Monday, February 13, 2012

How should I transcode my home analog video?

Twelve years ago I was keen to digitize my home video tapes - on a 400 MHz Celeron system.

Eight years ago I wrote "The thought of losing the kids' taped videos is not comforting. I need to do this sooner rather than later.". At that time I experiment with transcoding through a Canon digital camera using iMovie and a G3 iMac. I figured my G5 would do the job in 2005, maybe with its capacious 40GB drive and a stack of DVDs.

Now I have a slightly aged 2.7GHz i5, 8GB RAM, and several TB drives -- and my analog tapes are 8 years older. Maybe I'll do it this year, even though I hate digital video [1].

I'm trying to warm to the idea. The big difference over 8 years ago isn't processing power [2], it's cost/MB and the gradual emergence of H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC) as a relatively standard format for video. The National Archives recognizes there's no real AV standard, but their list of formats they work with includes MPEG4.

If I do finally walk though this, I don't want to bother with DVDs. My current plan is:

  • Purchase two 1TB drives. Digitize everything we have to one of the drives as MPEG4 video and MPEG4 audio.
  • Clone that drive and keep one drive on site and one drive offsite, repeat every few years.[3]
  • Use my old Canon digital camera with passthrough to digitize my analog tapes, then compress on my iMac and store with a file naming convention to reflect date and time information. (I'll consider the Canopus though.)
  • Convert my collection of digital tapes (DV) to H.264 as well

I don't know what software I'll need. Can I do what I need to do with iMovie/QuickTime Pro, or should I buy Final Cut Pro X? I'm not planning to edit, but if I were I'm pretty sure the current fork of iMovie won't do the job.

Update: Apple offers a free download for FCP/X. So I will probably try it out.

See also:

[1] In Jan of 2010 I discovered a 12 yo WMV formatted video was unplayable; I was able to use Windows Movie Maker to convert the 23MB WMV file to a 311MB DV AVI file. Digital image formats are a friggin' mess, but video is at least ten times worse. No metadata standards, crazy patents, non-standard containers, audio codecs, video codecs - yech.

[2] Yeah, the machines are a hundred times faster. But compression can run overnight.

[3] By 2020 I assume we'll have 100TB main system and backup drives, so storing my old video with my routine data will be trivial. By then a single snapshot will be a GB.

Update 12/14/2012: Emily picked this project for her Valentine gift, so we're off. I found a 300GB drive and LaCie firewire enclosure I'd forgotten about. So far video capture seems to be proceeding well from a 12 yo Hi8 analog tape; there's a thin sliver of artifact at base; I think capture frame is bit taller than the image frame. Setup at the moment:

  • SONY Hi-8 TRV65 with S-video and RCA audio out to ...
  • Canon Optura 50 with firewire out via secondary port on LaCie to ...
  • iMac i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM
  • Final Cut Pro X (trial version. There's no more academic pricing for Apple products distributed through app store. I expect I'll buy full version. So far this is the big expense) saving project to ...
  • External firewire LaCie drive (300GB)

Both cameras are on external power. I needed my old manuals, had the SONY and found the Optura online. Getting passthrough working was balky, FCPX only gave me about 10 seconds to start then it turned off import due to lack of a signal. It can't operate the Optura 50 in pass-through mode, I haven't tried yet with a tape installed. Once I hit the play button fast enough I was ok.

I'll have data on file size tomorrow. FCPX imports using its default Apple ProRes format.

Operating the old SONY feels primeval. It's 15 years old, feels 50. It is weird to see the kid video. Plan is to put a library of MP4 versions (no editing really) on iTunes on a an old G5 with a largely unused drive. We can browse, play from iTunes.

Update 2/15/2012: Not so good. Nothing captured! Looks like I need to read the manual, or perhaps FCPX won't work at all. It certainly showed the video, but it didn't save the event. It also didn't stop recording when the input ended.

Update 2/15/2012b: QuickTime Pro is not an option. I was able to create a @2 hour 25GB .dv file using iMovie 11, but then iMovie 11 got stuck 'generating thumbnails'. I think that bug, however, was triggered by connecting an iPhone to my iMovie machine. Disconnecting the iPhone did not clear iMovie, I had to kill it. On restart my video appears to have been captured and iMovie seems to have stopped input about 2 minutes after the end of tape. Thumbnails are fine - all 1.5GB of them. More on the results and process in a follow-up post. I'd like to take a look at Adobe Premiere Elements.

Update 2/16/2012Gordon's Tech: iMovie 11 and analog to digital videotape conversion by passthrough.

Update 2/17/2012: I experimented with QT 10 movie capture. The trick with passthrough conversion is to first start the video stream, the click record. Otherwise QT exits. I captured 30 min of video at 9 GB; QT Inspector says the codec inside the saved .mov file is dv.

I've read that this will import into FCPX, so I may try that again. My next experiment will be to see if I can record over 10 GB (1 hour of video). There are many reports of QT recording stopping with a 'size limit' message at varying file sizes, in my case that's what displayed after I stopped the video stream.


