You need to have a fast, modern Windows PC or Mac to do video editing, and the computer has to have many gigabytes of free disk space.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Putting your old videos and movies onto DVDs, Part 1

Dec. 16, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   I get asked a couple of times a week how to convert video tapes to DVDs. Every now and then a veteran of the pre-VHS years asks how to transfer old home movies onto DVDs, too.
   Let's start with home-movie transfers. You can do it yourself if you have a camcorder and are willing to turn part of your home into a projection studio. Basically, you clean the lens and film path on your old projector -- or rent one just for the occasion -- and hang a sheet on the wall.
   Place the projector about three feet away from the wall and project one of your movies onto the sheet. Put your camcorder onto a tripod or a steady surface and zoom it in so the movie fills the viewfinder.
   Play back the results on your VCR. You'll probably see flickering, caused by a difference between the shutter speeds of the two devices. If your camcorder lets you adjust the shutter speed, play with various settings to see which ones reduce the flicker; there's not much else you can do.
   If your camcorder is an analog (old fashioned) model, follow the next advice to turn the videotaped movies into DVDs. If it's a digital camcorder, check back next week, when we'll see how to change videos from one digital form to another, including into DVD digital video.
   What about converting VHS tapes? To make DVDs out of tapes, you have two choices: You can buy a set-top DVD recorder and use it for the transfers -- figure on $100 or so for the DVD recorder -- or you can do all the work yourself on a computer. The first method is easier and the second one gives you a lot of control.
   Here's the easy way. Connect your VCR to your DVD recorder and record a disk while you play the tape. That's it. You can't do much editing besides pressing pause when things are truly worthless (you know, such as shots of the floor), but it's as easy as anything can be.
   Here's the sophisticated way: Buy a converter box and plug your VCR into it. Plug a USB or Firewire cable into your computer and connect it to the other side of the converter box. The converter box turns analog video and audio into digital form. Your computer stores the digital video so you can edit it and then convert it to DVDs.
   You should have seen a light bulb flashing between the lines, saying you need to have a fast, modern Windows PC or Mac to do video editing. The computer has to have many gigabytes of free disk space.
   A good converter box for Windows is the Honestech VHS to DVD 3.0 Deluxe, which lists for $79.99 from www.honestech.com. The converter itself is barely the size of a Altoids tin. ( I've mislaid mine two or three times.) The converter, which comes with Windows software, connects to a PC through a USB 2 cable. Don't try using this device if your PC has the older, much slower USB 1.1. It needs the faster connection.
   Equally suitable on the Mac side is the Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus, with a list price of $199.95. It's sold by the Apple online store at http://store.apple.com and by other discounters. EyeTV 250 Plus has multiple features, including live TV recording and viewing of regular and HD channels, in addition to conversion of VHS recordings to digital form.
   Next: Putting those converted videos onto DVDs.