Mass Media & Technology

Digitising Collection

Digitising collection of Betamax & VHS

JA
jamerscruickshank Wales Wales Today
Hello, during this long on/off lockdown period, I have decided to digitise my vast collection of Betamax and VHS cassettes. They have been stored away for so long now and all recorded from the telly in the 1980s and 1990s. I have searched the net, Amazon and eBay and even here on TV Forum I have had a look at posts regarding digitisation. The result was - I ended up confusing myself badly! I have the VHS recorder, only has a scart on the back but works well. My question is - what do I need to get it to the computer? The one thing that keeps popping up is some cable on ebay called Easycap - but looking at the reviews on Amazon, it seems to be of very poor quality. I then looked at higher price bits and pieces such as some item called Magix which turns up as number 1 in a couple of websites judging top converters. Again, the Amazon reviews tell a different story. I saw a great thread from just two years ago on TV Forum talking about software etc but could not get better analysis of the bit before the software - the cable! Does anyone have a particular converter cable/adapter that they recommend that perhaps they use also and know it works well? Bit of an amateur with this as you can tell, but each day is a school day - and after hours of searching the net, all I did was end up back at the beginning with much uncertainty about whether I should throw a tenner at Easycap or fifty at Magix!
JA
jamerscruickshank Wales Wales Today
By the way, should have said, I have a simple VHS VCR but if anyone recommends a good quality Betamax player - may be handy also as I don't have one and wish to buy one asap!
NJ
Neil Jones Founding member Central (West) Midlands Today
The "useful thread" might have been mine:
https://tvforum.uk/mediatech/kodi-filmic-effect-44388

That was about capturing DVD and Blu-Ray to files for Kodi use but I have now got round to attempting to do the same to my VHS collection.

I'm fortunate enough to have a combi DVD/VHS player/recorder, so its a simple case of stick a blank disk in, stick a tape in, press a button, wait two/three/four hours as appropriate, and take it out, job done.

Last time I did this before I had this combi unit I believe I did it via RF into a TV capture card and "recorded" it. But this was back in 2003 for a personal project and I've never had a need to do it since.

You may have "old school" RF in/out as well as Scart. If you can get a DVD recorder with a Scart in, that may be the easiest solution as you can just "record" as an input to DVD. In my experience any "converter" that consists of going from one connection type to another is just asking for trouble.
NG
noggin Founding member
Every DVD Recorder I saw on the market had a SCART and/or composite and/or S-video inputs (some also had DV) - I don't think I ever saw any that were RF-only, as the requirement to record from DVB set-top boxes (as well as to copy VHSs) had become a thing by the time they arrived on the market.

I'd second that if you have a DVD recorder - then using that as a way of digitising VHS tapes is a neat and low cost solution (you can then rip the DVDs to a PC hard drive - and if you use RW discs then re-use the disc if you don't want to keep a physical copy)

Alternatively you can get a number of low cost Composite/S-Video USB capture solutions that use the same compression system as DVD (MPEG2) or a newer compression system (h.264) - though often the software is a bit rubbish. I've used both routes for backing up VHS tapes (and they can be better routes to capturing VHS content than some broadcast quality capture cards that really don't like the 'wobbliness' of VHS VCR output...)
JA
jamerscruickshank Wales Wales Today
Thanks for the replies! Got a Panasonic combi and got underway - so far so good with only snag being the picture sometimes vibrates up and down gently. Annoying but only on a couple of tapes and not them all!
NJ
Neil Jones Founding member Central (West) Midlands Today
Thanks for the replies! Got a Panasonic combi and got underway - so far so good with only snag being the picture sometimes vibrates up and down gently. Annoying but only on a couple of tapes and not them all!


If it only happens on certain tapes there may not be a lot you can do about it at source. You may be able to manipulate it later but depending on the problem it may be insurmountable. Tapes don't last forever and their make-up degrades over time, as in a nutshell they're just magnetic strips surrounded by lumps of plastic that go round God only knows how many odds and sods inside the unit that its a surprise video players don't eat more of them than they do:
JA
jamerscruickshank Wales Wales Today
Thanks Neil. Here is a good question I wonder if you know the answer for. When recording (Panasonic Combi) - It gives option of different quality levels. XP, SP, LP, EP. See that on a DVD you get 1 hour for XP and 2 hours for SP up to 8 hours on EP. I have so far using XP. But does it really make much of an obvious difference if I were to use LP or EP in order to get more on one disc or would be better sticking to XP? If its not obvious in quality then would use the others to get more on the discs! Do you suggest using XP or the others or it doesn't matter much?
NJ
Neil Jones Founding member Central (West) Midlands Today
Probably doesn't matter to a great extent because videotape is limited to a certain quality threshold anyway. All those acronyms probably mean is how much to compress the crap out of the recording (smaller file size means more compression so it can fit more on the disk) but there comes a point where you can compress/lower quality and you can see all the artefacts which is a by product of the compression technology. Different people, different eyeballs can see this at different levels so you may want to experiment.

