I have several 20 year old vhs tapes of home movies and I want to transfer them to dvd soon before they ware out. I was thinking of just buying a VHS/DVD recorder combo deck and doing it that way. Is that a good idea and would the transferred video look close to the quality of the original vhs tape? I am trying to keep cost down and the combo deck will cost $150 to $200. I was thinking about getting a capture card but I am not sure my computer is fast enough to encode video with the capture cards that are out now. How much does a good capture card cost and would I need a new video card as well considering that I only have integrated graphics? So basically, I want to keep the cost low and still have good picture quality. What are your thoughts?
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The best (quality) methods will cost you US$1000 in equipment (all used because they don't make it anymore) and many hours of learning and processing. A few hundred dollars invested in a good DVD recorder won't give as good quality but is much simpler. Buying a cheap capture card ($5 to $200) and using some old VHS deck you have sitting around will give you the lowest quality.
VCR/DVD recorder combo decks are also notorious for refusing to copy some homemade video tapes because they freak out over the least little issue and just assume that you are trying to copy a commercial tape, so they refuse to let you do it. This can also happen with standalone DVD recorders, but it's less of an issue and there is a way to fix it by buying a TBC (time base corrector) and putting it between the VCR and DVD recorder. There is no fix if a combo player refuses to record your tape.
This is a subject of disagreement, but in my opinion the better capture cards come with encoding chips so that they don't rely on the CPU to do the encoding, making your concerns moot about your PC.
You could just pay a video shop to do it. It might be cheaper and save you a lot of time and effort. Our own lordsmurf offers these services, should you not have a shop in your town.
Old tapes + low cost + no effort + quality don't sum up well in video restoral and transfer. The comparable formula has also been stated as garbage in = garbage out. While it's not possible for most people to build a pro-level home studio -- you'd need $$$$$$ in at least 6-digits for that, not to mention the training and expertise to use it -- the usual method for transferring old retail and home vhs tapes are usually rated along these lines:
Worst: record tape directly to DVD using a DVD/VHS combo.
Somewhat better, depending on the tape: play tape with a quality VCR to a midline or upscale DVD recorder from the 2000-2006 era.
Visibly better: play tape with a decent VCR to DVD using a good-quality (not very cheap) PC capture card with good image and noise filters, and with line tbc somewhere in the circuit.
Best (within reasonable means but still not really cheap): With a good line tbc device somewhere in the setup, play tape with a good VCR to a decent PC capture card, recorded to lossless-compression AVI, then after-capture processing and cleanup with Avisynth and/or VirtualDub (these two items are free), encode with a quality MPEG encoder (some are free, some not, but good ones are not that expensive), then author and burn to DVD disc.
The older the tape and the worse the quality of the original recording and equipment, the more time and effort will be needed. Can't tell you how many times I've seen home tapes transferred in the manner you describe. It's painful to watch. But, then, some people think they look terrific as long as people in the videos are recognizable (more or less). It depends on what you like, and on how much you value the memories.
I'm with lordsmurf and the general consensus: tape + DVD/VHS combo will look worse than the original.Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. -- Henry David Thoreau
Members here can advise on current or not-so-current capture cards. I have two copies each of ATI 7500 and 9600XT All-In-Wonders, and two home-made XP machines with AGP-slotted motherboards. Those setups are strictly for capturing analog sources. So I've no reason for tracking newer cards except for new PC's I've built for HD. For HD capture I use a new Hauppauge HD PVR -- which, btw, can capture SD analog sources at SD resolutions with very usable results. With low compression ratios and very high bitrates, captures could tolerate some post-processing better than MPEG could. As for software for processing/authoring, etc., within limits there is plenty available that works with Win7. The most limiting factor is VHS playback.
If you are just now starting to gather the resources for VHS->digital transfer, it likely will seem discouraging to say this but...you're seriously hampered by a time lag. Decent consumer VCR's haven't been made since the late 1990's. New upscale pro and semi-pro models started disappearing at about the same time. Occasionally you spot a few upscale Panasonics and JVC's (and even the nice high-end AIWA's) on auction sites, but the high-end stuff has been thoroughly burned up by pro's. Pro shops that still have working units also maintain them in-shop, often forced to steal parts from used defective units scavenged via great effort. If your family tapes were recorded at slow 6-hour or 4-hour tape speeds, that eliminates JVC as a possibility.
Used players do show up now and then, but you have to know what to look for. Search the forum for posts by member orsetto, who for the last couple of years has posted excellent articles and replies about many VCR's that he has personally used and maintained over the years.
VHS requires a line-level tbc of some kind. Some pro players have tbc built-in (which can sometimes be a disadvantage, paradoxically). Others use DVD recorders as tbc pass-thru devices (the recorder is used to "play through" to a capture setup rather than direct recording), but not all DVD recorders can be used for tbc pass-thru. Some camcorders also support pass-thru via Firewire. You'll find forum posts on those subjects as well.Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. -- Henry David Thoreau