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Digitizing VHS tapes

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    Digitizing VHS tapes

    What would you recommend to digitize VHS and S-VHS tapes? I already have a good S-VHS VCR, the JVC HR-S7800U. I can capture to my Macbook Pro or Windows 10 desktop. Ideally there would be a box with S-Video input and USB output. But according to reviews, most are junk, even the Blackmagic Intensity.

    The #1 recommendation is the Elgato ($80). But it saves to MPEG-4 at just 2 Mbps. This seems good enough for consumers, especially since the source is VHS. But my tapes are home movies from my youth, some S-VHS. I'm trying to digitize them once and for all, ideally 640x480 uncompressed.

    Now I wonder if I'm misreading this. I was thinking that the Elgato encoded the video to MPEG-4 in hardware. But now I think that maybe the signal over USB is uncompressed, and it's the software that Elgato provides for free with the device that does the compression. If so, maybe I could just use different software, like VirtualDub, to capture it in a better format.

    The other complicating factor is that I've heard you need a Time Base Corrector. These are discontinued and hard to find even on eBay for a decent price. Hobbyists have recommended format converters as a cheap alternative, since they have to do the same thing.


    Now I'm thinking maybe I should get two pieces: an HDMI converter and then an HDMI capture device. There are many converters, because HDMI is the only kind of input on many modern TVs. VHS watchers and retro gamers alike are buyers of such adapters, so there are plenty to choose from. But I can't plug HDMI into my laptop. Even if your computer has the jack, you can't record from it. You need an HDMI capture device.

    I'm just overwhelmed by the choices. Both devices have a wide range in price. I would prefer to spend around $100 total, but I would be willing to go to maybe $500 if need be.


    BONUS: How to deinterlace? This could be its own thread. I might watch these on my computer, so they will play progressive-scan whether I deinterlace or not. I hate the comb-shaped edges, and with a good deinterlacer that interpolates fields well, I think the result could be better than the original.
    Last edited by combatentropy; 12-14-2019, 04:03 PM.

    Originally posted by combatentropy View Post
    BONUS: How to deinterlace?
    Use QTGMC from Vapoursynth or Avisynth.


      I use the JVC HR-S7500s and Blackmagic Intensity pro 4K, works well. The Intensity pro also is my second video card for Davinci (for third display, 4K tv).

      Davinci can de-interlace but I never used it for copied vhs clips.

      JVC's time base corrector seems to do the job, it plays old vhs tapes that other players couldn't play anymore.
      Last edited by Publimix; 12-14-2019, 04:06 PM.
      Peter Bosman


        Long road for me on this one. Have been trying for years to digitize all of my legacy tapes, I've done dozens with many more left to go.

        I used a Datavideo TBC-1000 on the older stuff (VHS starting around 1981). At first I tried capturing through an Intensity Extreme direct to disk but found that the regular lack of sync was making the recordings unreliable. I decided to make intermediate copies to DVCAM since I still had a couple of those decks...even though that's obviously an old format, I felt it was faithful enough to capture up to Beta SP recordings for archival purposes, and it wasn't having as hard a time with the instability of the analog formats. And there is still some comfort in having tape backup as well as digital files.

        When it came time to capture from the DVCAM footage (via SDI out of the deck into Intensity), I was still having issues with the software hiccuping at the old stuff. I ended up buying an older Atomos recorder, the Samurai Blade, which was the last generation to support SD-SDI. So I can capture off tape with that (and for further captures, simultaneous to tape and the Blade).

        Kind of a long and hideous road but my good ol footage is secure at last. Amazingly, a good 90% of my VHS home videos from early thru late 80's were playable, some of it in very good condition, little to no dropouts.
        Charles Papert


          Originally posted by Publimix View Post
          Davinci can de-interlace but I never used it for copied vhs clips.
          It is a bad deinterlacer, it merges lines from two separate temporal events into one event.

          Much better is to use something like QTGMC, which actually deinterlaces an NTSC video into a 59.97p and a PAL video into 50P.


            I've been using an old Sony SVO-5800 Pro S-VHS deck with the optional Component out board. Set everything up on the SVO-5800 TBC and engage the chroma noise reduction and it puts out a surprisingly decent output. Having the ability to adjust the Chroma/luminance (Y/C) inequality delay is great for the old VHS tapes. I then run trough a YUV to SD SDI converter and capture Interlace SD ProRes. If the files are going to MP4 I just let Vidcoder or Handbrake do the de-interlace from ProRes to MP4. If they need to be cleaned up or edited I do that in the interlace domain and then de-interlace on export to MP4.

            Chris Young


              Search on Ebay - the old S-VHS with mini DV recorders come up quite often. Firewire out, so you need to get a card for the computer if you don't use firewire, but the quality is actually fine. Many failed attempts at VHS to digital don't get caused by the MP4 conversion, but by the source tapes and the state of the recorder you are using for playback. The 240 line standard definition is poor to start with, and the conversion messes it up even more. Getting them to lock up and stay locked is always a problem VHS was never very stable and relied so much on the TV to follow it. Modern stuff expects really stable sources - so any of the TBCs you see come up second hand can help enormously. Such an easy task 20 years ago now a very tough one to complete.


