Hi, newbie here, shopping around for a good capture card. I've been reading through these forums and lord smurf's digitalfaq for several days trying to get my bearings, but most of the conversations I've found about the best capture cards [that fit my needs] are pretty dated.
First, here are my requirements:
- I'm looking for a capture card that is capable of lossless AVI capture, to keep my archival options open. Unfortunately, I think DV-only cards are out, and MPEG-only cards are out too. That means the Canopus solutions probably aren't for me, and the same MIGHT go for the Hauppauge cards...but I'm not positive. Can anyone here confirm that Hauppauge cards are MPEG only, or are certain models capable of lossless AVI capture? If so, what models?
- I'm ultimately wanting to transfer VHS to archive files and DVD, and I'm looking for a native 704x480 capture resolution or higher. I strongly prefer exactly 704x480 or 720x480 native capture resolution over uneven multiples of DVD resolutions. (If the card has a near-perfect capture window, I'd probably prefer exactly 704x480 above all, since VHS res is apparently 352x480i: With such an even multiple, the card might just get lucky and consistently sample right on the minimas/maximas of the analog waveform. ) 640x480 doesn't cut it, since the upscale or downscale to DVD res would be sub-optimal, and it's below the Nyquist limit (as if we had a perfect sinc filter and/or perfect signal anyway ). Avoiding this scaling operation is especially important considering the second upscale the DVD player or TV will have to perform for viewing on an HDTV.
I've heard a lot of talk about the Blackmagic Design Intensity pro with the breakout cable, the ATI TV Wonder 600/650, etc., along with some even cheaper USB solutions. One thing that worries me about these solutions is that none of them seem to take native S-Video input; to the best of my knowledge, they all require input adaptors (such as the breakout cable for the BlackMagic card)! However, wouldn't these adaptors adversely affect the quality of the video signal? I would love for someone to tell me otherwise, so please correct me if I'm wrong here.
Assuming adaptors do harm the signal, where does that leave me? Am I stuck shopping for second-hand ATI cards, or are there other AVI-capable options with suitable native capture resolutions? I know lord smurf is very partial to old AGP ATI All-in-Wonder cards like the 9800 series, but I'm not sure how many people would still consider them the best option in 2010. A lot of threads singing the praises of the All-in-Wonder cards are many years old. Are the old cards actually superior to newer ATI solutions like the All-in-Wonder HD 3650, TV Wonder 600, TV Wonder 650, and TV Wonder 750? If so, how so? Would it have to do with the adaptor question I mentioned above, or are there other reasons? (If there is a difference in quality between new and old, where does the All-in-Wonder X1900 fall, etc.?)
Basically, I'm looking for the best lossless AVI-capable capture card I can get for a reasonable price. I'm skeptical of cheap USB solutions that rely on adaptors for input, and I'm similarly skeptical of the otherwise nice-sounding Blackmagic card for the adaptor reason as well...but I don't want to dig out my old AGP rig and rummage ebay for 2003-era All-in-Wonders unless I really have to. Help?
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Last edited by Mini-Me; 5th Jul 2010 at 13:52.
The ATI Theater 750 devices need a breakout cable. The video-in port isn't a standard S-Video connector.
The ATI Theater 600 PCI card and the ATI Theater 650 cards all have a standard S-Video port, no adapter needed. The versions with a PCI or PCI-E interface need an adapter for composite video. They also use a microphone/headphone jack for audio in, and an RCA to male headphone adapter may need to be purchased for audio input. There is also a breakout cable available from Diamond for the Theater 650 with S-Video, composite video and RCA audio. The USB version of the ATI Theater 650 doesn't require an adapter for composite, RCA audio, or S-Video. The required ports are present.
Thanks for differentiating some of the TV Wonder products for me and clearing up some of my incorrect assumptions. Do you know if breakout cables actually damages the video (or audio) signal quality compared to using devices that have native S-Video, RCA audio, etc. ports? That's one of my biggest concerns, and it may determine whether I remove the Blackmagic and TV Wonder 750 from consideration or not.
Last edited by Mini-Me; 5th Jul 2010 at 13:29.
