Workshop: A Digital Facelift for Your Analog Movies

Digitizing VHS Movies On A Shoestring

There's more than one way to skin a cat - or digitize a VHS movie. The cheapest way to transfer analog video signals to your PC is with a TV or graphics board with an S-video input port. Assuming you have a powerful enough CPU - some 1.5 GHz in clock speed at least - the cards will master even the toughest task of converting film footage into DV quality in real time (data rate of 3.6 MB per second). For an inexpensive yet powerful card, you'll only spend around $70.

There's a catch, though: unlike DV camcorders and converter boxes, the movie soundtrack has to be fed in separately through the line-in port on the PC sound card or the on-board sound chip. DV camcorders are another story; they transfer the soundtrack and video data together via a FireWire port.

If you have to go easy on your resources, but not on your wallet, you can transfer your VHS movies to your PC using a DV camcorder (starting at $500, FireWire), DV converter box (around $200, FireWire or USB port) or capture card (approx. $250, PCI plug-in card). These devices convert video streams internally first. Basically, if you feed in an analog VHS video via S-Video, they will convert it to the digital DV format, reducing the load on your computer's CPU. With one of these babies, you can even convert video on an older 500 MHz PC without a hitch. DV camcorders in particular are extremely versatile. Like DV converter boxes, capture cards or TV and graphics boards, camcorders are ideal candidates for recording VHS movies through the S-Video input port. What's more, you can use DV camcorders to tape Super-8 videos.