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A primer for transferring your tape collection to DVD

Written by Robert DeMoulin
2003 Sony Electronics Inc.

So, you're considering the purchase of a DVD burner with the idea of preserving your aging tape collection to DVD. Certainly it's a good idea as most tape technologies begin to lose the ability to hold the recording over time. In as little as 10 years, you may experience drop-outs and fuzziness in the video. The solution? Transferring the tape to a more stable medium is probably the best solution. DVD is an excellent medium due to the fact that the penetration of DVD into the home is already a staggering 54% in only 6 years of DVD player being available. As a result, you'll have plenty of places to play the DVD once its been made. DVD is an optical technology, with a media shelf life better than 30 years, making it ideal media to preserve your video tapes on. Up to 2 hours of video can fit onto a single DVD disc, and with the falling cost of DVD recordable/rewritable media, it's economical too!

A Word About Copyrights - Please respect the rights of copyright holders and don't record anything onto a DVD or CD if you do not have the rights to do so.

What You'll Need to Get Started

As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. Getting good quality results when transferring tape to DVD depends on having a fast enough computer and, most importantly, a good quality capture card. Burning the DVDs after capturing the video brings into question what kind of DVD burner is best and which DVD format you should use.

Here are some considerations for equipment:

Computer - For the purpose of this paper, we'll keep it simple and deal with Windows PCs only. CPU speed, RAM, and hard disk space are critical. While you can get by with a Pentium III 800mhz CPU, you'll find that a Pentium 4 or equivalent CPU is worth the money. Rendering of video is very CPU intensive, so the faster the CPU, the quicker the video will be rendered. Go with a minimum of 256 RAM, and get as big of a hard drive as you can. You can also add an extra hard drive to your system if needed. Capturing video for DVD is typically about 35Mb per minute, so you'll need almost 5GB of hard drive space for a 2 hour movie.

Video Capture equipment - A very critical component. The better your video capture hardware, the better the capture will be. Be sure to pick one that can capture video for MPEG-2/DVD. There are solutions from ATI or Nvida that are add-in cards for your PC, or solutions from Dazzle  that are external to your computer, using USB 2.0 or IEEE1394/FireWire/i.LINK to connect to the PC. Be sure the video capture solution you choose has analog inputs, typically composite video (the yellow RCA jack) and left/right stereo (Red and White RCA jacks). If you're fortunate enough to have S-Video (DIN style connector with 4 pins) outputs on your tape deck, pick a video capture solution that has S-Video inputs and left/right stereo inputs. S-Video will give you a better signal than composite. All of the video capture solutions will come with software for doing capturing. If your PC came equipped with a video capture port and audio inputs, you may want to try out the quality of your built in solution before looking to buy something else.

DVD recorder - Another important consideration, for both hardware and bundled software. The flexibility of the Sony Dual RW DVD recorders is hard to match as they record on both DVD+R and DVD+RW discs. Why is this important? You may want to share your DVDs with others and its possible that a friends DVD player may prefer one format over the other. Most modern DVD players manufactured after 2000 should be able to play either format, but there are still some players out there with a preference. Having the ability to burn both formats also protects your investment in the burner no matter which of the two formats ends up dominating the market. The bundled software is also important. MyDVD from Sonic Solutions  is the most popular DVD video authoring solution for consumers and it comes with many of the DVD recorders being sold out there, including the Sony Dual RW drives. The software is important because some do a better job than others of creating fully compliant DVD video discs that adhere strictly to the DVD video standard. This gives you an extra margin of compatibility with the vast majority of DVD players out there.

Word to the Wise - Do your homework when it comes to choosing equipment. Be sure the video capture equipment is compatible with your PC and operating system. That goes for you DVD burner and its associated software. A little research on the front end will save you loads of trouble later.

Step 1 - Connect Your Equipment

VHS to DVD 1

A typical setup for transferring VHS tape to DVD

In the above picture you'll see a typical setup for transferring VHS tape to DVD. In this image we have:

Following the manufacturer's instructions, install your hardware and software and ensure it is operation correctly.

Step 2 - Capturing Video

Launch the video capturing software that came with your video capture solution. Typically you'll see a screen that looks like below.

