If you want to transfer VHS to DVD, several options exist for the VHS to DVD conversion and, if done right, the DVD's can look even better than the original VHS tapes (for simplicity sake I use VHS, but this process also applies to VHS-C, SVHS, Hi8, regular, even Beta).
There are a few methods to convert VHS to DVD:
- Capture the VHS video to a computer video editing program using an analog-to-DV converter (which includes many DV/Digital8 camcorders as well as standalone analog-to-DV converters), encode it to MPEG-2 and author a DVD, This is the most time-consuming method but it gives you the flexibility to edit the video as much as you want, adding transitions, special effects, music, etc. But, between the capture time, the editing time and the often considerable time it takes for software encoding to MPEG-2, this can result in several hours of work for your computer - and you - for each hour of video.
- Capture the video to the computer as MPEG-2 using hardware capture devices that convert the VHS to MPEG-2 as they capture and then author and burn a DVD. A one-hour video is captured and compressed to MPEG-2 in one hour, but you are generally limited to doing "cuts-only" editing of the MPEG-2 files. However, if your original tape doesn't need editing this is a fast way to convert VHS to DVD, but still have the flexibility to create custom DVD menus. Many of the inexpensive hardware analog-to-MPEG boxes can deliver very good quality, in part because the analog source video does not have to be converted to DV before being encoded to MPEG. Converting VHS to DV can add artifacts that make it harder to get good MPEG compression.
- Connect your VHS VCR or camcorder to a standalone DVD recorder that works much like a VCR. This VHS to DVD recorder basically gives you a DVD copy of your tape in real time. You don't have a lot of flexibility as far as menus, buttons and chapter settings, but it's the fastest and easiest way to convert VHS to DVD. If you get a "DVD VCR" with Firewire connections you can plug a DV/Digital8/DVCAM camcorder or VCR into it and transfer the tapes to DVD at even higher quality than by using the analog connections.
No matter which method you use, you need to ensure that the analog video has the highest quality possible: flaws in the original video may be greatly magnified when you encode it to MPEG-2 and convert it to DVD.
Some points to keep in mind for better quality DVD's:
- Clean the tape heads on your analog VCR or camcorder. Older tapes, especially, can deposit a lot of residue on the heads, resulting in dropouts and other picture flaws.
- If your VHS VCR has a sharpness control, turn it down. A softer image has less noise and that enables the MPEG-2 encoder to do a much better job. Some tape players also have an "Edit" button which affects playback sharpness. Put it in the position that provides less sharpness.
- Connect a video processor to the output of your analog tape player and then connect the output of the processor to your capture device. So-called "proc amps" and timebase correctors (TBC's) provide tools for stabilizing analog video, changing brightness and contrast levels and adjusting color. Just being able to adjust levels and color can result in a DVD that looks much better than the original VHS tape.
- If your want to convert Hi8 and 8mm to DVD, one of the best ways to import it into your computer is with a Digital 8 camcorder. Several models of D8 camcorders can playback analog tapes and convert them to DV and have built in digital noise reduction and TBC's to clean up the analog video before it's converted to DV and sent to your computer via the Firewire cable.
- If you transfer two hours of VHS to a DVD it can result in a significant loss of quality unless you have a high quality MPEG-2 encoder or use methods that encode the video at "half resolution." The normal DVD video resolution is 720x480 for NTSC, but some encoders and DVD authoring programs allow you to use 352x480 resolution. When you convert VHS to DVD this smaller resolution can still deliver very good results at the low data rates (bitrates) required to fit two or more hours of video on one DVD, especially if you use an analog-to-MPEG2 encoder or a standalone VHS to DVD recorder that bypasses the analog-to-DV step.
- Try to use compressed audio on your DVD's. Uncompressed - PCM - audio takes up a lot of space on the DVD that could better be used for higher-quality video. Dolby Digital/AC3 is the best choice for audio compression.
A warning: if you do convert your analog video to DV before putting it on DVD, don't be shocked when you see the size of the DV file it captures to your computer. DV files take up almost 14 gigabytes per hour and at least once a week I answer a question from someone who wants to know how in the world they're supposed to fit a 14GB movie on a 4.7GB DVD? That's what the MPEG-2 encoder does: it compresses the video to a much smaller size so that video, audio and menus all fit on a DVD (which actually holds 4.37GB of computer data).
If the analog-to-DV option sounds likes the best one for getting your video into the computer when you start to transfer VHS to dvd and you don't already own a DV camcorder or one of the analog-to-DV converter, I recommend getting a DV camcorder with analog inputs instead of simple converter box. The DV camcorder will allow you to save your edited projects back to tape as a high quallity DV master and, you will have something to shoot new video in the DV format. Some DV camcorders cost only slightly more than a converter. If you have a lot of old Hi8 or 8mm tapes, then consider purchasing a Digital8 camcorder with analog inputs and the ability to playback those older analog 8 tapes. In addition to "analog inputs," some camcorders also advertise "analog pass through." This means that the analog signal does not have to first be recorded to DV tape before being sent down the Firewire cable as DV. This can save plenty of time and tape if you plan to do a lot of VHS to DVD conversion.