About quality for the newer and the old ATI cards:
The new generation from ATI perform much better with composite signal because these cards got a 3D comb filter.
With S-video signals the gap is smaller but even here will be some quality gain in favor the newer cards.
Also, check out hauppauge's hvr-2250 card, it is pci-e. I use it exclusively in my analog captures and intermediate codec, huffy. There is also the lagarith codec, it compresses smaller than huffy but requires more cpu strength. Both are lossless, though huffy would more than likely play smoother in most editors (virtualdub for instance) and players, not that you should use these codecs for playback purposes, but the option is there should you need to. I find myself playing huffy avi's inside virtualdub more than usual.
The ATI 550/650/750 and Hauppauge HVR-2250 are all capable of lossless captures.
USB-2 devices (ie ATI 750, and even the Pinnacle PCTV Pro [i tested]) is more than enough (with core 2 processors) for use in lossless captures. As long as you use the Huffy or Lagarith codec, there should be no problems capturing, though your main concirn (and hurdle) will be in the driver setup. Nip that and you are set.
REgarding the PCTV Pro, it is a usb-2 HD tuner card w/ support to analog captures if the dong is included in that kit. Mine was. Also, for reference and guage purposes, to get an idea of what to expect, i left a link to a couple of captures from this gizmo, which did quite well, from a VHS source, a JVC S-VHS HR-S3910U from Sept/2001, sample clips are in mp4 format. Link is here.
Oh, one more card I forgot to mention, Winfast TV-2000 XP, this card is also a good card for analog captures, and does lossless captures too. As danno78 mentioned, (for composite type captures) a card with a good comb filter makes a big difference. All these cards mentioned do well in this dept, though it will boil down to charts and figures if you want to be criticle about absoute quality.
Good luck in your endeavor!
Thanks, guys. Knowing about the non-damaging breakout cables, lossless-capable USB sticks, and AVI-capable Hauppauge helps a lot.
Regarding the ATI cards/sticks:
- Does anyone know what their native capture resolution is? digitalfaq mentions that the old All-in-Wonders used 704x480, but I'm not sure if this is still the case for the newer chips.
- usually_quiet, have you had good luck with yours? I ask because it seems that there seem to be a large proportion of unfavorable reviews floating around the net (e.g., "it broke after a month!").
- Would the vanilla PCI bus (not PCI-E) have the bandwidth for lossless AVI transfers, or would it be safer to stick with only USB and PCI-E (the latter of which might not be an option for me)?
Last edited by Mini-Me; 5th Jul 2010 at 17:38.
Wouldn't it boil down to software, rather?
My EasyCap USB device can be encoded in RGB24 (raw), YUY2, YUV with PCM audio with the provided software. Of course, these formats are barely compressed, if at all, and take 60GB to 120GB per hour, which is too much.
You need a lossless codec that has also good compression, which then acts like a ZIP file, to boil it down to 30GB/hour max. There's huffyuv and MJPEG i hear. Some software like AMCAP (recent versions) support hot compression in MJPEG but are too buggy with EasyCap. So besides raw format, i haven't found software out there that would compress lossless EasyCap. But it's a software problem.
Also, EasyCap doesn't support all video modes. For example, in the x480 range, it only does 720x480. My model is DC60.
At worse, you can record in raw and use ffmpeg to convert to any desired format, huffyuv or otherwise.
Last edited by Jarsjars; 5th Jul 2010 at 17:42.
The PCTV Pro and Winfast TV2000 parts seem to be referenced a little less around here. Is there any strong reason why I should prefer them over the similar ATI solutions (reliability, better drivers, fewer sync problems, etc.)?
the ATI 650 or 750 these should be all you need. Don't worry about the older PCI slots. If I can capture in this slot using an old AMD 1700 and 1800 XP (ECS motherboard) with no problem, at 720x480, then you should not have any trouble. The only think I can think of that would prove heartship to you is getting the driver installed and setup properly for your motherboard and capture driver.
Then, comes the capture utility, the software that you will use to capture your lossless (huffy) avi's.