Simon McClenahan said...

You prefer a lossy encoding over lossless? Or don't care because the quality is good enough?

Dan Swift said...

I've done this with an older iMovie HD and iMovie 8. I went from opening a new file to capturing in a few seconds. I tried using FC, but it was a little too resource intensive. The last thing I wanted was to risk a crash halfway through capturing.

Skater said...

I haven't looked at this process since before the direct to memory formats came out. At that time the mini-DV was the least lossy format available to consumers.

Like Simon, I didn't notice any discussion of the loss levels of the formats. MPEG was created to throw out some of he quality in order to create smaller amounts of data to fit on DVDs. It is an adjustable format (like JPEG) where you have some ability to adjust the quality to space ratio but I don't know how good the best quality is, quite possibly much better than almost all analog video.
You might want to look at the formats that the high end film transfer companies use.

I have the issue of sometime converting about 5000 feet of 8mm and super 8 film (my father took a lot of us as kids) to digital. It becomes harder because most places just do lower quality work off of a screen and only at SD quality. I have seen plans for setting up a telecine converter using virtual images which could be done to an HD camera.

Anonymous said...

@Gordon - I'm doing what you're doing thinking of doing: analog VHS - miniDV passthrough - Mac. I've used iMovie 06 for a while now, but my local storage is finally large enough to keep everything online so I'm switching over to iMovie 11. I wonder why you think it wouldn't be good enough for editing.

As far as DVDs, the canonical format for _me_ is the transcoded H.264 version of the DV input file from iMovie. But, so that I can get copies in my relatives' hands, I am burning DVDs of each of the tapes and sending them back along with the tape to my Dad, et al.

I'm using HandBrake to do the conversion to H.264, rather than the QuickTime built-in codecs. HB is built on top of x264 and it seems to get better reviews for speed AND quality at Doom9 et al.

@Skater - I was thinking the same thing ( setting up a manual telecine converter for 8mm and Super8 film) but not I'm leaning towards Scancafe. (I realize that this sounds like an ad for them, but it isn't: I'm just a happy customer of them, having sent my Dad's slides away and now having them back safely.)

It still seems kinda pricey, but given the hassle of doing the telecine myself it might be worth it.


John Gordon said...

Great responses. Maybe this is the 'sweet spot' for this problem. Some thoughts:

1. On Lossiness: I'm not as worried about loss of fidelity as much as format longevity and storage. I'm the kind of ruthless bastard who processes RAW images in Aperture, then exports top quality JPEG and DELETES the originals. That said, I am considering using Apple's extremely proprietary native video editing format for a first pass that would last @2 years then going to an archival format. My budget is a 1-2 TB drive and I want 100 hours of video, and the scattered video from various digital cameras on that one drive in a common format.

2. Skater - I would be using less-lossly MPEG settings. What formats do the film transfer companies use? MPEG-2 is less lossy, but I wonder if it will die well before MPEG-4.
Also, I think the Macintouch archives have some discussion of Super 8 conversion. I'd imagine a modern HD SLR and telecine is indeed the way to go.

3. Anon -- it's great to know another is heading the same route. If iMovie 11 were an improved version of iMovie 6 I'd probably go the same route, but I really dislike where Apple went with iMovie.

I'm also unimpressed, like you, with the job QT does. So I really appreciate the Handbrake vote.

The appeal of FCPX is that I suspect the quality and configuration is good, there's a 1 month free trial, I think my current machine will run it ok,I may want to do some editing, and I pretty down on Apple's current consumer offerings. Also, I can afford it. Dan Swift's comments are very relevant though!

JGF said...

I've updated my post based on initial experience with FCPX.

I'm now thinking of capture with either QuickTime Pro or iMove 8. FCPX is a weird world, and surprisingly unstable.

Seb said...

I have an older version of FCP that works quite well if you are interested. I've only used it with a mini DV source via firewire though.

JGF said...

Thanks Seb, those older versions of FCP are golden now.

I'm actually doing alright for the moment with iMovie 11 - update pending on that.

I'll definitely keep your suggestion in mind. FCPX is quite a mess. I would love to know how Apple manages to screw up consecutive software products like Lion, Aperture, iPhoto, iMovie, FCPX, etc.

Anonymous said...

See my thread on converting SD video to H.264. Its seems that doing a deinterlace using QTGMC and its degrain features is the way to go and then the final video will be progressive.

H.264 suited for SD DV home videos?


John Gordon said...

Thanks Jeff, very informative thread. I'd only begun to understand the issues around interlacing in different video formats. I suspect it may have something to do with all my audio being on one channel too.... (I've been told cameras interlace audio with video in some versions of DV streaming.)

John Gordon said...

Jeff, I processed that complex doom9 thread. Deep waters! I synthesized it and posted with link to an Apple Discussion:

I've got a future post on video formats brewing. Main conclusion - I may be reencoding these videos in 10 years if the tapes still work.