Good-Bye, VHS; Hello, DVD

At a Glance
  • Hitachi DZ-MV350A DVD-CAM Camcorder (Hitachi-DZMV350A)

  • Sony DCR-TRV70 MiniDV Handy Camcorder (Sony-DCRTRV70)

  • Canon ELURA 50 Mini DV Camcorder (Canon-8713A001)

  • Sharp VL-Z7U Mini DV Camcorder (Sharp-VLZ7U)

  • Samsung SCD33 MiniDV Camcorder (Samsung-SCD33)

Good-Bye, VHS; Hello, DVD.
Photograph: Marc Simon
Technology favors the new, the powerful, and the fast. So where does that leave that pile of old VHS videocassettes you have up in the attic? Fortunately, converting your old tapes to digital form allows you to edit them, add music or narration, and output them to DVD, preserving them for the future. You will have your movies in a more compact and easily stored form than VHS--and you'll be able to watch them again and again without worrying that each replay might damage your tape. And digitizing your old videos is easy.

We looked at five video capture devices that make getting your old tapes onto your PC (and then onto a DVD) simple and quick. Using software and a capture device, each of these products, which range in price from $90 to $450, imports video from your analog camcorder and copies it to your hard drive and then onto a CD or DVD. We evaluated them on all the phases of transferring video from tape to DVD: installing the device, importing the video, selecting a format, editing the video, and saving it to DVD or other media. We also provide some advice on the best way to proceed with these steps.

The dedicated capture devices are great if you have a lot of tape to convert, but there is another option. Many current digital video cameras have analog-in ports that can be used to digitize your old analog videos: Just plug your old camcorder into your DV camera's video-in port, and you can transfer your videos to digital videotape and then onto your PC. We picked five of the latest and greatest models and reviewed them: See "Digital Camcorders Reviewed."

Our hands-on tests of the dedicated capture products revealed one standout: The AVerMedia DVD EZMaker USB2.0 is the cheapest and simplest product, but it does the job of capturing video well and without fuss, so it's our Best Buy. It works only with fairly new, fast systems, though. The other product that caught our eye was the ATI All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro AGP video card, which combines video capture features with a slew of others, including the ability to turn your PC into a personal video recorder. It is expensive, but it's also a state-of-the art 3D graphics card that can deliver high frame rates in 3D games.

One interesting product that wasn't available in time for testing in this roundup was the HP DVD Movie Writer, which combines an analog capture device and a rewritable DVD drive into one unit; see our review of a preproduction unit.

We used an MPC Millennia 910i desktop with a 3.06-GHz Pentium 4 and 1GB of RAM to see how each device handled our stack of tapes. Our system had two ATA hard drives, which is an ideal configuration for video editing, as we could dedicate one drive to storing the captured video. The size of your hard disks is also important: The more free disk space you have, the more video you can capture. We'd recommend having two drives with at least 40GB each to give you enough room to store and edit your video. Our test system also had USB 2.0 ports that can transfer data much faster than the older USB 1.1 ones. All of the USB products we tried can work with USB 1.1 ports, but the quality of the video suffers, as it has to be more heavily compressed to fit into the smaller bandwidth of USB 1.1.

Alfred Hitchcock once said a good movie is worth the price of admission, the tab for the dinner, and the cost of the babysitter. Good home movies, then, should be worth the expense and effort it takes to digitize them. And you won't even need a babysitter. See, you're saving right there....

At a Glance
  • Hitachi DZ-MV350A DVD-CAM Camcorder (Hitachi-DZMV350A)

  • Sony DCR-TRV70 MiniDV Handy Camcorder (Sony-DCRTRV70)

  • Canon ELURA 50 Mini DV Camcorder (Canon-8713A001)

  • Sharp VL-Z7U Mini DV Camcorder (Sharp-VLZ7U)

  • Samsung SCD33 MiniDV Camcorder (Samsung-SCD33)

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