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need vcr + video card to transfer vcr taped movies to hard disk

zug134zwang

Junior Member
Feb 15, 2018
14
1
11
I request hardware recommendations for a vcr + video card to perform a very specific task. My vcr recently died and I have several hundred standard-def (vcr taped) movies that I would like to transfer to my 6tb internal hard disk. Once a video file is saved to my hard disk, I will use ffmpeg to splice (and if necessary compress) that file into reasonably sized movie files.

my rig

os : dual boot :: 64 bit fedora 26 :: 64 bit Windows 7 Pro
cpu : Intel I5-4440 Processor BX80646I54440
mobo : (64 bit) Gigabyte H97 SATA Express M.2 SSD UEFI DualBIOS DDR3 1600 LGA
video : onboard video only, no video card
audio : onboard audio only, no sound card
memory : 32 gb
cooling : cpu (heat sink) fan and several case fans.
speakers : Logitech Multimedia Speakers Z200 with Stereo Sound
monitor : HP Pavilion 27-inch FHD IPS Monitor with LED Backlight (27xw)
.... : Connects to mobo via high-def cable
.... : resolution = 1920x1080 in both fedora and Windows 7

I recognize that it will be easier to find Windows compatible hardware/software. My thinking is to buy a moderately priced (=~$100) vcr that will send output via a coaxial cable and a moderately priced (=~ $100-$150) video card that will accept input via a coaxial cable.

I would like the video card, which has to be compatible with my mobo, to simultaneously be able to send output via a high-def cable to my monitor. Originally, I thought only of an internal video card, but if an external (e.g. usb2) video card will produce _nearly_ the same quality, then okay.

If a video card is employed, then my _guess_ is that I will need software that will instruct the video card to send the input from the vcr to my hard disk, presumably as an mp4 or mkv file.

Alternatively, if a video card can be avoided by finding a somewhat more expensive vcr that will output directly to a (standard-def) digital format, then great. In this situation, I would need a way to transfer the file from the vcr's output media to my pc. I have two external usb sata hard disk docking stations, and several spare sata hard disks, so my pc will accept data externally from either a usb flash drive or a sata hard disk.

I welcome recommendations-comments-criticism... Thanks
 

VirtualLarry

Lifer
Aug 25, 2001
45,155
3,942
126
Cheapest way to do this, is to buy a "USB TV capture" device off of ebay, make sure that it comes with some sort of software for Windows 7. Don't need an internal PC card, and don't need one that also is a regular video card. (But if you were on XP, you could get an ATI AGP AIW, maybe they made a PCI-E version later on, not sure. But that's expensive, outdated, and overkill.)

Another way, would be to use a combo VCR/DVD-R device, that can automatically "dub" VHS onto a DVD-R. They make these, or did, not sure how available that they still are. (Then rip the DVD-Rs' content onto files on a PC with a DVD drive.)

Another way, would just be to pay a service to do this for you, video-transfer services exist, you send them VHS tapes, they send you back DVD-Rs with video on them. You could ask them to put the videos all on a portable external HDD, as MPG or VOB or MP4 or MKV or whatever their editing software will also output, besides DVD masters.

Please be aware, that attempting to re-compress these video files / DVD filesets, so that they "take up less room", is going to be difficult, because VHS transfers generally have a bunch of noise / static in them, and that's hard to compress, or re-compress.

So, you may just have to deal with a stack of DVDs in the future, rather than VHS, or a few portable HDDs full of DVD / ISO images, if that's what you want.

Edit: If you DO decide to go it the DIY route, be aware that you need these components:
1) source media
2) device to read the source media (VHS), and output a signal
3) capture hardware that can read that signal
4) device drivers for said capture card, for your version of Windows
5) application software to capture the video into an intermediate / "raw" capture file.
6) editing software that reads those raw capture files, and can re-compress / edit / splice / "render" output files
7) a storage device / medium that can store those output files for archiving. Either DVD, Blu-Ray (BD-R), M-Disc, or HDDs. Flash drives or SSDs are NOT recommended for any sort of long-term retention. (Though, they are helpful for intermediate / raw file storage, and for editing purposes. Just not for output file archival storage.)
8) a device, such as a PC, with appropriate hardware, device drivers, outputs, keyboard / mouse, etc., such that you can view these videos in the future. Make sure that the codec stays supported.
 
