Monday, December 13, 2004

Good advice on digitizing video (Tidbits)

Bring Your Video into the 21st Century -- You know those old videotapes from your VCR and analog camcorder have a limited lifespan, and your best hope for preservation is to digitize the analog recordings. Travis Butler pointed toward a product that will do just that. "If your budget supports it and you have someone with inclinations towards video hobbyism, you might consider the Canopus ADVC 100.

"The ADVC 100 is a converter box that lets you hook a standard video source - composite or S-Video, two-channel audio - to a Mac's FireWire port, and record it with a video capture program like iMovie.

"This is frankly something I wouldn't have bought for myself; at $300 list, it's something I don't use enough to justify the cost. But we picked one up at work this spring to convert our VHS-based training materials to DVD for convenience and durability. The boss gave me permission to take it home and use whenever I want, and I've found a surprising number of old videotapes that I wanted to convert to DVD.

"It's a bit hard for me to judge the ultimate quality of the video circuitry, since I've never used it with a maximum-quality video source; a couple of old laserdiscs are probably the best-quality items I've had, but my laserdisc player doesn't have an S-Video output - only composite. That said, I've never seen anything come out of the ADVC 100 at a lower quality than went into it, and even the laserdiscs over composite look pretty darned good transferred to DVD.

"As a side note, the combination of iMovie, iDVD, and a video capture box like the ADVC 100 makes it easy and relatively quick to put your old videos on DVD; frankly it felt easier than the times in the past I've transferred old records and tapes to CD. And iDVD is capable of doing fairly professional-looking work; I'd like to think the job I did on the original Mind's Eye laserdisc is better than the professional DVD releases of the second and third collections, though that's not too hard.

"For those not familiar with them, the Mind's Eye series was one of the original collections of early computer animation; the second collection (with music composed by Jan Hammer of Miami Vice fame) and later were released on DVD, but the original one never has been so far as I can tell. I'm still not sure why; the best guess I can make is that the animation is relatively primitive by today's standards. I still think it's worth having it available on DVD; even if there weren't historical reasons, some of them were rather cool as works of art."

Denis Jarvis concurred with Travis's gift suggestion of an analog/digital video converter. "However," he said, "I bought a Datavideo DAC-100 for $176, including shipping. This is substantially less than his $300 Canopus ADVC 100, yet it seems well constructed, has similar specifications, includes a full set of cables and has performed well for me.

"During the past month, using DAC-100 with iMovie and iDVD on a 20-inch iMac G5, I have converted my camcorder VHS tapes to several DVDs. I added titles and edited out the boring parts, something I would never have attempted with tape-to-tape editing. With this application alone, I have justified purchase of my new iMac!"

Editing out the boring parts isn't the only reason to make the conversion from tape to digital, as Jeff Carlson learned last year when he watched his 10-year-old wedding video. VHS tape deteriorates over time, so those memories you think are stored safely on the shelf are likely losing their quality. (For an example, see the following Web page.) Although DVD isn't an archival-grade medium (the surface materials wear out over time), you can more easily move the digital data to new media later on without further loss of quality.

The thought of losing the kids' taped videos is not comforting. I need to do this sooner rather than later.

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