I am older, and only minimally tech-savvy. My techie was my youngest son, Johnny, who passed away two years ago at 21. Nine months later my oldest son, Nick, died as well, at 31. I have a great quantity of home videos on four different formats from three decades of recording my children - holidays, recitals, plays, family - VHS, SVHS, Hi-8, mini-something (started with a first generation Panasonic video camera, subsequent generations of Sony camcorders). These tapes are my memories... but I have a LOT of them, and I need to dub them to DVDs, the tapes are getting very old and inevitably degrading. I have been divorced for ten years, and no longer have access to the camcorders that originally recorded these tapes (my ex-husband was the videographer).
To have them all converted to DVDs professionally would cost me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that I do not have. I am willing to invest in appropriate hardware or software to best accomplish this project - which I know will take many, many hours - but I am clueless about how to do it most effectively and efficiently, with the best quality result. I have a surviving daughter and, besides preserving my own memories of my sweet guys, I would like to be able to give her DVDs of these tapes from her childhood with her brothers, it would mean everything. For anyone that can help, my humble and deep appreciation.
I know that I am 'late to the party' and ill-equipped for the task, but I can read, I am willing to learn, and I need to try to salvage and preserve these precious videotapes. I do have a MacBook, OS X, Intel Core i7, 8 GB, 1600 MHz DDR3 with a CD/DVD drive. I hope that someone can help a sad mom, and advise me on how best to do this? (When I have tried to research the issue, I am confused by some of the terminology.)
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I am guessing you do not intend to EDIT them (precious as they would be). So I'm going to buck the suggestion that I would normally have given to most techies.
Your choices would boil down to this:
1. Get someone (friend, relative, benefactor or service) to do it for you.
2. Transfer them yourself via Analog-to-Digital card and saving as uncompressed/losslessly-compressed, editing and converting until you arrive at DVD or MP4 or something similar that is modern and playable on most current devices.
3. Transfer them yourself via DV cam passthrough or DV converter card or box, through to Firewire port and saving as DV-compressed, editing and converting also until you arrive at DVD or MP4, etc.
4. Transfer them yourself via DVD recorder to DVD.
5. Other, worse methods.
Normally, I suggest them in that order.
Quality-wise, because you're starting out with older and worse quality masters, the best you could do (on a scale of 1-10) would have been a ~6 1/2. #2 would give you a 5 1/2 - 6 1/2. #3 would give you a 4 1/2 - 5 3/4. #4 would give you a 3 3/4 - 5. #5 who knows (all those assuming you knew what you were doing and were able to give each stage its best options).
Without additional hobbyist or further growth into video on your part, I'll suggest that you get reputable+reliable playback machines for the various formats (an S-VHS deck can do for both VHS & S-VHS, and the correct Digital 8 can do for Video8, Hi8 and Digital8, and DV is DV - don't think you need worry about the pro versions). Then get a DVD recorder and connect each of them up in their course to it and record to DVD, finalize, and you're done (though it's best to make a few copies each). Yes, it's not the very highest possible remaining quality, but it should be comparable & acceptable. And it will be totally compatible & playable for years to come. Remember, to revisit this in 7-15 years, as those copies might need copying and/or conversion themselves. And use VERY HIGH QUALITY media (DVD-R or DVD+R, Single Sided, Single Layer, Taiyo Yuden or MAM-A or Verbatim brand, and recording at highest quality "DVD-Video" option - usually <2hours/disc).
My condolences. And good luck in your endeavor.
Thank you, Scott, for your thoughtful and thorough response, it is helpful. Unfortunately, no one had made this easy, have they? No, no editing intended, that is beyond my ken, only straight copies. I would definitely go for #1, but have no available, knowledgable friends or relatives (my sons' had techie friends, but they are young and busy..). A benefactor (even one who could just teach me step-by-step) would be lovely, but I suspect that your kind reply is the closest I will come to that.
I am afraid that I don't really understand #s 2 and 3, but I dearly would like the quality to be as high as possible, so maybe I can try to learn enough to understand #2. One of the reasons I bought the Mac last year (the first computer I have owned, I always just got laptops for my kids.. I do use a PC at work) was to try to do this, but I think I need to find a willing tutor.
Thank you for taking the time to advise me on my options, and for your kind words. Thank you also for your guidance on the best DVDs to use, that is important. I am thinking I should also put them onto a good external hard drive?