Did you mentione HDD space? What setup are you using? If you are using lossless huff or lagarith, then an external USB-2 will do perfect. Get 500g or 1TB drve and you're done. I use 1TB usb2 drives. Just don't get any Toshiba's because they shut down too soon (3 minues) and take some 30 seconds or more to spin back up. Believe me, they are very troublesome in this respect. My favorite drives are the seagates 1TB, they usuall go for $99 on sale at bestbuy and staples. This time, I am sticking to the same make and brand, I have three 1TB drives, all the same make/model. These spin down after 15 minutes but when you wake them up (hdd activaty, etc) they do so quickly, within 6 sec and best part, they don't interfere with your os: none of your apps get locked (like the Toshiba does) everything is pretty much fluid running. The tree I'm currently using are Seagates FreeAgent Disk. The drives are white and come with their power supply.
Course, there's the vcr equipment, condition, age, etc., and the tape(s) condition, age, etc., also, what program types do these tapes consist of: interlace home video, recorded shows/movies to tape (EP vs LP vs SP) and what connection did you use if any, composite or svideo when recording to tape, and possibly, how many vcrs did you use over the unmentioned time period, and so on, and possibly multi-gernation of recordings, and so on, and not to forget, commercial bought movies on tape. None of which you mentioned, yet, only that your current concirns are which capture card to get.
So, go with the most talked about card, the ATI 650/750, and do some capture tests.
Mind you, i'm just scratching the surface here. There are lots more things to go into, but i've been through all this for years and now bored with it. I just capture tons of stuff off my satellite every day. I leave the details of all these questions to the other peoples--they do a better job at explaining then I could ever do.
I'm not doing uncompressed captures. I'm just using my card for TV, mostly using the ATSC tuner. I have done twenty or so test captures using the S-Video port along with the hardware encoder to record the output of my cable box and my ATSC-to-analog converter box. The hardware encoder works fine for that.
[Edit] Using the software that came with the card, it's possible to choose from any of the standard dimensions used for SD video.
Last edited by usually_quiet; 5th Jul 2010 at 22:29.
VirtualDub seems pretty popular around here. That's probably what I'll try first.
The sad thing is, I have about 150-180 or so hours of home movies to capture, and that would probably take 6-9 terabytes of Huffyuv video. Actually making backups would double that requirement to a gargantuan 12-18 terabytes! Until hard drive capacities advance by another order of magnitude or so, it's not practical for me to permanently archive everything in Huffyuv. Instead, I mainly want to capture to Huffyuv as an intermediate format before doing some editing/cleanup and making the best possible mpeg2 encoding for 90-120 minute DVD's. Five to ten years from now, when it's more practical, I plan to do a permanent Huffyuv archiving run...but I still want to do the best I can this time around [within reason], just in case the tapes deteriorate too much by then.
On the VCR side of things, I think I'd really like to get a Panasonic AG-1980, if I can miraculously find a working one for bargain-basement prices (e.g. ~$150). I was originally thinking about a JVC HR-S9800U or a similar model like the HR-S7900U or SR-V10U, but I'm not so sure anymore. After looking at some of the old image quality comparison threads, it seems that the JVC's tend to soften out too many real details from the source. It's a shame, because the JVC's have the most faithful color reproduction in the Ice Age shots I saw, whereas the AG-1980's look a bit too bright, oversharpened, and with a hue that's a bit too green. Still, I think the AG-1980's brightness and hue would be easier to compensate for in software than the JVC's blurriness. I'm still kicking my options back and forth, though...
Last edited by Mini-Me; 5th Jul 2010 at 23:01.
Nothing has really changed in 5 years now. The best hardware was made 5 years ago. Even the ATI 600/650 cards are now 3-4 years old, and those were one of the few acceptable devices made post-2005. The Blackmagic cards are good, came out of nowhere. Even Canopus hasn't made anything new in years (before 2005), and Matrox is mostly unchanged.
Age doesn't really matter.
