Converting My Analog Past to the Digital Present – Part 2

In a couple of related posts I waxed nostalgic over belongings that have resurfaced after being tucked away in the bottom of closets, stuffed into the backs of cupboards, and lost in the land that time forgot (AKA “the basement”). I’m happy to say that in the past year many items were put into service or found new homes by donation. The project of converting my audio cassettes to digital files is complete and I’m ready to tackle the videos on VHS.

In the 1980s, my mom was big on recording movies and shows to save and watch again. Very little of what she recorded was ever watched a second time and most of the collection is commercially available in a higher quality digital format. Except for sentimentality, there’s no reason to save 800 pounds of VHS tapes. I’ve separated and saved the family home movies and band videos for our conversion project.

There are several options for VHS to digital conversion depending on how much you want to spend and how tech savvy you are. You’ll find services that do everything for you starting at about $35 per tape with additional charges for customizations. Another option is buying a VHS/DVD combo player that will run about $200. It works like those old dual cassette decks that we used to dub copies of audio tapes. You put the VHS tape in on one side and a DVD in the other and voila! A copy is made.

In our case, we already have a hi-fi stereo VHS recorder, a PC with a CD/DVD burner, and the ADS Pyro A/V Link to connect the VCR with the computer. Although the ADS Pyro interface is still on the market, there are some newer video conversion systems such as Elgato and Roxio that will get the job done.

For now, my goal is a simple conversion to a digital file format that can be edited later on if I’m so inclined. We have Windows Movie Maker installed and it will create a WMV file format that is compatible with various Windows-based editing software such as Adobe Premiere Elements (for Windows).

Microsoft has online tutorials for Movie Maker to walk us through the process. The basic steps are to capture the VHS video, trim the beginning and end, and save to a WMV file. If you decide to go the do-it-yourself route, be aware that this is a time consuming effort. The tape capture is in real time; every hour of video takes an hour to capture. Trimming the ends takes just a few minutes however saving the post-edit movie file may take another 30 minutes or so for each hour of video.

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We set up a separate workstation so that I can monitor the project while my laptop is free for writing this post and other fun stuff.

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