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Creating DVD's from VHS tapes

 Create your own DVD's from your video tapes
For those of you that are "into tech" somewhat, the technology for transferring video content to DVD's or CD's continues to get simpler and less expensive.
Below is a basic article from "Micromart" in the UK, a computer and supply store.
Below that are some links for more information on the subject.

Transferring Video to DVD. Part One: What You Need

Would you like to preserve those VHS tapes for posterity? Joe Lavery explains how, in the first of a two part series.

One of our readers recently asked, "Is it possible to convert standard VHS video tapes to DVD and what sort of ancilliary equipment do you need apart from a video player and a DVD recorder"? The short answer is yes it is, and as far as extra equipment is concerned, it depends on how good you expect the final recording to be. Unless you're lucky enough to have a Super Video recorder, the quality of your original VHS recordings are likely to be fairly low, particularly when compared to DVD. In fact these days VHS is about the worst quality medium you can record on. Consequently if you're expecting to transfer the data and somehow miraculously get DVD quality, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.

But let's not start with a negative attitude; our friend has probably got lots of tapes full of priceless memories which simply need to be archived. And archiving them to DVD before the tapes start to degrade is certainly a worthwhile exercise, because degrade they will. So transferring them to the relatively cheap medium of DVD will preserve them in a digital rather than analogue format, which like CDs can be copied again and again completely without loss of quality. Moreover current estimates predict that written DVDs have a life span of over 100 years.


There are basically two competing DVD recording standards, DVD-R/DVD-RW and DVD+R/DVD+RW, which both have pretty similar features and are compatible with most home DVD players and computer based DVD recorders. Although like the previous VHS v Betamax battle there will undoubtedly be a preferred format and at the moment this looks at least here in the
UK to be DVD-R. Nonetheless, dual format DVD burners, that can record in both formats, have taken much of the potential sting away.

What To Do

Well there are a number of ways to proceed but by far the easiest (and possibly cheapest) method is with a so-called home user or stand alone DVD recorder, available currently from about 120. That's because these don't require any knowledge of computers and can normally interface directly with a VCR via a SCART to SCART cable, or some other combination of SCART and composite/audio Phono connectors. In fact some of the latest models are also fitted with a hard drive and 10/100 network connector that allows you to link the unit with your home LAN (Local Area Network). This means you can download video, or digital photos to the on board drive and burn them directly to a DVD disk.

Stand Alone?

One of the latest stand alone DVD recorders from UMAX/ Yamada, the DVR-8100, will accept inputs from a wide range of devices, including digital and analogue camcorders. It has a built-in TV tuner, Dolby Pro Logic stereo sound and a DV Link digital input on the front for connecting a digital camcorder or camera. While this doesn't provide any editing functions, the OTR (One-Touch-Recording) button allows the simplest form of recording without any preparation or programming.

Sony's Answer?

Another stand alone solution due for release shortly from Sony Electronics is the VRD-VC10, a DVDirect device, which lets users transfer video from a camcorder or a VCR and burn it onto a DVD without connecting to a PC. The device can burn up to 12 hours of MPEG-2 video onto a compatible, double-layer DVD+R DL disc, or up to six hours on a standard, single-layer DVD+R or DVD+RW disc.

The system can also connect to a PC via a USB 2.0 connection in case you want to do any DVD authoring, or to create data, or music CDs or any other form of video DVD. But if you just want to transfer videotapes or camcorder recordings to discs without having to use a separate capture card, or computer, it connects to a video source through composite cables, or an S-video cable.

Down To Business

Assuming though that you want to use your PC to do the job, the first thing you have to do is get the recordings into the computer in a format that firstly can be edited and secondly that is compatible with the DVD format itself. This is an area that many people get confused with, because it's not simply a matter of transferring your video footage to a DVD disc. The same rules apply to digital video cameras as well, because surprisingly the DV format they use is not directly compatible with DVD either.

The traditional DVD video format is in fact MPEG2, which is essentially a stream of high-resolution frames known as a GOP (Group Of Pictures) that vary in number but contain only one complete frame. This is termed the I frame and is surrounded by a group of compressed frames containing only the data that has changed. However the resolution is still roughly twice that of VHS at 720 x 576 for a PAL UK standard DVD, displayed at 25 frames per second, or 720 x 480 at 30 frames per second for NTSC (the American standard).

