This entry will be the first of a series that describe in fine detail how I transferred video from old VHS tapes and Laserdiscs to brand-spanking new DVDRs. It includes the video capture, the MPEG encoding, some audio engineering, DVD title/chapter/menu creation and burning. Get ready…

The first step in the process is determining what hardware you’ll need. When I first decided that I wanted to do this, I already had the following hardware:

– a pretty healthy PC (I have a Dual Athlon MP 1800 with 512 MB RAM and 18 GB Ultra160 SCSI 15krpm hard drive)
– an old mono VCR with RCA outputs
– an old Laserdisc Player with RCA outputs
– a Sony TRV330 Handicam

a) First things, first: Determine how you will get the video off of the old media and onto your PC. This can be done in a variety of ways. Look at your video devices outputs (i.e. VCR) and look at your computer’s inputs and figure out what missing bits you need to connect them.

Now my PC’s video card (a VisionTek) supports S-Video In, but VisionTek has since went out of business and support/drivers for the card are lacking and I have no software for that. I decided not to pursue this route any further.

Typically to do it right, it requires the purchase of a video capture card. These are cards that plug into your computer (PCI slot) and have RCA and S-Video inputs and are specially designed to convert the analog video to a Digital Video format (unlike my video card which supports Video In only to improve its feature list over its competitors).

However, instead of a video capture card, I happened to luck out because the video camera that my brother (who worked for the Sony Store at the time) had convinced me to buy for our trip to Italy 4 years ago happens to have an A/V passthrough feature.

An A/V passthrough feature means that the camera has a special miniplug that connects to standard RCA plugs (i.e. Yellow, White, Red) via a special cable. This allows the camera to receive video/audio signal from an analog source (i.e. from a VCR) or it can transmit its own video/audio signal to an analog source (i.e. to a VCR). The camera also features a DV port (i.e. Firewire or IEEE 1394 port) to input/output Digital Video.

This means that if my computer had a Firewire port, I could connect my VCR to my camera (via the special RCA cable) and the camera to the PC (via firewire). It also means that I’ll have the ability to totally control and tweak the resultant incoming digital video to my heart’s content (some capture cards do the MPEG encoding for you and don’t give you that flexibility).

Well, since I planned on buying some hardware for my PC for Firewire anyway, this was a perfect opportunity. I decided to buy a combination Firewire/USB2.0 card. This PCI card has 3 USB 2.0 ports and 2 Firewire ports and is probably the biggest bang for your buck if your motherboard doesn’t already support USB 2.0 (which mine didn’t).

So there, Step 1a) accomplished – I have a means to connect my video devices to my computer and my computer supports Firewire and USB 2.0 for less than a hundred bucks.

b) Next, once I get the video on my computer, I will need some means of transferring my finished product to optical media. In other words, I need a DVD burner!

I did some internet research. I read some articles (like this one) and asked for some advice on some free forums and decided I would go with Plextor, which had favourable reviews and comments from many folks. I found a good model that does +R, +RW, -R, and -RW media and I went with that.

c) Converting video takes a lot of disk space. About 14 GB of hard disk per hour of video (that means a standard movie or video tape requires about 28 GB of free disk space). If you’re running low you will need to either clean up your drives or go out and purchase a bigger hard drive.

I recently had a massive failure from a crappy 120 GB Western Digital external USB 2.0 hard drive (1 month after the warranty ran out the drive heads crashed). I also noticed during my initial experiences with video capture that the drive only allowed files up to 4 GB in size (only about 20 minutes of video!) which is fine for cartoons and short video clips but useless for larger chunks of video (requiring merging of several video files before you get the finished product). So the Western Digital drive was a dismal failure for the purposes of video capture and editing.

Anyway, I stayed clear of both Western Digital and external hard drives. I decided to stick with the robust SCSI experience and bought a second Ultra160 SCSI drive (10krpm) at 72 GB bringing my total disk space to 90 GB. Warning: SCSI drives are not for the budget conscious!

There, now I had all the hardware I need. The next step is determining the software that I’ll need. I’ll cover that in my next entry in this series.

§4 · January 26, 2005 · Technology, Video · · [Print]

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