Pass-through Video Capture Demo

After finally completing my home storage server, I started to capture old videos onto my computer. I now have a place to store my source files, my projects, and the finished product. The videos I captured using my Sony A65or my Canon M30 are easy to send to my computer since they are already in digital format. I can either plug it in using a USB cable or use a card reader and copy the files over.

What about older videos that are on VHS? Beta? DV? After talking with a few friends who are more versed in video than I am, I found a way to capture the content off the old media and store it onto my computer. Why would you do this?

  1. VHS and Beta tapes deteriorate. Time is against you and sooner or later the memories stored on those tapes will be lost. Digital will last longer and if you back up data daily, you shouldn’t lose them at all.
  2. Turning the content into digital will make sharing easier. Imagine if you have family and friends all over the world and you want to share these memories with them. Will you try to make copies over the VCR/Beta? Do you even have a working device to do that? How much would it cost to ship? How long will it take to ship? You get the idea? Being it’s in digital form, you can upload it on a server and share the link so that they can download a copy for themselves or even stream it. You can even put them on your smart phone or tablet and share that way.

Those are the 2 reasons that convince me to begin capturing old videos. There are several ways to capture video into your computer.

In the past, I used a device that had both VCR and DVD recorder. I used the Panasonic DMR-ES35V. It was easy to use. I popped in the VHS on the left side and used DVD-RW (rewriteable so I can re-use the DVD) on the right side. It burned the video onto the DVD-RW disc. Once I finished, I ripped the DVD-RW into my computer so I can edit it. There were 2 problems with this method. The first is being the videos were old, I don’t remember how long the video ran or what recording method was used (SP, LP, SLP). You had to tell the recorder how long to record. The other thing I didn’t like was, there were too many steps. I had to erase the DVD-RW, I had close the session when the copying was done, I had to rip – and many more. But it worked.

Then I found out about the pass-through method. You use a camcorder with AV-DV (analog to digital) feature. Many of the DV camcorders should have this feature. You will also need for the camera to have firewire port. Generally, firewire is compatible for capturing with video editing software – USB is not compatible.

How this works is you connect the camcorder to the VCR’s video out (RCA – red, yellow, white cables). On the other end is a 3.5” (looks like a headphone jack) that plugs in to the camcorder. This cable should be included with your camcorder if it has the feature. So the idea is the VCR plays the video and your camcorder acts as the TV. Once you to this step, you can move forward two ways.

  1. You can record the video onto a DV tape. An advantage of this is you can use the tape to archive your video. DV should last longer than your VHS. What I don’t like is the capture time – it’s doubled. So if the video you’re capturing is 30 minutes long, the process will take 60 minutes. The first 30 minutes is capturing it onto the DV tape. The second 30 minutes is capturing it off the DV tape and into your computer.
  2. You can capture straight into your computer. Once it’s in your computer, you can archive the source file however you want. You can burn it onto a DVD or Bluray disc, upload it to the cloud (Amazon Glacier is a nice and affordable service), or save it in your hard drive.

Another device you can use instead of a VCR is a breakout box such as the Canopus ADVC 110. The idea is the same. From what I read, using this device, there is a smaller chance for audio and video sync issues. You can also use capture cards from Hauppage and El Gato. Most of them now are USB and I didn’t like the software it came with them so I didn’t go that route. You can also check out the higher end products where the encoding is done on the device itself so your computer doesn’t have to work as hard.

So here’s a video I did that demonstrates the process.


On a final note. This is not limited to Windows OS. The method can be applied to OS X as well. The only difference is the software you use. In OS X you could use Adobe (like in Windows) or try Apple’s iMovie and Final Cut.

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