So because the original question concerned VHS recordings, I'll look at that scenario first. As you probably know VHS is an analogue video system and because computers deal with digital data, the capture device you choose needs to be able to convert the analogue information into digital. This allows you to manipulate the data without degrading it, until it's finally encoded to MPEG2 for recording to DVD.

Now you might say why not capture it straight to MPEG2? As it happens this can be done, but MPEG like JPEG is a compressed format that uses a sophisticated algorithm to record the data in the most efficient way. So if you intend to edit the footage and add things like titles and transitions you'll end up re-encoding a file that's already been encoded once; the result being a marked loss in quality from the original source. Having said that, if you don't want to add anything further to your VHS data, a device that encodes directly to MPEG2 is well worth looking at.

Before I get inundated with letters I should mention that there are a few software products that will edit MPEG2 files without re-encoding. Products such as VideoReDo from DRD Systems at Although the editing in this case is restricted to simple cuts which is nonetheless useful is you simply want to chop out any mistakes or unwanted footage. In addition some of the more sophisticated editors are intelligent enough to only encode any footage that you've altered, so that's another option worth investigating.

Picking Your Capture Device

There's a vast range of capture devices on the market, ranging in price from about 30, to over 1,500 and naturally the more you pay the better the quality of the encoding. Although these days I wouldn't recommend spending more than about 150 for the application we're talking about, because the difference it's going to make to a typical VHS recording is minimal. In fact I've had good results from the latest Dazzle Digital Video Creator 90 from Pinnacle Systems that sells for only 45. This is a USB 2 device that comes with the latest 9.1 QuickStart version of Pinnacle's superb Studio software; it will guide you through the whole process from initial capture, to the authoring of a professional looking DVD complete with chapter points and menus.

Another product that I've used to good effect is the ADVC 55 from
Canopus, priced at 140. This is another external one touch option that handles analogue and digital capture, which in this case operates via an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) connector. The ADVC 55 is on offer at the moment and comes bundled with Canopus Let's CONVERT, a fast one-step video capture, video conversion and DVD-Video burning program that captures from VHS and Hi8 tapes directly to DVD in one simple operation.

For about the same price you can get the Plextor ConvertX PX-M402U, a unit that plugs into your PC's USB 2 port, and is designed to do the same job. It has an S-Video input and two phono connectors for stereo sound. Unlike many video capture devices, the ConvertX doesn't just capture to MPEG-1 and 2, you can also record to MPEG-4 and DivX, which provide decent quality with much smaller file sizes. Although the files I've just mentioned can only be played on a PC, or on specialist DVD players that support the DivX format.

As you can see the options I've mentioned so far are all external solutions that require the minimum of hardware knowledge to install, but obviously there are plenty of internal capture devices you can choose from as well. One of the cheapest I could find was the WinFast VC100 from Leadtek, a PCI based card with picture in picture, combined with video capture and support for MPEG 1 and 2. This retails for under 20 but I wasn't able to get one in time for this article, so I can't comment on the quality it produces.

For around 50 the WinTV-Primio FM PCI capture card from Hauppauge is worth a look, because it also incorporates a TV tuner with Teletext. One word of warning though, and that's that the video capture on this unit is only 384 x 288, approximately half the full frame size, and another point to be aware of when you're looking to buy. It's worth checking that the card you're interested in incorporates sound capture as well, because some cards rely on the system sound card. While it's not a problem if you have a separate sound card, if it's integrated onto the motherboard it can cause dropped frames. This is due to the extra workload placed on your system because the on board cards hand the audio processing over to your main CPU.

Other than the capture device and VCR you'll also need a large hard drive, because video files can be enormous, averaging 3-4 MB per second. So I suggest perhaps a 160GB 7200RPM model that ideally should be independent of your main boot drive. Your PC should also be powerful enough to capture without dropping frames, something above a 2GHz processor or faster with 512 MB of RAM should be okay. And of course you need the necessary software to drive the whole system. I would also recommend installing Windows XP which uses the NTFS file system, because the older FAT 16 or FAT 32 partition structures aren't optimised for video capture, and won't let you capture video files over a certain size (2 or 4GB).

In the next issue, on sale 30th December, we'll go through the steps you need to take to actually get your footage converted to disc.




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