BOOT CAMP 465 (27/02/07)

Video Tape to PC to DVD part 2


The first and until very recently, biggest hurdle for anyone wanting to transfer their aging video tapes to DVD was how to connect a VCR or camcorder to a computer.  With just a few exceptions PCs have never been equipped to handle analogue video signals and to this day video input sockets are still a rarity but it is no longer a problem.


Nowadays there is a wide choice of plug-in video adaptors and expansion cards; most of them come with basic recording and editing software and prices start at less than £30. It’s also possible to use some digital camcorders to do the job (see Tip of the Week) however, before you dig out those old tapes it is important to make sure that your PC is up to the job.


Last week I touched briefly on the basic requirements for video editing and DVD authoring but there’s more to it than simply owning a multimedia PC with a DVD writer and plenty of free hard disc space. Video editing is a demanding application and I wouldn’t try it on a PC with a processor slower than 1GHz or less than 512Mb of RAM, and even that’s pushing it. A good starting point is a 2GHz or faster CPU, at least 1Gb of RAM, decent graphics capabilities and USB 2 ports, otherwise you are going to spend ages waiting for things to happen and run a high risk of jumpy or jittery recordings.


You should also take the claims made by manufacturers of computer video editing hardware and software with a big pinch of salt. Whilst it may be true that some programs and devices will run on older and slower computers the results are often disappointing. One final point, video editing is possible under earlier versions of Windows, and I have several wonky but watchable discs to prove it, but it’s really not worth effort so if you are waiting for an excuse to upgrade to a fast Windows XP or Vista PC, now is the time.


Back now to adding an analogue video input facility to your PC (see Tip of the Week in part 1 for information about digital ‘FireWire’ connections). The two methods we’ll be looking at are external ‘Capture’ devices and graphics cards with video inputs. The latter makes sense if you want a dedicated video editing and authoring setup or you are planning to upgrade your PC’s graphics capabilities, in which case you should definitely add this facility to your shopping list. Fitting a new video card to a desktop PC is not difficult but unless you know what you are doing it is better to leave it to the experts.


The alternative is an external capture device. Most recent models are USB 2 compatible but they usually still work on slower USB 1 ports but performance may suffer. Beware of older analogue video capture devices with a Serial type connector, as they are totally unsuitable for this sort of application.


External capture device are (or should be) easy to set up and use and they are convenient for occasional use. They are also a good deal cheaper than a fancy video card, but there are tradeoffs. They work best with faster PCs and the picture quality on some budget capture devices can be poor. The bundled software that comes with cheaper devices often has limited functionality or they are ‘trial’ or demo versions of commercial programs. Freebie programs can be a useful introduction to video editing and authoring but you will quickly discover their shortcomings so budget for some decent software and just use the capture device for getting video and audio into your PC.


Next week we’ll take a look at the software options but to finish off this week a quick word about connecting cables. Virtually all capture devices and cards have RCA/Phono type sockets for both audio and ‘composite’ video input connection and by convention these are coloured yellow, for video, and red and white, or red and black for stereo audio, and it’s usual for the red colour lead to used for the right stereo channel (red for right…). This won’t be a problem for most camcorder owners as they normally come with a set of phono-to-phono AV cables, but you might run into difficulties when trying to connect a VCR. These are fitted with SCART sockets, so you will need to obtain a SCART-to-phono cable, but be careful, you need one that is wired for AV output.  Most capture devices and cards also have an S-Video or ‘Y/C’ socket. This is the video connection system used by ‘High Band’ Super VHS/C and Hi8 equipment, to ensure the best possible picture quality, in which case you should use an S-Video cable (usually supplied with camcorders and VCRs) for the video connection.


Next Week – Video Tape to PC to DVD part 3


Part 1 3 4 5 6





Standard video signal connection system used by most analogue video devices whereby colour and brightness information is carried along a single wire



SCART (aka Euroconnector or Peritel)

Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radio Recepteurs et Televiseurs. Plug and socket system used to carry video, audio and control signals between items of AV equipment (TV, VCR, satellite receiver etc.)


S-VIDEO (aka Y/C)

‘Separated’ video, higher quality video connection system where the luminance (Y) and chrominance (C) components are carried on separate wires to avoid interacting with one another




Some mid-range and high-end Digital Video (DV) camcorders have analogue video inputs and these can be used to convert VCR and camcorder tapes into a digital format, either by direct recording onto DV tape, or by using the camcorder as a real-time analogue to digital converter. Not all models support this facility but the idea is you connect your camcorder or VCR AV output to the DV camera’s analogue AV input, and connect the camcorder to the PC using a FireWire cable (or USB connection, if available). 


© R. Maybury 2006, 2102

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