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How to Convert VHS to DVD

lot of us have some precious memories stored on VHS tapes and you might be starting to feel worried that those old tapes are going to fade or that if your VCR breaks you’ll never be able to see them again. Converting VHS (or VHS-C, SVHS, Hi8, even Beta) to DVD is a great idea and you might already have the equipment it takes to do so.

There are several ways to do this but they all rely on the same principles: you need to convert the analog signal of VHS into a digital signal that can be used for a DVD. We’ll explore each one in more detail.

First, you can convert the signal from your VCR to what is called DV using either a converter or, more commonly, a digital video camcorder. In some cases, you can connect your VCR to your camcorder, then connect your camcorder to your computer and ‘import’ the video signal directly. Not all cameras support this ability so you may have to first re-record the video onto a DV tape, and then play that tape back into the computer. You will most likely use what is called a Firewire (or IEEE 1394) connection to transfer the digital signal into your computer. Once the DV signal has been imported, you have the advantage of being able to edit it using software like MovieMaker (on Windows), iMovie (on the Mac) or Kino (on Linux). You can delete scenes, add transitions and titles or even add music. The downside is that each hour of video takes almost 14GB of hard disk space and the process of ‘encoding’ the video so that it is suitable for DVD can take several hours to process. The end result is usually the best however, and in my particular case I use the Canon Elura 50 camera with iMovie and the results are stunning.

The second method is to use a device that will capture and convert analog video signals directly into MPEG-2 (the native format of DVD). You will most likely be limited to simple ‘cut’ editing if you want to clean up the signal at all, and you will need to purchase this additional device. The good news is that the cost has come down and the quality has gone up. One example device is available from ADS and you can read a review here: http://www.geek.com/news/geeknews/2004Aug/con20040811026155.htm. It is possible that the video card in your computer already has this capability (often referred to as a ‘Capture Card’) so it’s best to check out what you already have. Since the video is captured directly to MPEG-2, you can skip the process of ‘encoding’ the video which will save time but at the cost of limited editing.

The first two methods I have mentioned will also require an additional step. Once you have captured the video (and possibly edited it) you then need to use some software to create and burn a DVD. On the Mac, iDVD is the clear choice. On the PC, there are many good packages from Adobe, Pinnacle, ULead and others and you may already have received some software with your DVD Burner. With Linux, you will want to check out ‘DVDAuthor’. All of these packages will allow you to add menus and other special features if you desire to do so.

The third method is to connect your VCR or VHS Camcorder to a DVD Recorder. This device works much like a VCR—you simply plug a signal into it (in this case, your VHS VCR or Camera) and press the RECORD button. The advantage is simplicity. The disadvantages are no menus, no editing, and these devices are often a little pricey. Panasonic and Pioneer both make excellent quality ones if you are interested in learning more visit http://www.reviewcentre.com/products380.html.

Keep in mind that converting copyrighted tapes using these methods will most likely not work (without additional hardware) but works fine for anything you have recorded yourself.

Once you have taken to leap to converting your old analog tapes into the digital world, you are gaining more than you might expect. DVD’s do not degrade the more you play them, and the life expectancy is approximately 100 years. Although it’s doubtful we’ll have DVD players 100 years from now, that digital signal can be carried forward electronically without ever losing quality again. Immortality is now within your reach.

Article Copyright ©2005 by Syd Bolton. Original publication date: 6/4/2005.
Reproduction requires permission, please e-mail for more information.

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