I have lots of recorded media in various formats from years in the UK and would like to digitize it in bulk so I can watch and/or edit the material in my new home in Canada, but because there is a lot of it (not all of it of great value) I would rather investigate ways of doing it myself than pay substantial per-hour fees to have it digitised by a company. Is there a multi-format VCR I could buy, for example, that would play PAL video with a digital output that I could then record? Presumably once any of the video is in digital form it is straightforward to convert it on my PC or Mac?
Is there a forum for this here, or a specialist forum elsewhere online (or on Reddit?) where I could find out more?
+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 16 of 16
This is really two separate tasks, not one.
Existing disc media like commercial DVDs and home-recorded DVD-Rs are "already digital" so much easier to handle. You can use a free utility like MakeMKV to rip the contents of those discs into independent video files on your PC, but the sizes will be as large as the DVD itself (4.2 to 7.5 GB, depending on the DVD). A movie would be the full size, a disc of TV episodes would be in smaller chunks. Other utilities are available that can "shrink" the original DVD data down to more manageable file sizes more practical for use on phones, tablets, etc. (but you lose some video quality). DVDshrink and DVDFab are popular apps for that.
VHS and Video-8 is a whole other ball of wax. There are no tinkertoy single-box solutions for video akin to the "USB Turntables" you see for instant digitizing of vinyl LP audio. It ain't pretty, it ain't easy, and it ain't cheap to properly transfer analog video tapes into digital files. For one thing, you're gonna need a PAL-format VCR for each tape format (which may not be easy to find in Canada). While there are "multisystem" VCRs easily available that can play both PAL and NTSC, you have be careful with those: many are not that great, and you have to be sure the VCR is set to output the same format as the tape (PAL, in your case). Such VCRs were typically used to internally convert PAL tapes to play on NTSC televisions: this worked well enough for the old CRT TVs of the time, but are horrible signals for making digital files. So if you opt for a multi-system VCR, be sure to disable the PAL>NTSC conversion feature.
Generally speaking you'll want a premium-grade PAL-only VCR with line TBC + DNR circuits, made by JVC or Panasonic, and PAL format Video 8 camcorder or deck, which you'd probably need to import from UK or Germany to Canada ($$$$). You'll also need a known-good capture card or USB dongle for your PC (not just any random $39 dongle from Amazon). And you may need either a separate dedicated frame sync TBC box ($$$$$) or a PAL format DVD recorder known to have TBC-like signal passthru abilities (Panasonic ES-10, ES-15). TBCs are dual PAL/NTSC capable, but if you opt for the cheaper DVD recorder is must be a PAL model (again requiring import form EU to Canada, boosting the cost). Good VCRs and TBCs are long discontinued and only available second-hand, which can make acquiring them a fraught experience.
Other than requiring PAL-specific VCRs (and possibly a PAL DVD recorder for passthru), there is little difference in the basic workflow of making digital files from PAL tapes vs NTSC tapes. So you can refer to any of the hundreds of threads here by searching the topic "VHS transfer" or "VHS capture". There can be some technical differences in post-capture processing of PAL vs NTSC, depending on the exact nature of the PAL recording on each tape (was it made from a Hollywood movie, EU TV series, PAL camcorder, etc: frame rate issues can be trickier than with NTSC tapes). The DigitalFAQ website has a list of recommended PAL VCRs and many threads about PAL capture, you may want to explore there as well as here at VH. Start with threads like this.
Note that "blind luck" is a huge factor in making digital files from analog VHS and Video 8. Your odds are about 50/50 whether you can get away with a small investment in hardware vs mortgaging your future to do it. Some people do manage happily with just a good $39 USB capture stick and random halfway-decent VCR. It depends on compatibility between the individual capture stick, the VCR you connect to it, the precise signal quality of your tapes, and your PC suitability to the task (Windows 7 greatly ups your chances of success, Win 10 is often a cesspit that can be made to work after some struggle). There's also the question of your expectations: some people are fussier than others about PQ, some want a quick-n-dirty process that isn't too difficult or time consuming while others are willing to invest hours or days perfecting each hour of video. The higher the quality you want and the more complicated you want to get with processing (deinterlacing, etc) the more likely you'll need to sink $1600 (USD) into the project.
Study your collection of tapes long and hard before proceeding. Anything that was commercial Hollywood or EU broadcast fare is probably best replaced by updated commercial DVD releases (you can buy an awful lot of $8 DVDs for $1600). Even the best hardware and skilled technicians cannot make a VHS transfer come near the quality of a commercial DVD or BluRay release. And how much is your time worth on an hourly basis? Consider all the variables before committing to a course of action.
Last edited by orsetto; 11th May 2021 at 12:22.
A VCR that CONVERTS between NTSC and PAL are very expensive, hard to find and not very qood.
This was the most readily available converting VCR in America back in the day.
I owned one.
Thanks hech54 for clarifying my remark about "multisystem" VCRs. Those of us born in North America (like myself) tend to use the term "multisystem" VCRs in reference to the "converting" VCRs which were more necessary in USA/Canada than EU., hence my caution that such VCRs should be set to output the native format of the tape (PAL) and not to their cheapjack NTSC conversion mode which is problematic to capture.
In Europe, "conversion" VCRs fell out of favor when the majority of PAL TVs became more NTSC-compatible (it was much easier to enable NTSC playback on PAL CRT TVs than to enable PAL playback on NTSC CRT TVs). This simplified VCR mfrg: instead of digitally converting, EU "multisystem" VCRs only needed to play both PAL and NTSC natively. These did generally auto-switch from PAL to NTSC according to the loaded tape. Some also had the odd NTSC>PAL60 output option, but this was dropped after the PAL TVs themselves included internal NTSC conversion.
