December 18, 2008

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Video conversion gift guide
Make studio and home movies digital

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Got tapes? Even the DVD format is starting to show its age, so if an entertainment center is stocked with VHS cassettes, it might need some upgrading. There are dual-deck components with both VCRs and DVD recorders, but where’s the fun in that?

Just as in audio conversion, Ion (www.ionaudio.com) provides what jargon-loving business execs like to call a “turnkey solution.” The VCR 2 PC has a USB connection to provide an easy link between VHS tapes and the digital video format of your choice — MPEG, YouTube, DVD, whatever. The included EZ VHS converter software just prompts you to hit record on your computer screen, press play on the VCR 2 PC and let the conversion begin.

The VCR 2 PC also has regular composite input and output jacks, so you can use it as a regular VHS tape player (though not as a recorder) with your TV, and you can connect other video sources through it to record onto your PC. The audio connection is mono only, though, so any stereo sound will be automatically mixed down. The whole shebang retails for $200.

Of course, most folks with a VHS library already have a VCR. You can hook it up to your PC with any number of adapters. They come in both internal and external varieties, though for novices and laptop owners the external ones will probably be your choice. Early models tended to come in USB and FireWire versions, while nowadays the much faster and more common USB 2.0 interface is dominant.

For about $40, you can try the KWorld Xpert DVD Maker or the ADS Tech Video Xpress. Both include composite and S-video inputs as well as software to edit your newly imported video and burn it to DVD or video CD. The KWorld Expert can also output audio and video.

The ADS DVDXPRESS DX2 costs twice as much, but instead of being just an interface to your PC’s processing power, it does the video encoding itself. That keeps your computer from being bogged down with this demanding task.

At $100 is the Pinnacle Video Transfer device, which doesn’t require a PC at all. Inputs are again composite and S-video, while the USB output encodes H.264 MPEG-4 video directly to any USB flash memory or hard drive, or even iPod or Sony Playstation Portable. Pinnacle also offers the Dazzle Video Creator Plus for transferring video to a computer.

It’s important to note that all these products are advertised for use with home videos, not commercial videotapes. It’s perfectly legal to copy a movie you bought into another format for your own use, but copy protection measures can thwart even that purpose. Tapes with their copy tab removed are easy enough to restore, but some tapes actually send a protection signal that most DVD recorders will honor. So make sure your VCR still works for all your old movies.