                I transferred many VHS/SVHS tapes years ago and actually bought a Panasonic pro S-VHS player with TBC. I use a Pinnacle Video Transfer Device which captured straight to USB memory without a computer being involved. Okay quality on the final MP4 files as VHS isn't that great to start with. But the TBC in the player made all the difference getting a stable read of the old tapes.

                If I'd do it again I would hunt down another player with a good TBC.


                  Thank you for the tips! After spending too much time, here's where I'm at. Let's outline the steps:

                  1. VCR
                  2. TBC
                  3. Digitizer
                  4. Capture
                  5. Deinterlacing
                  6. Post
                  7. Storage

                  Choices I thought would be easy have been hard, and ones I thought would be hard have been easy. It's also clearest in reverse:

                  7. Storage. I'm thinking solid-state drives with a USB-C jack. Flash is cheap. Even uncompressed at these resolutions would be like $20 per hour.
                  6. Post. I plan to do very little. These are sentimental artifacts, best left untouched.
                  5. Deinterlacing. What I thought would be controversial and agonizing has turned out to be cut and dry. Thank you, Cary Knoop! The internet agrees, just use QTGMC.
                  4. Capture. Thanks to VirtualDub and others, all the software I need is free, even for uncompressed or advanced, visually lossless codecs like Cineform.
                  3. : Digitizer. I don't know which digitizer to get.
                  2. : TBC. I don't know exactly what to do for Time Base Correction.
                  1. VCR. I already own a nice VCR, like I said (JVC HR-S7800U).


                  I mainly need to figure out the TBC and Digitizer.


                  The hardest decision of all is what to do about Time Base Correction. I have long understood its virtues. Back in the early 1990s, I was using the Amiga Toaster, and I couldn't do certain effects because my school didn't have one (like superimpose graphics or cleanly speed up footage). And it's also a good idea for simple playback, especially of dodgy old tapes.

                  There are two kinds of TBC, I have just learned: Line and Frame. People say to get one of each. A line TBC, working on one line a time, corrects horizontal squiggles and actually does most of what we would call clean-up. My VCR actually has a line TBC. Now a frame-based TBC digitizes a whole frame at a time, repaves the signal, and then releases it, in precise lockstep with the other frames. This corrects vertical jumpiness. It also is your best bet against dropped frames when it reaches your digitizer.

                  But I'm having a hard time finding TBCs that are recommended. The ones that are most recommended are not for sale, or are around $1,000. I see a promising-looking, professional TBC on eBay, the Key West Big Voodoo. It is 10-bit and has proc amp features. And it's only about $100. But some people at say it inserts some kind of subtle white noise in dark areas.

                  Now I'm wondering if a digital video mixer could do the job of a frame-based TBC. After all, it seems like it would have to digitize and buffer a whole frame at a time, to do its job, and some people say it does (and of course others throw it into doubt). Anyway, they are easier to find right now than dedicated frame-based TBCs. For example, I could get a fully professional old Panasonic WJ-MX50 for less than $100!

                  Or like you said, I could just get a fully professional VCR that comes with a frame-based TBC and even a proc amp, for a few hundred dollars. I would rather not spend quite that much more money, though, and I already have a decent VCR. Some people even recommend prosumer ones like mine over the professional counterparts, because of supposed incompatibilities in head size or little niceties in image clean-up that only the prosumer ones have. (These people on the Internet are driving me crazy!)


                  It seems like I could maybe just use like a $50 digitizer, the ones that look like a cable, with S-video and RCA on one end, and USB on the other. For example, the Elgato, IO-Data, Diamond, or Hauppauge. Some people say just pick the cheapest one and then proceed to capture uncompressed in VirtualDub software. Others say only a couple models are decent, and one if them is only on eBay anymore.

                  What confounds me is I can't figure out what's going on in these digitizers. Do they convert to a neutrally graded, uncompressed signal (albeit 8-bit 4:2:2) or is there some kind of auto-grading or compression going on inside them, before it gets to my computer and I can save it uncompressed with VirtualDub. If anyone has any insight into the innards of these little USB dongles, please let us know.
                  Last edited by combatentropy; 12-15-2019, 01:07 PM.


                    TBC is essential to store each frame and output it in proper timing. Without TBC you probably will end up with to much garble and the recording might prove to be difficult to do because the grabbing device will loose the sync.


                      Not disagreeing


                        Originally posted by combatentropy View Post
                        The hardest decision of all is what to do about Time Base Correction.
                        If you can't find a decent TBC look around for an old Sony Betacam deck that still powers up okay. Doesn't matter if the heads and transport are shot all you want it for is the ability to pass a composite video stream through its TBC. Using the composite in and out you can run your VHS material though the deck and get beautifully stabilized reclocked video sync. The video, black, chroma and Y/C adjustments can all be adjusted from the underside TBC panel. Old Beta decks turn up eBay quite often a pretty reasonable price. Very often for a much cheaper price that a decent TBC. The TBCs in the Betacam decks were of a very high order quality wise.

                        Chris Young