The Low End Mac Mailbag

Tips and Options for Digitizing Analog Video and Burning DVDs

Dan Knight - 2007.09.19

Importing Video into the Mac

From Scott Cook in response to Importing Video into iMovie & Making DVDs:

Hey Dan,

The most affordable way to get your VHS movie onto DVD is to buy the DVD used from Amazon or eBay. If a movie is old enough that you own it on VHS, you can probably purchase the DVD for $5 used on the Internet. Why encode a crummy old VHS tape to DVD? The finished DVD is never gonna look any better than the worn out tape master it came from. Who would want to watch VHS quality anyway? What a waste of time and money!

In case you don't follow my logic, here is one way to do this affordably with a Mac:

The most affordable Mac to encode video with is probably the one the reader already owns. This is especially true if it's just a hobby. If you already have a VCR, a FireWire digital camcorder with an analog input, a G3 or newer Mac running OS X with FireWire and a DVD writer, you just need some software. You'll probably need at least a 40 GB hard drive to contain 2 hours of DV video and MPEG-2 with OS X and applications installed. This would be a pretty minimal setup, but it should work. You should be able to capture the tape to the camcorder, then import it to your Mac through FireWire, encode it to DVD or Quicktime format, then burn a DVD or CD-ROM, and then delete the files from your hard drive.

You can encode and author DVDs with any G3 or newer Mac running OS X using Roxio's "Toast 6" or newer. "Toast 6 Titanium" is capable of higher quality MPEG-2 encoding than the regular Toast 6, which is irrelevant if your source is a VHS master. If you have Roxio "Jam 6" too, you can encode with Dolby digital sound, which is also irrelevant here.

If you're encoding a 2 hour movie, you'll need a dual layer drive and media, or an application like Roxio "Popcorn" to compress the movie, or break the movie into two discs. I don't have experience in this particular area, sorry.

To encode video to QuickTime format, you can use Quicktime Pro, or my favorite, "VisualHub". A G3 Mac really will encode video with beautiful quality. It will literally take days to complete the encoding though. A G4 has a huge advantage over a G3 of the same MHz rating when it comes to encoding video. It is very worthwhile to get a G4 if you have more than just a few videos to encode. It could take over a week for a G3 to encode a 2 hour movie to H264 iPod video format, for example. I calculated that my Powerlogix upgraded 1,100 MHz Power Mac G3 would take over 2.5 days to encode a half hour television show to a 150 MB 640 x 480 H264 video podcast with good quality. I bought an inexpensive 466 MHz G4 Power Mac which did that same job in ten hours. I had a lot of TV shows to encode for a TV network I've been working for. My G3 would still be encoding to this day!

If you have irreplaceable VHS tapes of family and friends from years ago that you need to preserve, you could use the method above. Here is how I capture VHS tapes to DVD. Please forgive me for using a Windows PC for some of this.

Two hour+ VHS tapes will fit onto a single layer DVD with full VHS quality using this method.

I encode the VHS tape to MPEG-2 on the fly, in real time, through an ATI 9800 Pro "All In Wonder" video card. You can get one from eBay inexpensively. You need at least a 500 MHz Pentium III processor. I have done this with a 1,000 MHz Pentium III with 512 MB RAM, and it worked well. I currently use a 3,400 MHz Pentium 4 with 1024 MB RAM. A large hard drive isn't needed using this method, because the computer is capturing MPEG-2, not DV. I use the ATI software on the CD that came with the video card. It's very confusing of course, because it's Windows after all. Digital FAQ has a tutorial guide you should print out and keep in front of you as you're using this confusing software. The nice thing about capturing VHS with the ATI card and software is the control I get. I can capture at 352 x 480, 4 Mbps, with variable bit rate. This way I only use the amount of quality VHS is actually capable of. Two hour+ VHS tapes will fit onto a single layer DVD with full VHS quality using this method. I do this for clients all the time. You do not need to use Roxio "Popcorn" to recode with this method.