It's basically the modern equivalent of recording a videotape. An SP (Standard Play) E-180 tape (for example) runs for three hours (ish), but Long Play (LP) doubles this by running the tape at half the speed, giving you six hours of tape to play with at the expense of picture and audio quality. Last time I had a Panasonic video that could record in EP (as its not a standard record/playback format) it gave you nine hours on a tape, as it gives you half as much again but likewise video and sound quality is lower still.

Of course its all very well recording onto videotape at EP speed, but if your new non EP capable video player looks at the EP tag/mark and thinks "I don't know what the bloody hell that is, so I'll just play this in LP", so you get playback on fast forward mode. This won't apply for DVD, as it'll just probably look slightly more mushy, but it'll play.
BH
BillyH Founding member London London
My DVD recorder basically worked like this:

1 hour - Full resolution, uncompressed
2 hours - Full resolution, compressed
4 hours - Half resolution, uncompressed
8 hours - Half resolution, compressed

I preferred the look of 4 hours to 2 hours - the compression made everything look like a bad quality jpeg/RealVideo, but the half resolution on four hours looked pretty good still on the 4:3 SD CRT I was using. Perhaps not on more modern HDTVs or monitors though.
Member since 26 May 2001
JA
jamerscruickshank Wales Wales Today
Earlier saw some early flags based BBC News 24 overnight coverage from the late 1990s. Currently sitting watching the sky at night after watching question time from plymouth! Recording in the 8 hour mode to start with to see how it goes then try working up the gears to 4 hours etc. Also the Queen mothers funeral of all things! Seem to have started on the late 1990s and early 2000s tapes. Using Handbrake to rip them on to the computer, having noticed that bits of the top and sides were missing, did a google and found that adjusting the dimensions to zero resolves this issue. So far so good, and thanks guys! Not even thought of the betamax tapes yet, that problems still to come!
NG
noggin Founding member
Probably doesn't matter to a great extent because videotape is limited to a certain quality threshold anyway. All those acronyms probably mean is how much to compress the crap out of the recording (smaller file size means more compression so it can fit more on the disk) but there comes a point where you can compress/lower quality and you can see all the artefacts which is a by product of the compression technology. Different people, different eyeballs can see this at different levels so you may want to experiment.

It's basically the modern equivalent of recording a videotape. An SP (Standard Play) E-180 tape (for example) runs for three hours (ish), but Long Play (LP) doubles this by running the tape at half the speed, giving you six hours of tape to play with at the expense of picture and audio quality. Last time I had a Panasonic video that could record in EP (as its not a standard record/playback format) it gave you nine hours on a tape, as it gives you half as much again but likewise video and sound quality is lower still.

Of course its all very well recording onto videotape at EP speed, but if your new non EP capable video player looks at the EP tag/mark and thinks "I don't know what the bloody hell that is, so I'll just play this in LP", so you get playback on fast forward mode. This won't apply for DVD, as it'll just probably look slightly more mushy, but it'll play.



One thing worth remembering is that higher levels of MPEG2 compression don't handle noise and random motion at all well - so by running at lower-quality rates you may end up introducing a lot of blocking on the digital copy (as VHS noise, drop-out and 'wobble' will push encoders harder than a nice clean signal).

I'd run at the highest quality / lowest compression possible.

My USB2 PAL capture dongle runs at 8Mbs MPEG2 - which is about the highest quality that DVD can also run at. It worked pretty well for VHS stuff - though there were still blocking artefacts. I know some DVD recorders have pretty good timebase correction and some mild noise reduction to improve their quality (removing wobble and reducing noise without introducing too many noise reduction artefacts, like motion smear)
MarkT76, UKnews and London Lite gave kudos
UK
UKnews
I'd second what noggin says - go for the highest quality / lowest compression, or at least close to it. Storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, so it's a false economy to drop the quality too much.

Back when I was digitising my VHS / SVHS tapes to DVD I don't think I tried to squeeze more than 2 hours onto a disc. That seemed to keep the quality high enough. I was fortunate that the Pioneer DVD recorder (that I've still got somewhere) had 'record quality' settings in 10 minute sections, so if your programme / tape was 1hr 50 mins, you could have the compression slightly lower, very handy that. It also had an HDD, you could record to the HDD, edit (i-frame to i frame without re-encoding, so not frame accurate, but close enough) and then burn to DVD.

It also had a TBC (as did my SVHS machine), so I got about as good results as I could (helped a little by going S-Video to S-Video), even from some stuff that was recorded from fairly poor analogue reception. The stuff that had been recorded S-Video from a Sky Digibox or Sky+ onto SVHS came out really nicely. (And later stuff RGB to RGB from the Sky+ box even better.) Great machine, not cheap at the time, but well worth it.

All the content of those discs is now sitting as MKV files on my NAS!

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