VHS to DVD

Reader Jerry Nichols would like to preserve his memories on DVD. He writes:

I have a lot of old home videos I want to port to DVD. I’ve seen the devices that allow you to hook a VCR to the computer but is that all I will need? I’m on a tight budget so I don’t want to buy this hardware only to find out I will still need additional hardware and software and end up with a project that is too expensive for me to complete. What exactly do I need to purchase to transfer my home movies from VCR to DVD and about how much time will it take to get it up and running?

For the most part, the greatest investment you’ll make is in time. Converting VHS tapes to digital isn’t rocket science nor does it need to be expensive. You have a few ways to approach this.

The first is to purchase an analog-to-DV converter box such as Datavideo’s DAC-200 ($185 street price) or Canopus’ ADVC55 ($220 street). Plug the VCR’s outputs into the analog input jacks on one of these boxes, string a FireWire cable between the converter box and your Mac, and capture and edit your video in iMovie.

If you have a MiniDV camcorder it likely has a “pass-thru” mode where the camera will take care of the conversion for you. Plug the VCR’s outputs into the camcorder’s inputs, string a FireWire cable between the camcorder and your Mac, enable the camera’s pass-thru mode, and capture and edit your movie in iMovie. Note that your results may be less than pristine with this method—some cameras perform better than others (and some, as my colleague, Jonathan Seff tells me, don’t work at all).

If you’re simply looking for a way to archive your VHS tapes you might want to skip your computer altogether. A number of manufacturers sell DVD/VHS decks that can dub tapes to writable DVD media (and vice versa). These boxes sell for well under $200 and provide the additional bonus of operating like a traditional VCR. Should you wish to later edit this content you can always extract it from the disc with a tool such as the free Handbrake. Once extracted you can pull it into iMovie and edit to your heart’s content.

Converting your video is really the most difficult (if one can really term plugging in a few cables and pressing Play difficult) and time-consuming part of the process. Once you have the video in iMovie, all you need do is edit it and export it to iDVD.

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