BOOT CAMP 464 (20/02/07)

VCR and Camcorder to PC and DVD part 1


If you have ever owned a VHS video tape recorder or an analogue camcorder then time is running out and within the next few years your recordings could become unwatchable. The tapes themselves may well be okay, though recordings over ten years old will have begun to deteriorate, but the question is what are you going to watch them on? VHS VCRs have all but disappeared and soon the only places you will find analogue camcorders will be in junk shops and the vintage electronics section of ebay...


Now is the time to do something about it and in the next few episodes of Boot Camp we are going to look at how to transfer your video recordings to DVD. Recordable DVDs should last for at least 50 years, though again, there’s no guarantee there will be anything to play them on in 2057, but at least once they are in the digital domain they can be endlessly copied without further degradation.


There are basically three ways to get your video tape recordings onto DVD. You can pay someone to do it; specialist companies charge from around £5.00 per hour for basic tape to disc transfer. The results should be good but it could prove expensive if you have a large collection of tapes, and there could be problems transferring copyright material.


Alternatively you can do it yourself with a DVD video recorder. If you have one then it is a cheap and simple method but the downside is that it is not very flexible and few models have any editing facilities. The other DIY option is to use your computer, providing it is a reasonably fast and up to date multimedia machine, equipped with a DVD writer and running Windows XP, Vista or a recent Mac operating system.


We’ll begin with an overview of the process and the first and one of the most important requirements (after a suitable PC) is a VCR or camcorder to play your tapes on.


If your home movies are on ‘compact’ VHS or VHS-C cassettes and you no longer have a working camcorder you can still get VHS-C adaptors that you pop the tape into and play back on a normal VHS video recorder. Be warned that recordings made on briefly popular ‘high band’ Super VHS-C (S-VHS-C) camcorders only play on comparatively rare Super VHS VCRs, or machines with an ‘S-VHS playback’ facility. Home movies on 8mm or Hi8 tapes are a little more awkward if you have haven’t got a suitable machine. If so now is the time to get one. Decent low mileage models can be found ebay for under £50 at the moment but in five years they could be collector’s items and working examples will become increasingly hard to find. (See also this week’s Top Tip).   


Once you have your VCR or camcorder connected to your PC (we’ll be looking at that in more detail next week), the analogue video and audio signals coming from the playback machine are converted into digital data and stored on the computer’s hard drive. Video recordings can gobble up around 300Mb of storage space per minute (in practice it’s usually less but it is better to overestimate). That means you will need around 18Gb of free space for each hour of a recording and you can double that if you want to do any editing. That may not sound like much but it is asking a lot of one hard drive to run Windows, your editing and DVD authoring software and provide storage space for all of your video data files.


This can cause data bottlenecks, resulting in jittery or jumpy images on the finished DVD. The solution is to fit a second ‘slave’ drive and use this just for storing video files. It’s worth doing in any case as it provides you with an extra backup facility. It’s easy to do, and not expensive either, see Boot Camp 427 in the Archive for a simple step-by-step-guide.


Once the recording is on the computer it can be edited and this is your chance to turn your wonky home movies into slick-looking productions, though obviously you can skip this part if you just want to copy your recordings to disc. Finally, the recording has to be converted into the DVD format and ‘burned’ to a blank disc, and to do the job properly you will need some specialist software; more about that in part 3.       


Next Week – VCR and Camcorder to PC and DVD part 2




FIREWIRE (aka IEEE 1394 and ‘I-Link’)

High-speed serial data connection system, commonly used for connecting PCs to external storage devices and digital camcorders, for downloading video footage for editing



Analogue video recording formats, notably Super VHS and Hi8, capable of capturing almost twice as much detail as the standard ‘low band’ VHS and 8mm formats




So far we’ve only talked about the analogue video tape formats (S/VHS, S/VHS-C, 8mm and Hi8) but there are a number of digital tape systems, including Mini DV and Digital 8. The clock is ticking for them too but these formats have only been around since the early 90’s so the rot hasn’t set in to anything like the same degree. Nevertheless, you may still want to turn your digital home movies into DVDs, and that’s no problem, in fact it’s slightly easier. The only real difference is the way the camcorder hooks up to the PC. You can use the analogue type connections we’ll be looking at in part 2; most digital camcorders have them, but the analogue to digital conversion process will involves some loss of picture quality. For that reason it is better to use a digital-to-digital connection. Most digital camcorders have FireWire sockets and a suitable input connection can be added to most desktop PCs using an inexpensive plug-in card. FireWire sockets are also fitted to many mid-range and top-end laptops as standard. 



 © R. Maybury 2006, 0702


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