Reader How Tos: A System To Convert VHS and 8 mm Tape To DVD

Testing The System

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

8:40 AM - I read through the Pinnacle Studio manual. At first, I was a little daunted by the 280+ page manual, but after reading the first 50 pages or so, I felt I was ready to capture and even edit some video. I got my Sony Handycam, which can record up to two hours of Hi8 analog video on little cassettes. This particular camera has an S-video and video/ audio jacks on the side of the camera. I connected the S-video and the audio from the camcorder to the Pinnacle BlueBox.

Capture/ Editing Video

10:00 AM - I had 12 Hi8 videocassette tapes that I wanted to digitize. I grabbed the first one and checked the amount of video I had recorded on it. On this particular camera, you can fast forward the tape to the end, set the counter to zero and then rewind the tape. After rewinding, the counter will show the total time recorded on the tape as a negative time unit number. Then, as the tape plays, it counts down to zero.

10:10 AM - I started up the Pinnacle System program and selected the 'Capture' mode. The Capture window told me I had 15 GB of free disk on space on the C: Drive, which equated to 65 minutes of video capture storage space. I clicked on the "Settings" button and changed the video storage drive from C: to E:. Pinnacle allows you to select the capture quality (good, better, best or custom), and then it calculates the storage time based on free disk space. I had 305.33 GB of free disk space, which, according to the video capture quality I selected (default), gave me 21.5 hours of video storage.

The Capture screen's "Settings" menu also gave me the option of testing the read/ write data rate of the hard disk. My boot disk is a Fujitsu model MPG3204AH 20 GB, which supports an ATA-33/66/100 (100 MB/s transfers in Ultra mode 5), tested out at 36.4 MB/s read rate and 30.6 MB/s write rate, according to Pinnacle System software. On the other hand, the two Maxtor drives configured in RAID0 connected to an ATA-133 interface as one large 305.33 GB drive returned a 54.2 MB/s read rate and a 53.7 MB/s write rate.

10:20 AM - The camcorder reported one hour and five minutes of recorded video on the first videocassette. I started the capture process by simply pushing 'Play' on the camcorder and clicking on 'Start Capture' in the Pinnacle Capture screen. An hour and five minutes later, Pinnacle had converted analog video into 44 scenes of digital video. Pinnacle uses a number of tricks to detect scene transitions. It breaks a video stream down into "scenes" and displays them as small (thumbnail) photographs, each thumbnail showing the first frame of that scene. These scenes were placed in an "album" and displayed across the top of the screen in time-indexed sequence. Each of the 44 scenes was displayed just like a photograph in an album, with the scene number and the length of the scene shown beside each thumbnail.

11:25 AM - I now had my first digitized video to edit and play with. I switched the Pinnacle program from the capture mode to 'edit.' I used drag-and-drop to drag scenes from the album and drop them into the 'movie window,' which looks like three rows of blank filmstrips. Each filmstrip has nine frames in it. (See photo below.)

Pinnacle System screen shot.

I added a title, some transitions, and a voice-over commentary to the video and saved the project.

I switched Studio Deluxe from edit to 'make movie' mode. I chose to save the 5 minute 13 second video in MPEG1 format. Studio Deluxe offered eight preset formats, including RealVideo, VideoCD, Multimedia, VHS, SVCD, DVD and custom. The chart below shows some of the settings, sizes and options that Pinnacle offers.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Video ModeResolutionAudio RateRead RateFile Size
Tape720x48048 kB/sIEEE-139465 MB
AVI720x48048 kB/s3745 kB/s1.2 GB
MPEG352x24044.1 kB/s2400 kB/s99.7 MB
RealVideo320x240not listed512 kB/s53 MB
Windows Media640x48044.1 kB/s1500 kB/s56.8 MB

Pinnacle offers a wide variety of formats in which to save your video. Once you save it, the next thing to do is put it on CD or DVD.

Making A Data CD And A Movie DVD Disk

There are a couple of ways to put movies onto CDs or DVDs:

1. If the movie file is less than 700 MB, then you can create a normal data disc on CD or DVD and copy the movie onto the disc as if it were a normal computer data file. The receiver of the disc would then have the option of playing the movie from its CD/ DVD drive if the drive is fast enough. Otherwise, the receiver would have to copy the movie to the hard disk first in order to play it without skips and/ or pauses. (Obviously, movie files larger than 700 MB can only be stored on DVD, unless you want to break the file up.) The Veritas program "RecordNow" that came with the Pioneer drive can be used to write data to CD-R/RW or DVD-R/RW.

2. The other way to put a movie on a CD or DVD is to make it a Video CD (VCD), a Super-VCD (SVCD), or a DVD movie format.

Pinnacle System Studio Deluxe does not have the facilities to make a CD or DVD. You must use their companion program, called Pinnacle Express, to make a VCD, SVCD or DVD movie. Pinnacle Express takes DV from a digital camcorder to make (oops, sorry, transcode, compile and burn) a CD or DVD after some minor editing, if necessary. Pinnacle Express can also import Windows Media files (AVI) and transcode, compile and burn a CD or DVD.

