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Hot stuff: Converting VHS tapes to iPod videos, a tiny hard drive and a printer for CDs and DVDs

July 20, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   I'm celebrating. At last, I can turn my shelves full of old VHS videotapes into iPod digital videos without touching my computer.
   This no-PC, no-brainer method comes from Pinnacle in the form of a black box no bigger than your TV's remote control. The device, called the Pinnacle Video Transfer, costs only $130 and works with any VCR. (Go to www.pinnaclesys.com for more information.)
   You connect your VCR to one end of the Video Transfer device and plug a USB cable from an external USB drive into the other end. Put the VCR into "Play," lean on the top of the video device -- I told you this was simple -- and go get yourself a soda. Everything else is done for you.
   You might be thinking yours truly is exaggerating a little here and there. Surely there must be other things you have to do, right?
   Nope. I'm not even being cute. When I say you "lean on the top" of the Video Transfer, that's what you do. You lean on a record button so big you might be able to ee it from space. Lights blink and your job is done. When the tape stops, the little Pinnacle gadget stops the transfer. It even knows enough to tops the transfer if the tape keeps on rolling but the picture is blank.
   This is one cool kitty. You have a choice of three quality levels, but you can simply use the default setting (medium quality) and get good digital videos. After dubbing a bunch of tapes, you can plug your external drive into your computer and tuck them away in your video collection. I save my digital videos in iTunes, since it mates so well with my iPods. All the VHS transfers I made looked stunning on my iPod nano, especially when I watched them using the Myvu video glasses I reviewed a few weeks ago. (See www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec070608.html.)
   Ah, but suppose you don't have an external hard drive to connect up to the Video Transfer? You have two options. You can plug in a USB thumb drive, as long as it has enough capacity -- 2 GB or more are recommended -- or you can plug in something like the new Verbatim SmartDisk 120 GB drive, from www.verbatim.com. It's no bigger than a billfold, doesn't need a separate power supply and plugs into PCs or Macs using either USB or FireWire.
   The version Verbatim sent me stores 120 GB and discounts for less than $100. You can easily find higher-capacity external drives, but you won't find one as svelte. It's almost weightless, too, and I carry mine everywhere my laptop goes.
   Finally, if you make DVDs out of those videos you digitized, you ought to go first class and give them proper labels. Sharpies are just so old fashioned, and stick-on labels are bad ideas because they can get stuck inside your DVD player.
   So consider, instead, a printer designed just for labeling CDs and DVDs. The one I tried, from DYMO (at http://global.dymo.com) worked on both my Mac and my Windows PC, took up very little space on my desk and printed disks in color in a couple of minutes. It prints right down to the hub on disks that are properly coated for printing. (They're readily available in stores and online.) Text and graphics looked good, but photos were a disappointment.
   My only complaint is about the price -- the DiscPainter lists for $280, and ink cartridges cost $35 to $40. That's a tough sell for a lot of us at a time when normal printers cost one-fourth as much. DYMO needs to raise the photo quality and lower the cost.