The AG-1980P is not a sharper VCR. By default, it's artificially sharpening the picture. To get true signal, you have to reverse the slider about -2. Indeed, it does have more image noise, and it's far more powerful to power hum loop noise (audio). The JVC should be the first VCR, unless you have a large number of EP mode tapes from a wide range of recording VCRs/cameras. Also, $150 is not enough to get a lightly-used unit -- you'll get one with wear, in all odds. (One of those abused college/cableco units.)
lordsmurf, speaking of the Blackmagic cards, do you know whether their breakout cable damages the signal through any kind of conversion, or does it keep all of the leads intact like the ATI cables do (e.g. for the 750)? I think I'll probably go ATI 650 or so anyway, but the much more expensive Blackmagic card has appeal beyond my VHS capture project, since it can capture pretty much any kind of SD or HD input. Of course, at ~$250 with the breakout cable, I can't really afford it right now anyway, given I need to buy a VCR too.
I do agree that the AG-1980P artificially sharpens, and I could see some slight artifacts from that in the test patterns in this thread. Still, the images in that thread and especially the right side of the fifteen-line test images in this thread show that the JVC models seem to be significantly softening the image, to the point where comfortably large white gaps between black lines on the Toshiba and Panasonic turn into gray blurs between thick black lines on the JVC models (except for the HR-S7600U set to "Sharp," which preserves detail pretty well).
Subjectively speaking, I notice the JVC blurriness much more than I notice artifacts from the Panasonic's artificial sharpening, and I prefer the latter given what I've seen so far. (This is a bit unusual for me, because I'm the type to totally turn off my HDTV's digital sharpness setting due to artificial oversharpening and ringing.) I do prefer the JVC's faithfulness to source colors though (like in the Ice Age shots in the first thread), but I figure the hue and brightness is more easily fixed in software than smudginess. This is all from looking at forum comparisons of course, not personal experience, but I sadly can't spare enough money to try them both myself.
Speaking of money, I understand that $150 for a lightly used AG-1980 is pretty much asking for Santa Claus to come down and cook breakfast for me...but a cheapskate can dream. Seriously though, I saw a used HR-S9800U go for around that amount ($165 I think?) on ebay just a few days ago, sold by someone with excellent feedback and [reportedly] tested in complete working condition. There weren't any "as is," or "some functions not tested" red flags in the auction, either. I thought about bidding, but I wanted to see what that one sold for first. That might be a rare occurrence, or the long-time seller might earn a sudden string of negative feedback and quit ebay in a hurry (it's happened before)...but I'd like to think getting a decent unit for $150-200 is doable if I'm patient enough.
I could go up to $250 or so in a pinch, but I just can't afford to go all out and spend $400 or something...much like I have to forgo the customary TBC and proc amp. Leaving out the TBC shouldn't be a big deal, since most of these tapes seem to be pretty decent in that department anyway (so a TBC might even do more harm than good). Still, a proc amp might actually be useful for toning down some of the brights in the tapes. As it stands, I'm afraid the capture card might have to clip the signal, after which point it'll be impossible for software to fix. Hopefully that doesn't happen.
Last edited by Mini-Me; 6th Jul 2010 at 10:46.
$200 is a base line VCR budget, I'd say.
The $200-$500 range, with most falling in the $250-300 range.
I doubt the Blackmagic cards do any damage -- those are pro cards.
Thanks. $200 baseline sounds reasonable enough, so that's what I'll try for then. The AG-1980 auctions seem littered with broken units though, so I have to be careful. There are far fewer JVC auctions, but they also seem to show a much smaller proportion of obviously shady units. Do you know if the Panasonics are inherently more fragile and likely to break down, or just more popular among abusive owners, or what?
If composite video capture is a priority, the USB2 model Diamond 650 has the composite port (without adapter) needed to access the 3D comb filter. It seems to work well.
Uncompressed capture over USB2 is possible but you need to use the "hands off" capture technique (with no other USB devices* or OS background tasks) to keep the USB2 port dedicated to continous capture.
PS: I got my Diamond (ATI) USB2 650 at Fry's for only $39.99.
I can capture HuffYUV lossless on an ATI 600 USB2 with other devices connected. I do this when on the road.
Not using the computer, of course. (Never use computer while capturing, period.)
huffyuv codec. It "works" but I'm not sure about frame loss. Needs further testing.
Compressed MPeg capture works fine. ATSC/QAM tuner TS stream captures are rock solid.
My next laptop will have two internal 7200 RPM drives and/or an eSATA port for external disk drives.
