I have a collection of about 90 video tapes that I've made -- home movies made with camcorders. Of my kids when they were young and cute and liked to be on-camera. I have always worried about the long-term future of the tapes, and there are two things to worry over:
- that the movies on the video tapes survive. The tapes can lose magnetization over time, or could be lost due to fire or flooding.
- that the camcorders continue working in order to view the movies. The primary problem is the head, which gets dirty (can be cleaned) and wears out over time; as well, the motor or any other part of the camcorder could break down. Most new camcorders no longer use tape, and certainly don't playback the old "8" format employed by my first camcorder and its 30-odd tapes.
The Solution of Digitization
The solution is to digitize the movies. The problem to that solution is cost and time. Local places offer to digitize home movies on DVD for $35 per 2-hour tape, but that's $3,500 to do my collection -- and without any editing. With the way that DVD formats are changing, I'm not sure that's the answer. Then there is the question over the longivity of the DVD discs themselves -- which can be as little as ten years, it is rumoured.
I have tried making my own DVDs, but the process is time-consuming and frustrating -- it takes about ten hours from start to finish for each disc. And then recently my daughter watched one of my custom DVDs and several scenes no longer worked. After just a few years, the DVD was already going bad.
I was stuck: I needed to digitize the tapes, but DVDs were an unpleasant answer.
The Solution of Streaming
As I played around with SanDisk's V-mate digital video recorder, I came upon a solution: don't make DVDs! Now, I admit I don't know it this is the final answer, but this is what I've come up with:
1. I hook my ancient camcorder up to the V-mate, and then play back each video tape, which is recorded by the V-mate onto its 4GB SDHC memory card. (A 2-hour tape results in a 3GB file.) The connection is a simple RCA cord, which the V-mate includes. The quality isn't great, but that old camcorder took videos with washed out colors anyhow. And it only has an RCA connector -- no S-video or any other more modern and better quality connection.
TIP 1: The V-mate doesn't have a display, so it is hard to know which buttons to press on its remote control to start recording. As a monitor, I hooked up my other, newer camcorder, which has a Line-in mode. It lets me see the V-mate's output.
TIP 2: As I noted in other postings, it takes the V-mate about 2 minutes to close the 3GB video file. So, once you press the [Stop] button to stop recording, wait until the red Recording LED turns off before removing the memory card.
TIP 3: The V-mate is also a card reader, and so I thought I could use it transfer the MP4 movie files from the memory card to my computer. But it was painfully slow, so I instead physically move the SDHC memory card to the SanDisk MicroMate memory card reader (that came with the memory card), which then takes about 5 minutes to copy the file onto my computer -- instead of an hour!
TIP 4: Instead of the V-mate, I could use my computer to record the movie direct from the camcorder. But there are two problems: (1) computers aren't really set up to accept RCA inputs; and (2) it takes processing power to do the recording. I did play around with ATI's tv tuner, but it was a pain. By using the V-mate to do the recording, I off-load the processing.
2. I move the 3GB MP4 movie file onto one of my computer's monster-size external hard drives. (Those 90 movies are going to take up 270GB of disk space.)
TIP 5: I move the file, rather than copy it. This has two benefits: (1) the file is erased from the memory card automatically once the move procedure is finished; and (2) I found that Windows acts up when I would try to erase the file from the memory card. Sometimes I'd have to resort to formatting the memory card to get rid of the file.
TIP 6: To move the file, hold down the Shift key when dragging its file name from the memory card to the computer using Windows Explorer.
That's where I am now. I have the V-mate and two camcorders sitting next to me at my work. Every two hours, I complete another movie. This means I get through 3-5 movies a day, all 90 can be done in about a month.
The next stage is to clean up the movies. There are blank sections, and sections where I left the camcorder running, recording the inside of the camera bag, or the sidewalk. These should be removed.
Here I found that my copy of Pinnacle Studio 8 software does a good job of quickly finding scenes (where the video image changes significantly), and then lets me quickly combine found scenes into actual scenes. I have tested it, and Studio 8 works with the 3GB files generated by the V-mate, but not in MP4 format, so conversion is needed.
My plan is to break each MP4 movie file into a suitable number of scenes. Each scene becomes its own movie file, with a suitably descriptive file name that includes the date, such as July 1992.
Viewing by Streaming
The ultimate plan is to view the movies through streaming. Instead of selecting a DVD to view, the idea is to select the movie by file name, and then have the movie transmitted wirelessly from my computer in the basement to the tv screen in the family room.
I don't have the hardware yet, but eventually video streaming should become affordable. I suspect that the Apple TV product will eventually do this. Even if it doesn't, my home movies are digitized and can be converted into any other file format that might come along.
Video tapes grow old, hard drives fail. Just because I have digitized my home movies doesn't mean they are safe for all time. After I copy the MP4 file to one of my external hard drives, I make second copy to a low-cost 250GB external drive that I picked up last week from FutureShop for the equivalent of US$95.
Once filled with movies, I can bring that hard drive to my parent's place -- a form of off-site backup storage. They could also watch movies, or just keep the drive in the closet, in case there's a problem wtih the master hard drive in my home.
After that, I could see myself doing a second backup, burning the edited MP4 files onto dual-layer DVDs, which hold about 9GB (3 movies) each.