Now I need to go win the lottery so I can turn these over to a pro with the right equipment and knowledge...maybe little by little. Any quality service provider recommendations? (or particular analog-to-digital cards, hard drives?) I am not a hobbyist, but guessing I may need to try harder to learn what I need to know. Thank you, thank you, for your help. My boys were kind and funny young men, and we lost them both suddenly, unexpectedly. On the videos, I get to hear their voices, even if it is only when they were children. <3
Doing #2 or #3 is possible with research. You are at somewhat of a disadvantage with a Mac, however, as drivers for cards (and cards, & slots for cards) are much fewer & harder to come by.
BTW, you will see some converter devices that connect via USB (including some that support Macs). My advice there is that, not counting ones that cost >$60USD (or better yet, >$120USD), even if you can capture losslessly (or near-losslessly), the electronics doing the conversion inside the device are too poor to give you the quality you desire.
As with any archiving methodology, there is safety & reliability through diversity & ubiquity. So hard drive as 2nd/alternate backup is a good thing.
Time to invest in a PC? (Lenovo?) Suspect it would be cheaper than getting hundreds of hours dubbed professionally, but if pro quality would be significantly higher, I wii bite the bullet and save my shekels (quickly, given my fragile, aging tapes!).
There's certainly no shame in being a "non-techie," and it is far better to recognize early on that one really doesn't have the personality or mindset for this kind of task (rather than go full-tilt into it in the vague hope you'll just magically "pick it up"). At best, with all the right hardware and a geek nature, converting video tapes to digital formats is mind-numbingly tedious. Each tape can manifest a new set of issues that requires experimenting with various adjustments, software or hardware: it rarely goes as smoothly as "press play on the VCR, press record on the computer or dvd recorder."
I more-or-less agree with the detailed advice you already received from Cornucopia, although frankly I would narrow down your options to "seriously, don't even THINK about doing this yourself." Most people only have one tape format to transfer (VHS or some camcorder variation). This used to be just about manageable for a non-tech person using simplified all-in-one VCR/DVD recorders. But these machines have all disappeared (aside from a not-great Toshiba model that seems to go in and out of availability with the weather). Your situation is significantly more complicated in having four or five different tape formats spread across dozens of tapes: this would be a daunting project for even a skilled geek, so a nightmare for a non-techie.
The primary hurdle is needing to acquire functional, perfectly-performing VCRs and camcorders for each of your tape formats. Unless your ex is willing to lend the original units back to you, you're gonna have to haunt eBay or Craigs List looking for good replacements. This has gotten harder in recent years as they age, and it isn't always easy to determine the condition of a used VCR or camcorder. If you get a lemon it could destroy one of your irreplaceable tapes on the first try. Then there is the matter of finding a suitable recording device for your MacBook: also no picnic. Apple kicked off the whole "digitize your videos" concept a long time ago, but essentially abandoned it some years back (aside from a niche pro/semipro market that depended on Final Cut Pro). The video digitizing and DVD authoring tools available for Mac are arguably pathetic today (and I say this as a Mac user since 1989). The same generally applies to Windows laptops: the majority of both Mac and Windows laptops aren't optimized to expand with decent A/V inputs. To have any chance of improving on the quality of a standalone DVD recorder, you'd need a desktop Windows PC with expansion slots to add good video hardware (here again, a vanishing breed: interest in digitizing old tapes has died off to the point hardly any really good analog video accessories are left on the market).
Given your tragic loss makes your tapes all the more priceless, I wouldn't recommend trying to digitize them yourself with dodgy second-hand VCRs and camcorders. You have too many different formats to juggle, which is very tricky even for experts. The expense of buying players for them all could add up quickly. Then there is the expense of a digitizing accessory for your MacBook (or moving to a desktop Windows PC video system). If you want to avoid the computer hiccups, a cheap, flimsy, bottom-line standalone DVD recorder is $90 minimum (closer to $300-$400 for a better-grade Magnavox or premium Panasonic model).
Instead, I'd suggest bringing a few tapes at a time to your local CostCo or WalMart photo center. They will send your tapes to the Yes Video commercial digitizing service, which will transfer them to DVD at a cost to you of $10 per hour of video (the price includes uploading your digitized videos to their website, where you can also view them on a smartphone, tablet or Mac/PC). They accept all of your different tape formats, and as a commercial transfer company they clean and maintain their players to avoid tape damage. No muss, no fuss. The quality of the DVD transfer is comparable to what you'd achieve at home with a DVD recorder (significantly higher quality would cost at least $25+ per hour at a professional video restoration company).
