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Many parents and videographers probably have stacks of home videos shot either on film-based equipment or on those huge portable VCRs we used to lug around before the advent of pocket-sized digital camcorders.
Personally, I have boxes of 8mm film, stacks of VHS tapes and shelves full of miniDV cassettes, recording everything from family holidays with my parents to my own family growing up, birthdays, weddings and Disneyland holidays. But the projector I used to screen the films gave up the ghost years ago and I no longer own a working video player. Even the videotapes have been gradually deteriorating.
Depending upon the quality of the tape in the first instance, videotape has a life-span of between five and 15 years before it’s unviewable. The most common cause of degradation is the lubricants between the layers of tape drying out and leaving a white powdery substance on the tape itself. This clogs up the heads of the VCR.
Similarly, over time, film tends to deteriorate. Colours fade and the film becomes brittle and easy to damage.
The best way to save both film and videotape memories is to transfer them into a digital form and then store them [with a back-up] on a PC hard drive, and burn multiple copies to DVDs. [Remember, however, that DVDs themselves have a limited life and hard drives can crash, so storing digital back-ups is essential.]
Unfortunately, the process is not necessarily simple, particularly if you are dealing with film. The easiest way to transfer film footage to DVD is to pay for a professional transfer service. But you can also do it yourself, though you will have to overcome a number of particular problems, including image flicker.
The basic process involves projecting the original film either on to a screen or into a special transfer box and recording the image on digital camcorder with a firewire or iLink connection that plugs directly into a PC.
Then you can use a video editing and DVD creation software package such as MyDVD, Roxio Easy Media Creator or Adobe’s Premier Elements that have DVD-authoring components built right into them and come with menu templates for creating professional-looking results.
If you want to go the DIY route, check out the weblinks at the end of this article.
Working with videotape is easier and involves fewer steps but there are also lots of professional services that will undertake this. Typically they charge about £50 per tape.
If you decide to undertake the conversion yourself and the tape is a digital format, like MiniDV or Digital8, you may be able to plug your camcorder directly into a PC to begin the process or even plug the camcorder directly into a DVD recorder.
However, most older videotape formats, including VHS, are analogue technologies and they need to be converted into a digital signal using a conversion box. These devices take an analogue video signal from a camcorder or VCR and convert it into a digital format that can be processed on a PC, stored on a hard drive and burned to a DVD with the right software package.
Among the most popular and easy-to-use converters are Adaptec’s VideOh! DVD converter kit and Pinnacle Systems’ Dazzle Video Creator Platinum, which come with both hardware and software components.
Adaptec’s kit, which costs £16 at Amazon.co.uk, captures and digitises analog composite and S-video signals, plugs into a PC’s USB (universal serial bus) port and comes with Sonic MyDVD software to help you edit clips, create menus and record your projects on to DVD. But I found the kit works best with short video clips.
For longer projects, I prefer Dazzle, which costs about £50 online and allows you to record your videos from a camcorder, a VCR or any video equipment with analogue outputs and produce digital copies in a range of formats. The bundled Pinnacle Instant DVD Recorder software also allows you to record your videos quickly, straight from tape to DVD, without first copying them to your hard drive, saving both time and space.
For more information on transferring film to DVD see:
Paul Taylor tackles your high-tech problems and queries at www.ft.com/gadgetguru