VHS to Digital Thread (and other home media formats)

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Garrett Gilchrist
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VHS to Digital Thread (and other home media formats)

Post: # 12190Post Garrett Gilchrist »

So, you want to transfer VHS and other analog formats to digital.

You'd need to be careful, and have a video editor look over your capture tests. For NTSC you want 720x480 running at 60i (29.97 FPS) with interlacing still present. (PAL, in the UK, is 720x576 at 50i / 25 fps.) This can be deinterlaced later during editing, if necessary, preserving the full 60 frames per second, halving it to 30, or IVTCing it to 24, as necessary. (VirtualDub, Cinema Tools, etc)

If doing this yourself, for better results you would want a higher end VCR, like the JVC SVHS VCRs, depending on your budget. This allows for both RCA cables and the higher end SVHS video cable, as well as some faux sharpening. If your budget is lower, four-head Hi-Fi VCRs and DVD/VCR combos can be found second-hand for cheap, and won't be much worse than that. (There are some cheap-ish devices which can function as a TBC if needed also.)

DVD recorders were a standard casual way to transfer analog to digital, although you deal with some MPEG2 compression during motion. To combat this a bit, we used to do multiple passes on each tape and edit them together, although this will make any dropouts and hiccups worse. This can also be done for MiniDV capture, and will reduce noise a bit, though it's not super necessary. (Some of my Jim Henson Hour restorations used as many as 6 recordings of the same thing.)

I currently have a setup in the back room for VHS (and VHS-C), Video8, Hi8, Digital8 and MiniDV, to record to MiniDV (DV25) format, output to an old Mac OSX (Hackintosh) computer via Firewire 1394. I will often process the final result with temporal noise reduction via NeatVideo. This involves a VCR, a VHS-C adapter tape, a Digital8 camcorder, two MiniDV camcorders, and an audio cassette player ....

The color resolution of DV25 is low, and can result in a "blocky" appearance, but this can be filtered out via AfterEffects or VirtualDub/AviSynth or various filters, during editing.

MiniDV to Firewire was supported by Mac and Sony computers in the 2000s but is more obscure now. You can still theoretically install a Firewire card on newer computers if you've got the space or use an old system. (I am using an old system.) Many MiniDV cameras would support analog input via RCA and sometimes SVHS cables.

I wanted extra quality on a recent project so I paid to have someone record raw RF output (saved as FLAC) and decode it via experimental software (Domesday Decoder vhs-decode, originally developed for laserdiscs). Apparently that is finally getting results today. (This is technically complex, and largely Linux-based.)
https://github.com/oyvindln/vhs-decode/releases
https://github.com/jryng/vhs-decode

You will want to outsource any laserdisc capture to a Domesday Duplicator enthusiast somewhere. Laserdiscs are higher quality to begin with and Domesday gives the best results.

Dongles also exist to tap RCA/SVHS output to modern USB. Most of them are crap and will destroy your interlacing, but I hear this one's all right, as these things go.
https://www.amazon.com/DATA-connection- ... 00428BF1Y/

A handful of late-period MiniDV cameras actually supported USB transfer, around 2006, but I cannot vouch for them. (Panasonic NV-GS400 and NV-GS500, and Sony DCR-PC1000.)

Better Sony Digital8 decks can play Video8 and Hi8 out to Firewire, but are getting rarer now (since these are dead formats) and would need to be cleaned with chamois swabs and audio/video head cleaner (buyable at amazon).

Digital8 and Hi8 decks can also be tapped into for raw RF output. (To be decoded via Domesday Decoder's vhs-decode experimental fork. This is technically complex, and largely Linux-based.)
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