Best of luck with your transfer project, whichever road you choose...
Last edited by orsetto; 29th Nov 2014 at 05:25.
Good assessment. If LindaSB is willing, I would concur. I only discounted it because she had already dismissed that option, but if it's still on the table, then I would say it was the preferable one.
The problem there is in finding one which has all the equipment (in great condition), has the knowledge & skills to transfer correctly, and is reputable, kind & reasonably priced.
Understand that there are people who THINK they know what they're doing (and certainly talk like it), but when push comes to shove, they only know rote, or generalities/buzzwords, and that marginally more than most hobbyists. Best to get test samples, quotes, and hopefully a thorough and detailed description of their intended procedures, beforehand.
I specifically would shy away from those Walmart photocenters, which rarely have someone above an associate's degree working there, much less the expertise necessary to get the optimal transfer. And because their own pay is small, their motivation to give a good product reflects that. Plus, I just prefer to not patronize "mega"-anything, if possible.
Last edited by Cornucopia; 29th Nov 2014 at 09:19.
Than you, orsetto and Cornucopia for being my tech advisors. There is a company in Chattanooga, TN, Southtree, that presently has a Groupon offer, $75 for $250 worth of services. Their higher-priced option is conversion to Data-DVDs, and that is available with the Groupon order. From what I can tell from their website, reviews, they seem like a reputable, quality service. For $225 I can get $750 worth of conversion. With the data DVDs at about $20 per, allowing for shipping, that would be something like 35 tapes? Seem like a good option to you guys?
I can squeeze out $225, and it seems far more economical than all the questionable equipment I would need to acquire to do my own, with likely lesser quality, no? Without your expertise and counsel, I would not have had confidence in making this choice, so THANK YOU both! Good deeds to your credit. I should be able to transfer, if not all, at least most of my old multi-format tapes.
(And, fyi Cornucopia, I am a major George Carlin fan, he was my generation With a partner who is a 100% service-connected disabled Vietnam vet, w/ TBI, severe PTSD, lifelong physical disability - he was in Chelsea Naval Hospital outside of Boston for a year and a half, followed by another year on crutches, a state-level cross country runner who was never able to run again after tripping a booby trap in 1968 at 21, while with the 196th LIB, C 3/21, in I Corps - I particularly enjoy his piece PTSD, if you haven't seen it, check it out... YouTube is a gift.)
Best, thank you both,
The Southtree service in Chattanooga TN appears similar to what you would get going thru a CostCo or WalMart or other corporate service. If their Groupon deal is notably cheaper than the $10 per hour charged by megastores, give Southtree a try with some of your least-important tapes, and see how it goes.
I have no particular love for CostCo or WalMart, and dread being dragged there for any reason, however they are the most convenient/affordable tape transfer service for many people who don't live in or near big cities with multiple transfer companies. As I noted earlier, the work isn't actually done by WalMart or CostCo anyway: they function as dropoff points for Yes Video, the big national transfer service. For some reason, dropping off at the megastores is notably less expensive than dealing direct with Yes Video website, which is why I recommend using the megastore photo counters. In recent months, I've had several friends/relatives show me the results they got back from CostCo after sending in old Super8 movie films and assorted camcorder tapes.
Their transfer quality is average, to my (hype-rcritical) eye about the same as what most non-geek people would get at home using a DVD recorder or typical PC connected to a VCR. Could it be better? Sure! But "better" means different things to different people, and "better" requires a heck of a lot more skill, gear and software than the average non-techie has available to them. Not to mention time to do the task, and money to buy all the hardware for multiple formats (or $$$$ to pay a dedicated custom video restoration specialist to do it for you). Camcorder family videos, as a broad category, are not Hollywood quality to begin with: splitting hairs over "better" often results in frustration. I look at some of the threads here on VH that discuss applying arcane AVIsynth scripts to correct some ridiculously trivial "flaw" in an old VHS video, and roll my eyes at how terrifying that must seem to a non-techie (who wouldn't know how to install the components necessary to run AVIsynth scripts, or what a script even is, if a gun was put to their heads). Most people are more than thrilled if the transfer quality allows them to distinguish Uncle Walter from Aunt Sally on screen: beyond that, they don't much care. So the results obtained from large corporate transfer houses more than suffices for most people's family videos, certainly on par with what they could accomplish doing the work themselves. Especially today, when decent consumer transfer gear isn't even available to buy new anymore.
