Miércoles 15 de Agosto de 2007, Ip nº 203

So Long to the Analog Era; Home Movies Reborn on DVD
Por Alina Tugend

OVER the years, we have videotaped many precious moments: the birthday parties, the out-of-tune recorder concerts, the school plays (“Is that him? No, look behind the moving cactus”), the baseball all-star game (lovely except for the voiceover of my shouting “Over here! Look over here!”).

We started with a camcorder that uses Hi8 analog videotape, which looks like a thick cassette tape, and we never upgraded. So we had lots of tapes lying around that we intended to one day do something with.

With our oldest son’s bar mitzvah rapidly approaching, I decided that the time had come. A slide show seems to be de rigueur at bar mitzvahs. Although they are usually done with still photos, we decided to look through videos as well.

Step 1: finding them. I thought they were in one closet, but they had been moved when we painted. After a panicked hunt through the house, I discovered them buried deep in a storage area in a torn shopping bag.

The collection turned out to be 16 Hi8 tapes, none dated. They were dusty and looked very discouraging. I transferred them to another bag and put them aside.

Ideally, someone would take them, edit them into a glossy, ready-for-TV show of our happy life. Realistically, I simply wanted to put them on DVDs so we could more easily watch and edit them.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this:

Buy a DVD recorder and do it yourself.

Transfer the footage to your computer and burn it to DVDs.

Use a transfer service.

I considered buying a DVD recorder. One popular option is the Sony DVDirect VRD-MC3, which costs $200 to $250 and can burn analog recordings to DVDs.

If you are willing to sit through the entire recording process, you can stop, fast forward or change tapes, thereby editing the video and creating chapters on the DVD’s menu with thumbnail images. Otherwise, you just drop it in and let it roll.

The machine has won raves from many reviewers; one called it “shockingly simple.” Consumer Reports, for example, said in its June magazine that Sony’s burner was easy to use and that DVDs made at the highest quality setting were “as good as the original analog recording.”

So, that was one option. It sounded simple, but I was not sure I wanted to add yet another machine to our house. And I was a little wary, picturing myself covered in videotape as the burner tossed DVDs around like Frisbees — not because of any malfunction on its part, of course, but because of my technological impatience.

Another option is to move videos directly from tapes to your computer. It is easy to do if you have digital tape, known as mini DV, but analog tape is a different story.

There are devices that can convert the video output from your camcorder or VCR to a digital signal for your computer to record. Some run about $50 and are available through Pinnacle (www.pinnaclesys.com), ADS (www.ADStech.com) or Hauppauge (www.hauppauge.com).

You plug your camcorder or VCR into the device’s video and audio jacks and connect the device to your computer via U.S.B. port. There are also internal devices that can be installed in your computer.

I have not used any of these, and reading a blog about them showed mixed experiences.

Although you have more control over editing than when transferring directly to DVD, this approach is more labor intensive and the videos can quickly fill up a hard drive, said Paul Eng of ConsumerReports.org.

Keith Shaw, the Cool Tools columnist at Network World magazine, added that “the trend is to take the PC out of the equation.”

“Although it takes about the same amount of time as using the box,” he said, “it adds complexity.”

Using a burner like Sony’s or a converter linked to a computer, “my biggest complaint is the amount of time it takes,” Mr. Shaw said. “You have to do it in real time. For example, I have a three-hour wedding video I want to transfer, so I have block out three hours. I can push the button and walk away, but what if something goes wrong? That’s the biggest hurdle.”

I had assumed that DVDs would last longer than tapes, but surprisingly, the jury is still out. It depends on the quality of the DVD, whether it is a burned or pressed DVD, and how the tapes and DVDs are stored. A good piece of advice is to save your tapes even after you get them transferred to DVD.

Digitizing the tapes is important, however, because it will make it easy to edit the videos and to transfer them to the next medium, Mr. Shaw said.

For people like me, who long for simplicity, there is nothing easier than taking the tapes to my local camera store. So that is what I did with four of them.

The store, Home Fair Camera in Larchmont, N.Y., charged $24.99 for each two-hour tape and had them ready in DVD cases after a few days. I had asked for a rush, for which the store did not charge extra. Some of the tapes were 10 years old, but even after being transferred they still looked very good.

“I’ve seen tapes from the early 1980s where the sound is muffled and the picture quality is not that great,” said John Lamagna, owner of Home Fair Camera. “You definitely see a difference in quality from the 1980s and 1990s.

“I’m still transferring 8-millimeter movie films,” he said. “I can’t believe how much of that is out there.”

I sent four others by mail to an online service, the Photo Archival Company (www.thephotoarchivalco.com), which charges $12.95 for each two-hour tape and offers one free transfer if you send in a dozen.

You can also contact your local Ritz Camera store, Walgreens or CVS. I called a Ritz Camera in Manhattan, which, for $29.99, will transfer two hours of video to DVD. Anything after that is $19.99 a DVD.

Among the least expensive methods was an online service, VideoSilo.com, that will transfer a two-hour Hi8 tape to DVD for $7.95.

The prices are for simply plopping the entire tape onto DVD. Most also offer editing for a higher price.

The DVDs that came back from Photo Archival also looked great, although they were in paper envelopes rather than hard plastic cases. The company had offered classier covers, for a higher price. Actually only three of the four tapes I sent the company came back as DVDs, because one was blank — so no charge there.

The cost is obviously higher when handing the tapes over to a local store, but some people hesitate to put their prized videos in the mail.

Charles Laughlin, a partner at the Photo Archival, said a couple had recently driven from Tallahassee, Fla., to his office hundreds of miles away, in Duluth, Ga., to deliver four tapes.

“They were a retired couple whose home had been destroyed in a hurricane in 1995. Every video, every photo had been destroyed,” Mr. Laughlin said. “A member of their family had recently passed away, and in the legacy was a videotape of their wedding in 1950. They did not want to put it in the mail.”

Mr. Eng of ConsumerReports.org said he would also be hesitant to give his only copy of tapes to a local store.

“They could mangle it or drop it by a magnet, or you may not want people to look at your home movies,” he said. He also sees the value of editing: “I may not need 10 minutes of me shooting the ground.”

For me, letting a professional transfer the video was probably the best option. In the end, I would go with one of the online services because they are less expensive and just as good as the local options.

When the DVDs arrived in the mail, my sons had just come home from camp. I told them I had something to show them. Expecting a new movie, they were surprised, and then entranced.

For a good hour they watched themselves as babies and toddlers. Tonight’s entertainment? Disc 2, “The Kindergarten Years.”


  04/08/2007. HeraldTribune.com.