3:30 PM - I finished editing my first video. I added titles, transitions, voice-over and background music to it. The video was almost 30 minutes long. I was now ready to save it as an MPEG1 file to copy to a CD. I switched Studio Deluxe to the 'Make Movie' mode. Studio Deluxe told me the MPEG file size would be approximately 558 MB. It took Studio Deluxe 20 minutes to render the MPEG file and save it to disk. But the file size turned out to be 581 MB! That was too large for me to put on a CD with the 163 MB of other data I wanted to put on there.

4:10 PM - I removed a three-minute scene from my video project and re-rendered it. The 26 minute 40 second video took 18 minutes to render and generated a MPEG file of 520 MB. I moved the MPEG video file into a folder that I wanted burn onto a CD. The total folder size was 685 MB.

4:30 PM - I started up the Veritas program "RecordNow" that came with the Pioneer drive, and inserted an 80 min/ 700 MB CD-R into the DVD drive. I used the RecordNow's wizard to make a data disc in three easy steps. It took 10 minutes 45 seconds to write the 685 MB of data to the CD, and 6 minutes and 30 seconds to verify it. I checked the CD on two other computers, and it worked fine. I could access the data files (a couple of Word documents) and view the still photos I had placed on the disc with no problem at all. I could also play the MPEG movie files straight from the disc. Both of the other computers have DVD drives, so they had faster read speeds than normal CD drives.

As a side note, RecordNow has a button labeled 'DVD Data Extraction Speed Test.' I inserted a data CD into the Pioneer DVD drive, and RecordNow reported that the CD data extraction speed rate was 8.1X. When I put a data DVD in the drive, I got 2.2X. According to Pioneer's manual, the Maximum Read Speed for the drive is 24X for CDs (CAV) and 6X for DVDs (CAV). On the other hand, the Write Speed is listed at 1X and 2X for DVD-R (CLV), and 4X and 8X for CD-R (CLV).

5:00 PM - Lastly, I tried to make a DVD movie disc. I had ordered 100 DVD-R discs for $89.00 from I used Studio Deluxe to put together a 38 minute 38 second video, and saved it as an AVI file. It took over an hour to save the 8.5 GB file! Then I started up Studio Express and imported the same AVI file. Studio Express insisted on scanning the file first for scene breaks, which took a few minutes, and then took a couple more minutes to read the file in. Since I had no editing to do on this program, I just glanced through Studio Express' editor. It had detected the scene breaks that I had inserted in Studio Deluxe, and used them to set up the standard DVD movie 'scene selection' menu. As a first time user, they seemed fine. I selected the 'Create a disc' option. I inserted a DVD-R into the Pioneer drive and pressed the start button on the Studio Express screen. Studio Express executed a two-step write to disc process: Composing the contents (also called rendering or creating the files), and writing to disc. One hour and 45 minutes later, I had a DVD movie disc! It was that easy.

7:00 PM - I inserted my newly made DVD disc into my Panasonic DVD movie player. It started up with the scene selection screen. I pressed the play button and, voila, the movie started! The picture quality and the audio level were very good. But, after a few minutes, I noticed the audio was out of sync with the action (lip movement).

So, I'm not a perfect film editor. But this was a great learning experience. And I got myself a kick-ass system!

Summary And Conclusions

I needed a PC to convert analog videos to DVD movies. My research lead me to believe I could purchase the parts and put together a better system than I could purchase as a whole, pre-configured, preloaded system. I still stand by that statement.

I made extensive use of the Internet generally and Tom's Hardware Guide specifically to read up on the latest technology and compare numerous points of my proposed system, including:

  • DVD-R/RW versus DVD+R/RW;
  • Sony DVD+R/RW versus Pioneer DVD-A04 (-104);
  • Western Digital 120 GB HD versus Maxtor 160 GB;
  • Dazzle Multimedia versus Pinnacle System;
  • Intel 845E versus 845G versus 850 versus 850E;
  • Intel 850E versus SIS-648;
  • ATA-100 versus ATA-133 versus Serial ATA;
  • ASUS versus Gigabyte versus Shuttle; purchase from versus

Once I chose the DVD-R/RW drive and the 160 GB hard disk drives, everything else fell into place. Once again, I found myself on Tom's Hardware Guide comparing prices. Putting the system together was fun and took less time than I thought.

Microsoft has almost got their operating system and office software installation down pat. The other software and application programs installed smoothly.

Pinnacle System Studio Deluxe made it very easy and intuitive to capture, edit, and make digital movies from analog videotapes. Pinnacle Express made it easy to make CDs and DVDs of those movies.

Finally, it is my opinion that current technology is ready to convert analog videotapes to digital video that is suitable to place on a DVD (in the form of a movie or data disc) at a reasonable price and distribute to other family members or to bore you friends with.

Jim Tomlinson joined Intel in 1986 as a design engineer after he retired from the U.S. Air Force. During his 12 years with Intel, he designed desktop and laptop motherboards for OEMs. He also worked on several special projects with microcontrollers. One of the special projects was the digitization of analog video to playback on a PC from a CD-ROM in 1990! In 1997, Jim went to work for Citibank in New York where he was working on putting a secure Internet communication device for banking transactions into a multichip module.