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zug134zwang

Junior Member
Feb 15, 2018
14
1
11
Very clear information, thanks. I am leaning towards the DIY route, and now know to focus on "usb tv capture" for 1/2 of the puzzle. I still need a recommendation for a vcr or a key vcr phrase (e.g "4 head") to search for. I welcome more responses.
 

Piroko

Senior member
Jan 10, 2013
905
78
91
Hello,

if you don't want to go through a company offering that service, then your best bet would be to buy a late model 4-head VCR. Even then you might have to do some light repair work yourself, there's a fair chance that the belts are brittle by now or that one of the capacitors started leaking over the years.

Here's more info on VCR buying recommendations: http://www.digitalfaq.com/forum/video-restore/1567-vcr-buying-guide.html
 

thecoolnessrune

Diamond Member
Jun 8, 2005
9,321
315
126
If you're really serious about it, send it to a professional. Anything Analog + Age means that there is a whole range of results you could get back depending on the time and knowledge you put into it. Dust, mold (which doesn't have to be visible), and brittle tape are all things that can affect it. If these are tapes that are several decades old it is highly recommended to place the tape in a humidor or other regulated area to bring humidity up to about 50% for several weeks before even trying to mess with it. Otherwise the tape may break. Contaminants on the tape could make your player unusable without full disassembly. There are several guides on Youtube for cleaning VHS and SVHS tapes but a professional will remove the tape from the cartridge entirely and place it on larger reels to allow the tape to unbend after being left in that position for years.

I also recommend the use of S-VHS equipment to do the extraction. S-VHS Broadcast players and recorders from the likes of JVC and others are available fairly cheap in various conditions on eBay and the like. They have better heads, were better taken care of, and much more care is given to the design path of the analog signaling.
 

zug134zwang

Junior Member
Feb 15, 2018
14
1
11
This does burst my naive bubble. With several hundred tapes to transfer, if 1/2 of them result in something reasonably viewable, then I will be happy. It seems reasonable to at least make the salvage attempt, but (for me) too expensive to have a professional copy the tapes.

Good warning about humidity, patience, tape breakage, and tape contaminants. Interesting distinction about S-VHS equipment. Looks like this will become a challenging experiment where I will have to teach myself vcr cleaning (and possibly vcr disassembly).

Very informative response, thanks.
 

Insert_Nickname

Diamond Member
May 6, 2012
3,641
399
126
This does burst my naive bubble. With several hundred tapes to transfer, if 1/2 of them result in something reasonably viewable, then I will be happy.
Don't forget VCR transfer is realtime, so you'll have to invest several hundred hours into your project. Is it worth it, compared with hiring a professional firm to do it?

As for "viewability", VHS is always going to look quite bad. Particularly on a HD monitor. On a good day, you can get -reasonable- quality video at 320x240 resolution out of it. Don't expect anything more. And as VL pointed out, compressing such is difficult due to noise, static and artefacts.
 
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TheELF

Platinum Member
Dec 22, 2012
2,888
269
126
Don't forget VCR transfer is realtime, so you'll have to invest several hundred hours into your project. Is it worth it, compared with hiring a professional firm to do it?
It's not like you have to stand behind it and keep pushing for the duration,you set a tape up and you go about your day as you would normally renewing the set up every whenever.
 
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zug134zwang

Junior Member
Feb 15, 2018
14
1
11
Thanks to Insert_Nickname and TheElf for continuing this thread.

I think that collectively, the comments of thecoolnessrune, Insert_Nickname, and TheELF broach complex topics.

My understanding is that a professional will charge approximately $20/tape, which is way too expensive for me; I will simply discard the tapes rather than pay that. If a professional were to offer a volume discount of (for example) $1000 to (at least attempt) conversion of 500 tapes, that would be _tempting_. However, from a professional's viewpoint, that price would be ridiculously low.

I am not looking forward to delving into DIY vcr disassembly/repair. However, there does seem to be a wealth of free internet material available on this, and I do have my dead vcr to practice on.

I am leaning towards the Elgato Video Capture unit advertised at Amazon. My understanding is that the video files will average 1gb/hour, which is a little high, but acceptable. Since I prefer investing about 500mb/hour, I will experiment with the following ffmpeg command to compare results:

ffmpeg -i $in_path -b:v 960k -bufsize 9600k -strict -2 $out_path

I suspect that Insert_Nickname's comments about viewability will be true. However, if 50% of the tapes are _reasonably_ watchable, I _personally_ will consider the project a success.

