Genealogy: Converting videotapes to DVD

Genealogy: Converting videotapes to DVDBy Barry J. Ewell

Most of us have old VHS home videos that have been collecting dust in the back of the closet for years. These memories include

  • Your wedding video.
  • Your children growing up.
  • Family vacation footage.
  • Special events (graduations, baptisms, sporting events, holidays, even the birth of your child).
  • Family stories (such as grandpa telling his story on tape).

If you have plans of keeping the memories, it’s important that you convert VHS tapes to digital as soon as possible.  VHS wears down with each playing—as well as additional deterioration that is taking place due to heat, humidity and improper storage—which causes the magnetic particles to decay that represent your family memories. By converting the VHS tapes you will literally stop the deterioration.  In addition, you will be able use your computer to edit the footage (e.g., cutting out boring segments and blooper moments, adding music or narration, and making extra copies for your family and friends).

How does it work? To transfer a home VHS movie to a DVD, the movie must be transferred from the VHS analog tape to the computer, where it can be edited and enhanced.  There are three items that are needed to get started:
1. A computer with a (internal or external)
• DVD-burner to transfer digital files to DVD.
• Video capture device to get the video in and out of your computer
2. A camcorder or VCR which can play your old videotapes.
3. Editing software.

Video capture options
Transferring videotape footage to DVD is a straightforward process.  First let’s make sure you have the right hardware. There are three standard options that most individuals use:

A video capture card. Records (captures) and converts (digitizes) the video. These cards are the best choice for high-end video editing. A quality capture card gives you customizability and top quality results. If you are not comfortable opening your computer to install a video capture card, though, consider a simpler method. Capture cards cost from $100 to $10,000.

An external capture device. This is a small box that sits between your VHS tape player and your computer. (This is the best choice for those not familiar with technology.) Connecting data cords run to your VHS tape player, through this box, then to a USB port or FireWire port on your computer. This box allows you to capture VHS video without adding a video capture card inside your computer. These devices are easy to use and affordable—from $50.00 to $150.00—but don’t give you as much editing freedom or power as video capture cards offer.

Graphics cards with video capturing capabilities. These cards are a new commodity being produced by graphic card manufacturers. Graphics cards incorporate video capturing capabilities so you don’t need an additional video card. This is the perfect choice for those purchasing a new computer because it’s less expensive than buying a video card and a separate capture card. A single card also puts less strain on your computer.

Digital video software . Once you have all your tools in place and have learned to use them, you can archive your old videos quickly onto quality DVDs. In addition to the hardware, you will need video editing software that will assist with capture, compression, and editing (e.g., narration, transitions, menus, background music).  In some cases the software will come with a video capture card or device. Some of the software to consider includes

  • Adobe Premiere Elements.
  • Ulead Video Studio.
  • ShowBiz DVD.
  • Win DVD Creator.
  • Nero Ultra Edition.
  • Easy Media Creator.
  • Sony Vegas Movie Factory.
  • Pinnacle Studio Plus.
  • Apple’s Final Cut.
  • DVD Movie Factory.
  • Windows Movie Maker (free version allows you to perform some of the above functions).

Computer memory, speed, and disk space
Video editing is a power-hungry task.  The more memory your computer has, and the faster your CPU is, the quicker and easier the job will be.  At minimum you will need

  • 2.8 GHZ CPU.
  • 512 MB of RAM.
  • 40-120 GB of storage. Movies captured from VHS take up 12-14 (GB) for every hour of footage. If you don’t have that large of space on your computer, consider adding an extra internal/external hard drive. You can purchase 250 GB and larger for $100.00 or more.