VHS to DVD 2

Dazzle MovieStar 5 capture window

Before capturing, here are some things to remember:

Select the resolution that is appropriate for DVD. Some software packages make it easy by stating the resolution that is appropriate for DVD. If its not clear, be sure you are capturing MPEG-2 at the highest resolution available.

The captured file should be an .avi or .mpg file. Most DVD authoring packages accept avi or MPEG file formats. Some will accept others as well, check the documentation that came with you DVD authoring software.
Be sure you are saving the capture to a location where you have enough available hard drive space.

Connect your tape deck or video camera to the video capture inputs and power it on. Select the proper input device in your capture software (if applicable) and hit play on the tape deck or camcorder. You should see the video in the capture screen on the video capture software. Stream the tape to the desired start point using the reverse or fast-forward buttons on your tape deck or camcorder.

Once you're at the right start point, click the record button in the capture software and let the tape play. It's not necessary to end the capture exactly at the place you want to stop as you can edit this later in the DVD authoring software, but it is important to start at the right point. Remember, you can always trim video later but not add video. Click the stop button in the capture software when you want to stop the capture.

Note: Now is a good time to think about the DVD that you're going to make. Each capture you make is going to be a "chapter" on the DVD. It's generally a good idea to make each major "scene" a chapter so you'll have the flexibility to jump easily to the part of the video you want to see, just like the scene index on a commercial DVD movie. This means more work for you on the front end, as you will need to capture each scene one at a time following the instructions above, but the end product will be worth the effort! If you don't want to make each scene a chapter, you can just let the tape play and make one big capture of all the video. You won't have the ability to jump around like you would if each scene was a chapter, but it's less work.

Word to the wise - keep track of the captures you're making and name them so you'll remember the order of scenes later when you're authoring the DVD.

Once you have captured your video, you can use the editing software that came with your video capture hardware to add any desired title screens, or transition effects. For your first time, its generally better to minimize editing and head straight to DVD authoring.

Step 3 - Authoring the DVD

Launch your DVD authoring software and start a new project. Typically, the first step is to choose the background theme. This is the screen you'll first see when your DVD in inserted to a player. Most DVD authoring software packages have pre-canned themes, and often times you can use a JPEG image you have as the background theme. Typically, you can also add an audio file to play when the background screen is displayed.

VHS to DVD 3

Sonic Solutions MyDVD DVD Authoring Software

Note: You need to decide if you want your DVD to "play through" like a commercial DVD movie, or return to the background screen after playing a chapter. Set this option in the "options" or "preferences" of your project.

Once you have chosen your background theme, its time to add the video you've captured. Choose the "Get Movies" or "Get Video" option in the DVD authoring software. Add the video clips in the order you want them to play on the finished disc. Now aren't you glad you kept track of the video captures? Each clip becomes a chapter. You can typically re-name each chapter by clicking on the title. By default, the name of the video clip is the chapter name. Once you've added your video clips, you can adjust the start and end points of each clip (if necessary) so that each chapter starts and ends on the desired video frame.


VHS to DVD 4

Trimming Video Start and End points in MyDVD

In MyDVD, you would simply double click on a chapter to bring up the trimming window, which has easy to use sliders that you click and drag to set the start and end points for the video. You can also select the video frame that will be the "thumbnail" for the chapter. Note: You're not affecting the original captured video file on the hard disk, only what will be recorded to the DVD.

Step 4 - Burn the disc

Now that you have added your video clips and adjusted them, its time to see how the finished project will look. Insert a blank DVD recordable or rewritable disc into your DVD burner and click the "burn" or "record" button in the DVD Authoring software. It may take some time to trans-code all the video and build the DVD menu structure, this is where having a fast processor really pays off. Eventually, the disc will be burned.

Note: Be sure to follow the DVD burner manufacturer's recommendations for DVD media. Stick with name brand DVD discs for best results.

Word to the wise - Its generally better to use a rewritable disc for the first burn, that way if the project doesn't turn out the way you wanted, you can always erase the disc and re-burn in after making adjustments.

Step 5 - Check the disc on a set top DVD player

Now you hold in your hand the masterpiece you've created. It's time to pop it into a DVD player and see how it looks. When the disc is inserted into the DVD player, you should first see the background screen you selected and the video chapters displayed. Clicking play should start the playback of the first video chapter, and each chapter should play sequentially unless you selected the option in your DVD authoring software to return to the menu after each clip plays.


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