Some of these simplified "multisystem" PAL + NTSC VCRs (with no conversion feature) were imported from EU and sold in transient cities like New York and Toronto, so you should be able to source one locally in Canada at far less cost than a "converting" VCR. To be crystal clear, you do NOT want/need one of the old pricey worldwide-conversion VCRs that were marketed by Aiwa, Samsung and Panasonic in USA/Canada for playing PAL tapes on NTSC televisions. You just need a "plain" multisystem VCR, or preferably a more high-end PAL-dedicated JVC or Panasonic SVHS vcr. Unfortunately the higher-grade PAL vcrs were rarely sold in North America, so you'd probably need to buy one from EU-based seller. Most PAL-capable VCRs will also need a step-up 110v 60Hz to 220v 50Hz power converter for your Canadian AC outlet.
For your 8mm tapes, you'll likely need to import a PAL-format camcorder or deck. These were not commonly offered in multi-system variants.
Last edited by orsetto; 12th May 2021 at 02:54.
I actually found it cheaper and easier to just buy a VCR of the relevant system...
Granted, I travel back and forth so it was easier for me...
One particular Sony budget PAL/NTSC vcr was very popular with ex-pats living in NYC, because it was also multi-voltage and didn't require a power conversion brick. The external PAL>NTSC standards conversion boxes needed with it worked OK for display on a TV but were not great to dub from to another VCR. I don't imagine they'd work at all for VHS capture.
Last edited by orsetto; 12th May 2021 at 10:30.
I was born on the USA and a fan of an Australian artist name John Farnham. I suffered through YEARS of PAL in an NTSC country misery.
My point is....the the OP gets an off the shelf PAL VCR.....and is trying to capture those PAL tapes AS PAL.....he will get a straight PAL capture.
No switches, no VCR settings.....the VCR will output a clean PAL signal and as long as he sets his capture software to PAL....they are just
video files (until you put them to something like DVD....then those DVDs will be trouble for an American recipient).
Might also be worth reading this fairly recent topic of a user in the US who wanted to play PAL VHS content
Since there is something that no one has mentioned here - mains power requirements.
So yes, the "standard PAL vcr" (that can also play NTSC) does not have any settings as to output format. But the converting vcrs do, and its a bad idea to leave them in NTSC conversion mode if you want to capture a PAL tape. Hence my warning to be careful about that feature. In USA/Canada one is much more likely to find a converting VCR than a "standard PAL vcr": few people wanted to deal with the mess of the external standards converter box required to make a plain PAL vcr play on an NTSC CRT. The more expensive Panasonic, Samsung and Aiwa with internal conversion were much more prevalent, and what OP derb is more likely to find sitting around in Canada in terms of a PAL-capable VCR.
Of course I agree derb would obtain better quality with a premium standard-PAL vcr like Panasonic NV-FS200 or JVC HR-S8960. These would be hard to find laying around in an NTSC country like Canada, would probably need to be sourced from eBay UK or DE. Depends how extensive derb wants to get with his capture project.
Last edited by orsetto; 12th May 2021 at 14:42.
I'm in the US. I own a PAL Panasonic NV-HS 860 bought and sent from Great Britain. I had many PAL VHS tapes I wanted to capture. All I had to do to use the VCR for capping those PAL tapes as PAL was to change the plug to a US one. I have no idea if this works for all PAL VCRs or just prosumer VCRs such as the 860, but I suspect all of them.
Earlier, I had bought one of those standards conversion boxes - a fairly expensive one - and it was awful. Everything got blended all to hell and back.
The Panasonic NV-HS 860 is an excellent choice for capturing PAL vhs. Apparently it is multi-voltage, since all you had to add was a plug adapter to the AC cord. Thats probably the only caveat with random PAL vcrs: while they should all work OK for capture, some are not multi-voltage so would require an additional downconverter brick to run off Canadian mains power. Not a big deal, downconverters suitable for a VCR can be found for about $40, but for capture work it might be better to select a multi-voltage model if possible to avoid the slightest chance of picking up interference from an external power converter. Its pretty easy to tell if a VCR is multi-voltage by checking back panel photos: if several voltages and both 50Hz/60Hz appear on the label it just needs a simple plug shape adapter to run off Canadian power outlets.
I have owned few of them in VHS and S-VHS systems.
Last edited by dellsam34; 16th May 2021 at 04:53.
^^ Why do you keep referring NTSC 4.43 as PAL 60. These are two independent quasi formats.
PAL 60 = ntsc 3.58 timings with Pal chroma
NTSC 4.43 = NTSC chroma with Pal timings
The latter only plays back on more modern tvs.
Sorry I meant PAL 4.43
Edit: Original post edited.
Last edited by dellsam34; 16th May 2021 at 04:54.
Here are some quick descriptions to remove confusion:
NTSC: 525 lines, 30 fps, 3.58 MHz chroma sub-carrier.
PAL: 625 lines, 25 fps, 4.43 MHz chroma sub-carrier.
SECAM: 625 lines, 25 fps, AM modulated chroma.
PAL60: 525 lines, 30 fps, Converts 3.58 MHz chroma sub-carrier to 4.43 MHz.
NTSC 4.43: 525 lines, 30 fps, NTSC chroma encoded into 4.43 MHz sub-carrier (not playable on PAL systems), a.k.a NTSC-J
MESECAM: 625 lines, 25 fps, Down mixed chroma from SECAM to PAL
Only NTSC, PAL and SECAM are true broadcast standards, the others are tape related modifications.