I discovered the other day that my standalone DVD recorder had made the Q sign since the last time I used it years ago, possibly due to a blown capacitor, apparently a common problem of aging with the model I had. Rather than just replace it, I thought, “Maybe video capture on PCs has come a ways since I last looked into it.” Years ago, video capture most often involved a PCIe card in the PC and the results could easily be mediocre, with dropped frames and other artifacts if you didn’t have quite a powerful and therefore expensive PC. It was more reliable to instead plug the VCR into a standalone DVD recorder, so that’s what I did back then.
And so video capture has improved, to the point of being ridiculously easy. For US$23 – a couple hundred dollars less than capture cards of years ago – I now have a much more convenient way to digitise VHS tapes, bypassing the old DVD recorder middleman and directly producing MP4s. It comes with editing software and works very nicely indeed.
There are no worries these days about performance and poor quality captures. Yesterday, my four-core/eight-processor/16GB machine – US$900 two years ago – was simultaneously doing all of the following without any performance degradation. In fact, the CPU usage hovered around 25-30% throughout.
- Downloading 11GB of a TV series at about 3MB/second
- Continuing the BitLocker encryption of all of my 5TB offsite backup drive, including unallocated sectors for safety
- Writing 20GB of a few series of another programme to a Blu-ray data disc
- On the 2nd optical drive, ripping the last 100 CDs I’d never gotten around to digitising, about one every four minutes; they’re all in the dumpster now along with the DVD recorder
- Merging seven parts of one episode of “The Story of English” I’d downloaded from YouTube (eight episodes are there in full, but episode 3 is split up); five more old tapes went into the dumpster
- Capturing audio/video from a 2-hour VHS tape to test the TOTMC device and saving to an MP4 file
The first major project will be to digitise W.C. Fields and Rita Hayworth films I have on the VHS tapes pictured below. To that end, my VCR is now on a short bookshelf shelf right next to the PC for maximum convenience. I believe I have about a third of the films below in digital form already and will investigate before I start.
How’d I get so many W.C. Fields films? Well, it certainly wasn’t because they were all available on video. A good number of these weren’t ever released on tape but were broadcast regularly on Sunday mornings by a local TV station many years ago. They had some rare ones and I got every one they aired during that run, editing out commercial breaks in real time.