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Digitizing Your Family Movies

How to Convert Videotapes to DVD

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Video cassette recorder and tape
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Somewhere in your house is a box or drawer full of videotapes -- aging home movies full of birthdays, dance recitals, holiday gatherings, a child's first steps and other special family moments. You haven't watched the movies in years but, unfortunately, the years are still taking their toll. Heat, humidity and improper storage cause videotapes to deteriorate, decaying the magnetic particles that represent your precious family memories. By converting those old VHS tapes to digital form, you can effectively stop the deterioration in its tracks. It also allows you to use your computer to edit out the boring and blooper moments, add music or narration, and make extra copies for your family and friends.

What You Need

The basic requirements are easy -- a computer and a camcorder or VCR which can play your old videotapes. Other important items you'll need include a device to get the video in and out of your computer (video capture), the software to edit it, and a DVD-burner to copy the video onto DVDs.

Video Capture Hardware
Transferring videotape to DVD is actually pretty easy to do yourself, but will require some special hardware. Depending upon your computer setup, you may already have what you need. Three major options for transferring footage from old videotapes to computer include:

  • Transfer footage via a video card
    To transfer video footage to your computer you'll need the right cables and hardware. If you have a newer computer, you may already have what you need. Check the back of your computer and follow the cord coming from your monitor. If you see multicolored (red, white and yellow) plugs on the same card, then you're in luck. With a RCA A/V (audio/video) cable you'll be able to directly connect your video camera or VCR directly to your computer. If your video card also has a round S-Video jack, use a S-Video cable in place of the yellow RCA video input for superior video quality. If your video card doesn't have RCA input jacks, you can also choose to replace it with a new video card.

  • Transfer footage via a video capture card or device
    A cheaper and often easier alternative to replacing the entire video card in your computer is to add a video capture card. You'll need an empty PCI slot in the back of your computer to install one. Alternatively, there are some which will plug into an available USB slot, which is easier than having to open your computer to plug in the card. Video capture cards usually come with software on CD which will walk you through the steps of transferring video from your VCR or Camcorder to your computer.

  • Transfer footage via a video capture card
    If your computer doesn't have a DVD burner, then the best solution may be to purchase an external DVD recorder. These connect to the computer via a USB port and have built-in video capture technology, allowing you to capture video, edit it, and burn it to DVD with a single device.

Digital Video Software
In conjunction with the hardware, you'll also need special software to capture, compress and edit the video footage on your computer. The digital video software assists you with capturing the video from your video camera or VCR, and also allows you to cut/edit the footage or add fun special effects such as narration, transitions, menus and background music. In some cases, digital video software may have come with your video capture card or device. If not, there are a number of free video editing programs, such as Windows Movie Maker, that can perform some of these functions. If you want to get fancy, then programs such as Adobe Premiere Elements, Corel VideoStudio, Apple's Final Cut and Pinnacle Studio make it easy to get your movies on DVD with professional results.

Plenty of Hard Drive Space
It may not sound like a big deal, but the hard drive on your computer will need a lot of free space when you're working with video - as much as 12-14 gigabytes (GB) of space for every hour of footage you import. If you don't have that much space to spare, consider purchasing an external hard drive. You can get a 200MB external hard drive for less than $300 -- enough room for plenty of video, plus a place to backup your photos, genealogy and other files.

Working with such large files means that you'll also need a powerful computer. A fast processor (CPU) and plenty of memory (RAM) will make it much easier to transfer and edit video.

Next Page > Transfer, Edit & Save Your Video

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