Piece by piece, we all gradually upgrade our equipment to take advantage of the latest technologies. Most of us don’t have the money to upgrade everything at once, so we end up with a mix of the old and the new. "Old" does not mean obsolete, however, and the trick is to make all of your equipment work in harmony. If you’ve recently purchased a new computer, you may find yourself straddling a digital divide. Many newer computers, both Mac and PC, come standard with IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports. So, how do you take advantage of this new technology with your analog camcorder and analog footage?
If you already have a digital camcorder, the process is simple. Mini DV camcorders are designed to transmit DV data down a FireWire cable and into your computer via the IEEE 1394 port. Your digital camcorder records video and audio into a digital format that is already very computer friendly. Analog camcorders, on the other hand, record analog information, which can’t be transferred to the computer without first being converted into a suitable digital format. FireWire cards are not digitizing tools, but are only used as communication conduits between FireWire compatible devices. So, even if you could connect your analog camera to your IEEE 1394 port (which you can’t), you would still need some way to convert analog video to a digital video format. The different methods to digitize video have advantages and disadvantages. Knowing the available options should help you choose the best analog to digital converter to meet your needs.
External Analog to Digital Converters
There are external devices designed for the purpose of converting analog to digital video. Several companies offer analog to digital (A/D) converters that connect directly to a computer’s IEEE 1394 port. One big advantage of this approach is that the converter box can remain permanently connected to the PC, providing a handy desktop box to connect the camcorder . This can be very useful if your PC sits on the floor, beside or under your desk.
Some of them offer full analog camcorder control via a LANC interface. This can make the capture process much easier. Make sure that the external converter you choose is compatible with your camcorder, and if you want machine control, be sure that the converter and your camcorder can speak the same control language. Without a LANC connection, machine control (and batch capture) are not options. Each clip would need to be captured manually, one at a time.
Analog to digital converters range in price, beginning at about $300. Price is an important consideration here, since almost all Mini DV camcorders also function as analog to digital converters (as discussed in the next section). The advantage to buying a Mini DV camcorder over an external analog to digital converter is, well, that you are buying a new Mini DV camcorder.
Using DV Camcorders as Analog to Digital Converters
If you do decide to buy a new Mini DV camcorder (or already own one), you can use its analog inputs to convert analog to digital video. There are two ways you might use a DV camcorder to digitize your footage. Option one is to simply hook your analog camera to your Mini DV camera and transfer your footage to Mini DV tape. This has the advantage of archiving your tapes to a better, smaller format, and will allow you to batch capture your footage. Option two is to use your Mini DV camcorder as you would an analog to video converter, as described in the previous section. To do this, connect your analog camcorder to your Mini DV camcorder (making sure to connect both the video and the audio), and connect your Mini DV camcorder to your computer via its IEEE 1394 port . You won’t be able to control your analog camcorder with your computer and must start and stop both the source camcorder and the computer software manually to capture, but overall, the analog to digital conversion process is painless.
The Digital8 Solution
If your analog video collection resides on 8mm or Hi8 videotape, you might consider buying a Digital8 camcorder. Not only do Digital8 camcorders record DV video, they can also play analog 8mm and Hi8 tapes. And, the camera will transcode the video to DV internally, ready for copying to your PC, via IEEE 1394. If you work with 8mm formats, the advantages of this approach are obvious. You’ll be using the same camcorder and computer software, whether you’re working with digital or analog tape, and you won’t have to add any components to the computer. Digital8 camcorders also allow you to use the computer as a device controller, automatically starting and stopping the camera. Device control may not work with all analog tapes, however, but you will still be able to use the camera as the digital transcoding device even if it doesn’t.
The Closing Capture
So, there you have it. If you need a way to get your existing analog footage into your new FireWire-based computer, consider one of these simple solutions.
Regardless of the option you choose, it’s good to know that you can, without too much trouble, import your old analog video collection to your FireWire-capable computer. And once you’ve done that you can edit your videos into new, digital masterpieces.