Last edited by edDV; 6th Jul 2010 at 14:19.
Some Fry's brick-and-mortar stores have the USB2 version of the TV Wonder 650 available. Fry's online store has been sold out of the USB2 version for weeks. The next best price I found for the USB2 version on line is $49.99 at Tigerdirect.
Yeah, there's no external USB2 HDD on the laptop I use -- but there is a eSATA drive via an ExpressCard slot, plus two DVD burners, a USB2 photo card reader, USB mouse, gigabit PCMCIA card, and laptop cooler (USB powered). It's a portable setup more than something I could ever possibly put in my laptop.
I can see a USB2 HDD causing problems. I dropped a 300GB second drive into this system, for capturing. "Only" 5400rpm PATA, but does the job fine.
ATI 650 @ Amazon for $49 (free ship): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0037A3MVE?ie=UTF8&tag=thdifa-20&linkCode=as2&camp=17...SIN=B0037A3MVE
ATI 600 @ Amazon for $75 (seem to be selling out now): http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2F...reative=390957
I prefer the size of the 600 card. The 650 is a big clunky box, while the 600 fits in my pocket or laptop sleeve. The MPEG encoding is hybrid hardware + software on the 600, using ATI Catalyst MC. AVI is the same on both. I can't say there's any quality difference between 600 and 650.
I really only suggest these cards for external needs (laptops).
and making the best possible mpeg2 encoding for 90-120 minute DVD's.
Your fear of external HDDs is unjustified. It's the only sensible way you're going to back this stuff up for a decade. Use some mildly lossy solution to get the footage onto 1HDD, keep one separate backup, and buy a new drive every 3-5 years to copy it on to. Not bulletproof or foolproof, but it gives a better-than-average chance of all the footage surviving.
IMO you'd be unwise to trust your data to DVD-Rs for a decade.
Five to ten years from now, when it's more practical, I plan to do a permanent Huffyuv archiving run...
but I still want to do the best I can this time around [within reason], just in case the tapes deteriorate too much by then.
P.S. A good use of your time, when you're captured the lot, is finding the best hour or so of your footage and burning that onto DVD. People might actually watch that. Upload good short clips to YouTube/Facebook/etc too if that's your thing. I bet most of those 150-180 hours are never going to be watched again.
I was going to mention that the VHS deck was the single most important component for VHS caps, and that you want an S-VHS deck with a line time base corrector, but it looks like you already know this. And about the use of an analog proc amp and full frame TBC when necessary.
An analog video waveform is not restricted to rising and falling at any particular point. Its minimas and maximas don't necessarily correspond to anything (although they might with a digital source like DVD). With VHS the bandwidth is so low it doesn't matter (unless you're capturing at 352 pixels wide where you're near the bandwidth of the source).
One problem with the ATI 650 USB2 (and probably other 650/750 devices) is that you can't disable the device's automatic gain control. That's probably not a big issue with home video though. Otherwise, its 3d comb filter works well at reducing chroma/luma crosstalk with composite signals, and it is definitely sharper than some other capture devices (not important with VHS). I got mine at the local Fry's a few months ago for $30. It's usually $40 there.
I understand that there is a space/quality tradeoff, but splitting a two-hour VHS into a pair of one-hour DVD's just isn't in the cards for this project, except in the case of convenient scene changes on especially precious tapes. In the absence of a side-by-side comparison, even "worst case scenario" quality from the crappy hardware encoder in a DVD/VHS combo box would probably look good to everyone interested in the tapes except for myself...so splitting tapes up into shorter DVD's would be very hard for me to justify to anyone but myself.
The primary product here will not be transparent archive files but multiple copies of DVD's [up to two hours in length] meant for distribution to family members. When storage becomes more reasonable, I plan to make proper Huffyuv archives. However, just in case I never get that chance, a secondary goal of this project is to make much smaller "fallback" archives for on-disk storage. That's why I still want to get the best quality I can within the time/money/space constraints I have set for the project. For instance, that means avoiding unnecessary quality loss from lackluster hardware mpeg encoders working in real-time, and it means avoiding unnecessary transcoding, e.g. DV to mpeg conversion.