So while I agree with Cornucopia's suspicions re the low-level "techs" doing the actual transfer work at these companies, I don't think it materially matters to the typical consumer who simply wants to get their stuff digitized with the least hassle and expense. The big national transfer services have basic quality controls in place that at minimum require their playback hardware to be maintained properly: they don't want to deal with returning mangled tapes to distraught grandmothers (not good for their online reputation). Put another way, think of all the high school kids that were running 35mm photo minilabs back in the film era: millions of people trusted their precious family film rolls to these drugstore labs for developing/printing, with few mishaps. The same odds apply to getting your old tapes digitized: yeah, its probably some slacker loading the VCRs and pushing buttons, but the process is almost entirely automated and the gear is serviced regularly.
Some random local storefront service would be riskier, where the gear really isn't maintained, no QC workflow is in place, the meth-head staff is totally unsupervised, and they don't care if they get death threats on social media. This is one instance where the corporate behemoth is a safer bet. Unless we're talking about a career video specialist you personally know, who normally charges $40/hr for top notch restoration work: if you trust that person, and think your tapes are worth such expense, it might make sense.
Last edited by orsetto; 29th Nov 2014 at 14:18.
Valid arguments, all.
Thanks, again, to you both! I will try some with the Groupon onto DVD data disks, see how it goes. I have a rather entrenched philosophical problem with Walmart, but not with Costco (but there is not one near me).
All-in-all, it is clear that 1). given cost, knowledge and time, this is far too large a project to take on myself, and 2). I cannot afford the services of specialist/restoration service, so need to find the best commercial service that I can and cross my fingers. Certainly the important thing is to get started before these tapes get any older. Over the generations of technology, we always went for best-available camcorders, whether SVHS or Hi-8, and used the best-available tape (neither professional-grade, of course), so the original quality isn't so bad... (I won't even think about the 100 or so classic commercial VHS tapes I bought,still have, as my kids grew up).
Though I wish a fairy godmother could swoop in and make this all happen (even thinking about undertaking this has been hard, because my grief is so overwhelming, losing not just one but both of my boys, so close together), thank goodness for people like you, who are willing to take the time to advise and help people like me. <3 <3
Bear in mind also that you're not losing the tape after one transfer. You might use one or two of your tapes to try the different options available to you and compare what you get back.
I have SERIOUS reservations about this Groupon offer and it may not be all it is cracked up to be. If you want to try it, I'd advise starting small rather than shipping everything you own to them.
Selling their services at 1/3 the cost is, well, insane. So that means you have your choice of a bunch of potential unpleasant possibilities here. They may be horribly overcharging what they are doing such that $250 would only get you 3 DVDs done, so in the end you're really paying the professional $25 a DVD price anyway. They may be idiots. I've read about restaurants who "Grouponed" themselves out of business. Some dumb owners went with Groupon to get business and the discounts were so steep and so many people used the coupon that they went out of business due to the losses. If you've ever seen Kitchen Nightmares by Gordon Ramsay, he's occasionally been asked to help restaurants that simply cannot turn a profit due to the constant discount coupons they give away to bring in customers. One restaurant I saw gave the impression that they almost never sold a meal that wasn't discounted heavily. If this company has stupid owners who don't realize that they can't make a profit at those cut rate prices, you really do not want them to have all of your tapes and then go out of business on you before the work is done. The fact that they find it necessary to offer such steep discounts may mean that they aren't very good at what they do and can't get repeat or referral business or that they are being incompetently run, which means you run the danger of them going out of business on you. If you must roll the dice on this, please at least limit the amount of damage that can be done if they quickly go out of business by not giving them too many tapes at one time.
Good point, that I can try more than one service and compare results. And I agree, the Groupon offer is such a steep discount, it causes me concern.
Hard to gamble with some of your most precious possessions... If anyone has used a higher-end professional service and gotten good results, I would welcome any recommendations or referrals. I can select some tapes and try different options, as dubbing them all is a big investment for me, both financial and emotional.
[BTW, my daughter's performances over the years were pretty good; she went on to graduate from Juilliard Drama. My youngest was an award-winning young poet and photographer (http://celebratejohnharrity.com), and my oldest son was a gifted photographer and writer as well, but schizophrenia made life much, much harder... Sorry, mom-brags.]
Thanks for the input and the cautions, more appreciated than you can ever imagine. This is a wilderness fraught with some risk for me.