YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

PC Focus

VHS Tapes Can Be Transferred to Computers

April 19, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

If you're in the market for a camcorder and plan to use your PC to edit the tapes, consider a digital video recorder. DV recorders connect directly to a PC or a Mac via a 1394 port--also known as FireWire or iLink--which makes it easy to transfer video between recorder and computer.

But you might already have an old-fashioned analog camcorder with lots of old tapes. Even if you're willing to spend $500 or more on a new DV recorder, it won't do you any good if you want to edit analog tapes.

I found myself in that position recently when I decided to use my PC to edit some cute scenes of my 2- and 4-year-old children at Disneyland. Trouble is, those kids are now 14 and 16, and the old tapes were made long before the advent of DV.

Fortunately, there are ways to upload 8-millimeter and VHS tapes so that they can be edited on a PC. Once edited, they can be played back on the PC, uploaded to the Internet or transferred back to videotape to be viewed on a standard TV set. If you have a CD burner, you can save them on a CD-ROM for your use or to send to others to play on their PCs. Eventually, PC users will have reasonably priced DVD recorders, but we're not quite there yet.

An inexpensive--although limited--solution is the $70 Studio Online from Pinnacle Systems, which comes with a special cable that connects your camcorder's audio and video jacks to the PC's Universal Serial Bus port. You don't need a FireWire card or any other hardware. The package also comes with a simple but relatively powerful program that can capture, edit and output videos. The program can output to three optional file formats: AVI, Real and MPEG. Real and MPEG files are popular for sharing via the Web.

Like all video-editing programs, the software lets you select clips from the tape, edit them and put together a program complete with titles, transitions, special effects and music or a voice-over narration in addition to the audio that's already on the tape.

The only problem with the system is that to get data through the USB port fast enough, you must compress it--which means the image loses resolution and can look choppy.

That's OK if you plan to view it on a little window on your screen, upload it to the Web or send it via e-mail, since you'd wind up compressing it anyway. You might, however, be disappointed if you view your production in full screen mode or on a standard TV. Still, this is a pretty good way to get started with video editing at a very reasonable cost.

A more expensive--but far more elegant--solution is Hollywood DV Bridge from Dazzle. This $300 hardware-and-software combination, which works with Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000 and Macintosh, requires a 1394 port in your PC. If you don't have one, you can add one to a desktop machine for about $50.

Hollywood DV Bridge converts the video from analog to digital before it pumps it into the PC. The result is a cleaner, smoother picture that looks about as good as if it originally had been recorded on a digital video camera. In addition to creating files you can view on your computer, the device has video and audio out ports that enable you to record your production on a standard VCR.

Hollywood DV Bridge comes with VideoWave Software from MGI Software. It's easy to use and has everything you need to select scenes and edit out what you don't want. You also can add titles, fades and other effects. One nice feature is automatic scene detection, which analyzes the video and automatically separates it into distinct scenes. Although it's not perfect, it does give you a head start on editing by dividing up your video for you.

Before you spend $300, consider whether you're better off just buying a DV recorder. With a DV recorder, you won't need any other special hardware, except a FireWire port, and you'll have a much easier time getting video into and out of the PC. That won't help you get older tapes into the PC. But if you have a small number of older tapes, you can pay a service to convert them for you.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

Los Angeles Times Articles