I think that the "real-time" issue broached by Insert_Nickname and then countered by TheELF is interesting. Assuming that I can not find linux drivers/software, since I use the pc to work in linux daily, I will have to run the conversions overnight. Since I don't want to leave my pc on more than 36 hours at a stretch, I am looking at 3 tapes "attempt-converted" per week.

As a professional programmer, I suspect that I will be able to implement linux drivers/software. Since my rig has 32gb memory and an i5 processor, my guess is that (for examples) browsing the internet or creating software simultaneous to the video capture won't result in _overheating_ or overburdening my 550 watt power supply.

One other possibility that I am NOT hopeful about. My cable tv provider offers a website that allows its subscribers to watch any channel that they are already paying for. However, they don't support linux. I experimented with VirtualBox, running a Windows 7 guest within my Fedora 26 host. The i5 processor was able to handle the video streaming within VirtualBox, but at a cost of raising my pc's internal temperature from 34C to 56C. I consider this too high, so I opt for the _inconvenient_ reboot to Windows 7, when needed. I strongly suspect that I will have a similar experience attempting to VirtualBox the vcr->video_capture video stream.
 
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Insert_Nickname

Diamond Member
May 6, 2012
3,641
399
126
It's not like you have to stand behind it and keep pushing for the duration,you set a tape up and you go about your day as you would normally renewing the set up every whenever.
Don't get me wrong, its not as if you have to stand and watch it all the time... (unless you want to watch what's on the tape of course... :D)

But there is preparation of tape, setup time, then changing tape, possible rewinding etc. Then setting up archiving, compression etc. It's the little stuff that adds up. It is something you can walk to and from, but you do have to keep half an eye on it.

My comment just reflects that if you want to transfer an hour worth of VHS tape, then the tape has to run for that hour. There aren't any shortcuts.

My understanding is that the video files will average 1gb/hour, which is a little high, but acceptable.
Uncompressed 4K video is 700MB per second for comparison. A GB an hour is nothing, consider a cheap 2TB HDD will hold ~2000 hours worth.
 
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Piroko

Senior member
Jan 10, 2013
905
78
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There's a fair chance that one of your local photo/video societies, history societies or art universities has a working setup to convert video tapes. A phone call and some of your own time investment could make that setup usable to your purposes. (If not then think about donating your setup after you are finished, they'll appreciate it)

As for the tape quality itself, the few tapes that I kept around for nostalgic purposes are all in full working condition despite some of them being over 30 years old. If one of them tears then I would blame the VCR motor/belts, not the tape. The mecanically most taxing part would be fast rewind anyways, not regular playback.

As for the video size, you might be able to write an avisynth script that applies cropping, denoising and stabilizing to your video files, drop its output into your preferred video compressor and take it down to 500 MB/hour as h264 output. Without that filtering it'll start showing compression artifacts quickly. The regular speed recording itself I assume you could even do during work, there's nothing inherently taxing to your PC in that.
 
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zug134zwang

Junior Member
Feb 15, 2018
14
1
11
Postscript:

Very informative replies, including the link to http://www.digitalfaq.com/forum/video-restore/1567-vcr-buying-guide.html. I watched several youtube vcr repair videos and then experimented on my (already dead) vcr. I convinced myself that it would be too time consuming for me (a total vcr-repair-newbie) to try to become functional in vcr repair.

On the other hand, getting a used vcr + a video capture device definitely seems the way to go. Since I have dual boot, I can get the system running in Windows 7 overnight and worry about finding linux drivers+software for the video capture device later. Storage on my mechanical hard disks is no problem.

Since I was warned about ebay purchases, I went with a used $75 s-vhs vcr (15 years old) on amazon. Re the vcr, I contacted both amazon and the 3rd party re-seller. In both contacts, I was informed that if a "pre-existing subtle" problem surfaced unrelated to handling during shipping, I would have to eat the expense.

After about 15 phone calls, I found 3 separate vcr repair places. When I receive the vcr, I am going to immediately (before trying to use it) take it to a vcr repair for stripping/cleaning/inspection re the arms, gears, fuse.
 

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