Digital Video Converters

You have boxes of videotapes with precious memories stored on them. That’s where digital video converters come in. They can transfer VHS to DVD, analog to digital.

Without a doubt, the digital realm heralded a revolution in the way we store, edit, manipulate, process and view our video. While videotape was a giant leap over 8mm, Super8 and 16mm home movies, it still left a lot to be desired when it came to editing, duplicating and distributing the video. Because the recorded video signal was analog in nature, it was subject to loss and degradation in the editing and duplicating stages.

But since digital is essentially just a humongous collection of ordered ones and zeroes, it isn’t subject to the frailties and shortcomings of an analog signal. There is no loss in quality, regardless of how many times you duplicate it. And you can also edit, process and manipulate it ad infinitum with no quality loss as well.

So, obviously, digital is the way to go. But you have boxes of videotapes with precious – perhaps priceless – memories stored on them. So the question is this: what’s the best way to convert these analog tapes to digital? Fortunately, you have several choices here, and at least one of them is going to be the way you’ll want to go about doing the conversion.


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Standalone Converters

There are several inexpensive combination VCR/DVD and standalone DVD player/recorders available that allow you to transfer your analog VHS tapes to DVD simply and effortlessly. With these machines, you insert your VHS cassette with your recorded material on it, insert a blank recordable DVD and press a button or two to start the transfer automatically. You can also transfer your video directly from your analog (VHS, VHS-C, Hi8) camcorder to DVD, since the recorder takes care of the analog-to-digital conversion during the transfer. These machines also permit you to do some rudimentary editing by pausing the DVD recording process to bypass recording unwanted scenes and resuming the recording process once the discarded material has passed by. So, if all you really want to do is archive your VHS or analog video material on DVD, then using one of these combination VCR/DVD or standalone recorders is the simplest way to do it. And there’s an added bonus: when you’ve completed your DVD transfer, you can make VHS copies of its content to give to friends and relatives who don’t have a DVD player if you wish. But the real beauty of it all is that, once your material is on DVD, you can make additional DVD copies of it without losing any of the quality – provided you have another DVD recorder to use – or a notebook or desktop PC – which brings us to the next way to do your conversions.

PC-Based Conversion Devices

Almost every notebook and desktop PC sold these days has a built-in drive capable of playing and burning DVDs; moreover, the price of external accessory DVD burner drives is well under the $100 mark, so it’s not uncommon to see PCs with both a built-in DVD burner and an external plug-in burner to facilitate disc-to-disc copying. Most of today’s computers also have a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port to directly connect your digital camcorder (this port is found most often on DV and HDV models.) You can also add a FireWire card to your desktop PC if it doesn’t have one, and this will provide you with a means of transferring digital camcorder video directly, so you can create your DVDs. Now, while this is all well and good for digital video, it still leaves the issue of converting your analog material, doesn’t it? Well, happily, you have some options here as well in the form of plug-in converters.

The Dazzle DVD Recorder from Pinnacle is one of these inexpensive and easy-to-use digital video converters. You simply connect your VCR, camcorder, DVD player or just about any other video device via the Dazzle capture cable, and then plug the Dazzle’s USB cable into your PC or notebook. The Dazzle unit handles the A-to-D conversion automatically, and, with a click or two, you’re ready to create your DVD with menus and chapters.

If you’re interested in copying video to a USB 2.0 mass storage device, an iPod or a PSP, then Pinnacle’s Video Transfer is something you’ll also be interested in checking out. This is a small portable independent unit (meaning no PC is required). You can transfer shows and movies to your iPod video or Sony PSP, digitize home movies to a USB 2.0 hard drive, back up vacation videos on a portable USB 2.0 storage device (such as a Flash stick) or even directly record gaming sessions from your favorite console to your mobile devices. The unit has composite, S-Video and stereo analog audio inputs and a direct USB 2.0 output, and it lets you select good, better or best recording quality – again, without requiring a computer.
With all of these options readily available and affordable, there’s really no good reason (or excuse) to put off converting your analog video material to digital now. Videotape is a frail medium and, unfortunately, once it’s damaged or broken, it’s virtually impossible to retrieve any material on it. That, in itself, is the best case for archiving those precious analog memories and events now by converting them to digital!

Tom Benford has been writing about video, photography, filmmaking and myriad other subjects for over 30 years, and he has authored more than a dozen books.


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