I may change my mind if I do in fact see noticeable compression artifacts...but for now, my goal is to convert each VHS tape into single-layer DVD's. I will probably use higher bitrates for my fallback archives on disk, but the DVD's are a different animal, since I have to factor convenience into quality decisions.
Really, my plan is actually pretty similar to your suggestion, except my "external" HDD's will be sans enclosures.
Only three camcorders were used to record the entire collection, so all of the tapes around a certain era will be very similar in format and quality. After the first few, I should have a pretty good grasp on what editing and encoding parameters to use for the rest.
Last edited by Mini-Me; 7th Jul 2010 at 16:17.
This post has a sample of the ATI 650's 3D comb filter compared to another device with a 2D filter:
Keep in mind that was from a hi res device, not VHS.
From this comment...
For instance, that means avoiding unnecessary quality loss from lackluster hardware mpeg encoders working in real-time, and it means avoiding unnecessary transcoding, e.g. DV to mpeg conversion.
1) VHS > lossless > MPEG-2
2) VHS > lossless > DV > MPEG-2
...though obviously avoid it if you can.
I'm not sure whether external failure rates have to do with USB/Firewire interfaces (although newer ones use eSATA), overheating and/or power issues from poor enclosures, or simple mishandling, but my own anecdotal experiences point to at least one of the two former possibilities.
Well, most of the time needed is "hands off" time, right? I mean, I need to be around, but I only need to give the project a few minutes of actual attention every couple of hours. While the computer is capturing, applying editing filters, or encoding on a desktop computer, I can be working nearby on a laptop. With ~90 tapes, even if I did just one a day, I could be done in three months. Doing three a day will knock it down to a month.
btw, you should be OK with a VCR with built-in TBC. You only need a proc-amp if the levels are so wrong that, whatever capture settings you use, the levels clip (unrecoverable), or fail to cover half the available range (less-than-optimum). Otherwise, you can just set the levels correctly during capture, and/or fix them in software.
Warning: decent software denoising can be slower than real time, and needs attention to preserve details while effectively removing noise. Depends how far you want to go though. IME well-shot well-lit well-cared-for well-replayed (with TBC!) VHS isn't actually that noisy. Badly shot, poorly lit, worn out, badly replayed VHS is a nightmare.
I was mainly thinking of adjusting color levels and denoising when I referred to editing...not that they have a lot of visible noise, but it's still probably preferable for solid encodes. Does that kind of editing technically fall under a different term?
NTSC DV encodes colors with 1/4 the horizontal resolution. A 720x480 frame has a 720x480 luma channel but only 180x480 chroma channels. 180 pixels is sufficient for VHS chroma which is only around 40 lines of analog resolution across the entire width of the frame. But some DV decoders simply duplicate the chroma samples when upscaling to 360 YUV 4:2:2 or 720 RGB 4:4:4 pixels. This can lead to obvious posterization of colors (banding). Other DV decoders will interpolate the colors for smoother results. There are some examples of this somewhere around here. Found one:
With VHS caps the noise in the luma channel will mask this problem to some extent.
There is also an issue with some hardware DV encoders that give an off-color cast, too little/much saturation, or bad levels, with their caps. And there's often no proc amp controls so you're stuck with the default settings.
Last edited by jagabo; 8th Jul 2010 at 10:18.
Thanks. For denoising, I was planning on giving it some attention at first to seek out proper levels...and afterwards, I can just leave it to do its thing for a few hours. However, I don't really have experience with filters like this [yet]. Are my expectations pretty reasonable?
I don't bother - I either leave it as it is, or blast the lot with mdegrain3 or something based on it (sometimes adding a little noise back in - don't like things looking too clean).
But then I do everything to DV-AVI. So I can keep all the source files. And if I find a result that I'm not happy with when watching it days or weeks or months later, I can go back to the source and fix it.
Be aware that SD interlaced video typically looks far worse on a PC than a TV. Unless you're targeting PC playback, don't spend time fixing faults that no one will notice (potentially introducing artefacts along the way that people might notice!). I denoise and sharpen far more aggressively for YouTube or Facebook than for DVD. IMO you also need brighter (and more carefully controlled) levels for PC/web than for DVD.