone.

Since that time, I have had a VHS camcorder, an 8mm and a Hi8. Again, the quality difference between the three formats is noticeable. I have not purchased a digital camcorder yet so I have not learned the difference between the different types of digital camcorders. When I was looking for the technology necessary to convert my precious memories to digital format I was focused on analog conversion devices.

The first analog capture device connected to the computer with a USB1 cable. That did not work well and I put the project aside for a while. I then received a ADS Instant DVD USB 2 capture device as a gift. By this time I had acquired a couple of video editing programs. I had installed them, read the documentation (much of it was incomprehensible to me without actually using the program), and attempted to capture some video from a Hi8 tape. This did not work well. I found that software programs are very touchy about which video capture device they will talk with. Fortunately, the video capture device came with capture software so I am able to transfer my analog video to digital. But, not in the way I wanted and I am still learning the terminology.

I wanted to write this because some of my confusion may be the same as yours. The software programs say that they can “capture” both analog and digital video. They also talk about “capture card” for the digital video. It is necessary to have a “capture card” or “capture device” to take the analog information from your VHS (or other analog input) and convert it to digital information. This is usually accomplished by connecting the video-out and audio-out from your analog device (VHS player, camcorder, etc) to the input section of your capture card (this may be your video card) or external device. When you are in the process of capturing the video, the analog information is converted in the capture device to a digital format (there are several such as MPEG1 and MPEG2) and then stored on your computer. Once stored, they can be used by video editing programs or can be burned to a disk.

Please note, if you have a digital camcorder, you do not need a conversion device. The information that is on your camcorder is already in digital format. Depending on the type of camcorder the digital information my be stored on a tape, memory card, hard disk, or even on a DVD. If you cannot remove the storage device and put it into a reader on your computer then the way to transfer data is through a FireWire or USB2 connection to your computer. If you are using a video editing program to enable the transfer, there are some nice things that the program may be able to do with the data as it is received. It may automatically create chapters and provide other information that is handy when you want to edit the information (rare is the tape which cannot be improved with cutting out the unintentional video of the pavement).

There are programs which let you transfer your converted VHS tape directly to a DVD. The reason to do this is to get the analog tapes preserved. I know that I will never have the time to edit all the old tapes which I have, but I do want to preserve them. The CapWiz program which came with my ADS Instant DVD USB2 capture box has this feature. If you purchase a program that is not bundled with the capture box (or card) be sure that specific version of that program will work with your model of capture device.

Expect to put in some time learning the terminology. Read carefully what the program will do and what it will not do so that you are realistic in your expectations. Keep in mind that what you are working with, once you have your video in digital format, is a file. The file can be in several different formats with different characteristics. What I mean is that, just like with digital photos, a file format which is really compressed will not look as good as a larger file with more information. When dealing with video information, you must remember that you need a lot of storage on your disk and it really helps to have a disk with fast response time.

A fast computer with lots of RAM is also important. It is only recently that video editing has become practical for the home user. Before really large, fast hard disk storage was affordable, the home user was very limited in the size of file that could be edited. With today’s fast computers, inexpensive RAM, large storage disks, and inexpensive DVD writers it should be within the reach of many home users to be able to preserve valuable analog tapes. Plus, be able to make home movies from them that friends and family are willing to watch.

If you are planning to buy a new computer in the near future, keep in mind the requirements for video editing as well as the requirements for VISTA. Fortunately, the requirements for the Ultimate version of VISTA are also good for video editing purposes.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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