Sun Apr 12 17:18:13 PDT 2015

Converting Home Video Movies into Digital Format

An ex-Associated Content article from a year or two ago...

Have you ever wanted to convert your old home videos to digital or DVD format? Here is how I acquired the necessary technology to accomplish this objective.

I recently felt the urge to rescue some old home videos from a Sony Handycam 8. This was an old video camera - probably around 15 years old. The video cassette for the recorder had been in the camera for a long time and I was curious to see what exactly was on the tape. Back in the days when the camera was in active use we often used it to record a few seconds of tape at various events, and then watched the playback directly from the video camera on our television. The process of saving the recording to video cassette was onerous and we often did not bother to carry this out. At the time this seemed quite reasonable; editing videos with only video tape technology was difficult after all.

That was back then, in an analog world. Now with digital technologies, as everyone knows, it is straightforward to save and edit home movies. What then do you do if you have and old video recorder or a collection of video cassettes, and you want to use them in the digital world?

My first port of call was the web as usual. I searched for "video capture" thinking that I needed some kind of device to intercept the output of the video camera (which had the ability to play back its single remaining tape) but only provided analog output. A little Googling revealed that I did not need a dedicated device installed into a PC to achieve the desired result. What I needed was a USB video capture device. This takes analog output from your ancient video camera, or video player unit, and converts it into digital USB input. However, from my Googling it was clear that there were a wide variety of such devices on the market, with a wide variety of prices, and considerable debate about which of them worked as expected and which did not.

I found the online review information uninformative. Eventually, I bought a KWorld DVD Maker, USB capture device from Fry's Electronics. For less than forty dollars, I had the necessary technology, if not the knowledge to use it!

The device came with a CD containing a USB driver for Windows XP, and extremely terse instructions. The KWorld DVD Maker allows you to plug the output from an analog digital device into a free USB port. The device itself is a small box with a LED and a single push button switch, with a USB connecter, a stereo 3.5 mm plug (for audio), and video connector sockets. I installed the driver, plugged in the capture device, connected the camera, and waited. Nothing happened. I had been expecting some kind of service to indicate that a camera was detected and ask me what I wanted to do with the incoming signal. However, everything was silent on the machine and I was unsure what to do next. The instructions, as I mentioned, were terse.

However, I eventually realized that the necessary missing step was a visit to the Windows Movie Maker software installed on this machine, where 'Capture from video device' provided the option to caption the input from the video camera. The result was, as the video played on the camera, a large WMV file was stored on the hard disk of the PC. This could be easily played back with the Windows Movie Player, or converted into a variety of formats using the Windows Movie Maker application.

With the benefit of hindsight, the visit to Windows Movie Maker, to capture the video input could have been made more rapidly. However, my excuse was that I was thrown off by the switch on the DVD Maker device. I was convinced that by clicking the switch some kind of programmatic activity would be initiated on the PC (which never happened). In fact, I have no idea what the switch does - it appears not to play a role in the use of the device at all.

However, once I found the capture device in Windows Movie Maker, saving ancient home movies in digital formats was indeed straightforward.

If you have a large collection of video tapes, you might want to carry out a similar conversion. Given the age of our video recorder, and the fact that it never produced particularly high quality movies, I was not overly concerned about video quality. If you have broadcast quality recordings on tape, the KWorld DVD Maker may not be the optimal product. However, for our home videos, it performed admirably.

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