After I have the MPEG-2 file, I use the Tsunami DVD authoring tool, which does not have an MPEG-2 encoder, so it is incapable of recoding the MPEG-2 I just captured. This is an important point. Some DVD authoring software will decode and then recode the MPEG-2, which reduces quality and wastes a lot of time. After I have an authored Video TS file, I send it to my Mac through the network and burn it to DVD with Toast. For some reason I can never get Windows DVD software to burn DVDs properly. I can never get Toast to recognize the MPEG-2 files that come directly from the ATI software, which is why I use the Tsunami authoring tool instead of authoring with Toast.

I'm sure your reader is sorry for asking the question at this point! (laugh) Life is short, buy used DVDs from Amazon or eBay. Spend the time and money you saved on someone you love. I have all this video stuff, and I don't create DVDs from VHS tapes . . . at least not for myself.

Scott Cook

Scott,

Thanks for sharing your tips. In my situation, it's family videos, so they have to be imported from analog originals into a digital format. I do have an old 450 MHz Windows 98 PC with an ATI All in Wonder TV/video card, but it has a small hard drive. Besides, I hate using any version of Windows.

I've tried dubbing from VHS to DVD-R and DVD+R using a VCR and a DVD recorder and using a combo VCR/DVD recorder, but I end up with discs that can only be played on those units. No good for sharing, and none of my Macs will recognize them.

I don't own a DV camcorder, but it would be the perfect solution for converting analog video and putting it on the Mac, as many of them support that and have FireWire (or iLink).

As a Mac user, the XLR8 ProView USB is an excellent solution. I can import video from the Hi-Fi VHS recorder in my office into either my Power Mac G4 or the MacBook Pro in real time. From that point on, the MacBook Pro gets the nod, as Intel Core 2 Duo machines are a lot more powerful than dual G4 Macs. If the video goes beyond 90 minutes, so far I've been cutting things to fit. I may have to look into Roxio Popcorn, although $50 does buy a lot of blank discs!

My biggest problem is the limited hard drive space on the MacBook, which means copying a lot of files to my Power Mac's hard drive while I work on the next stage of a project.

At least it's easy to make multiple DVDs once the first one has been created, so family videos can be shared with the kids.

Dan

My situation is a bit different than yours, or your reader's. I'm capturing analog video for clients. Once I have the confusing Windows-based software set up, I can capture and encode video as fast as I can play it. I can fit a whole 2+ hour tape onto a single-sided DVD with full VHS quality. My computers don't need to do any recoding, which saves a lot of time and some quality too. This wouldn't be a big deal for a hobbyist with only a few tapes to capture.

I recently had to capture half-hour TV shows from Sony BetaCam SP studio master tapes going back ten years. I had to store the captured MPEG-2 on my Power Mac's hard drive while it encoded all the shows to H264 video iPod format for the podcast version of the TV show. I can't imagine storing that much DV on a hard drive. I would need a huge RAID array or something?

By capturing in MPEG-2 I fit all the shows on one large internal hard drive as it was being encoded. This entire process took weeks to complete, and it may not be over if the studio finds more master tapes. I will stick to encoding on the fly with small file sizes. I hate Windows, but I hate wasting time even more. This is one of about three areas where I need a Windows PC. I also use my Windows PC to thermal print CDs and DVDs. The archaic thermal printer has a parallel port and a Windows only driver. I think I could run it with VirtualPC and a USB to parallel adapter, but why? The other thing I use Windows for is flight simulators. It's good for my fragile male ego when the computer crashes more than I do! (laugh)

Scott Cook

Scott,

I have to agree. It frustrates me that I have to record in one format, import into iMovie (which takes a long time even with Core 2 Duo), edit, import the iMovie project into iDVD, and then finally burn a DVD. Good thing I have two computers in the office, so one can work on video while I use the other for work.

Dan

USB 2.0 for a Beige G3

From Mark McKenney:

Dear Dan:

Reading the 9/18/2007 column about USB 2 PCI cards and Beige G3 for Mr Krautheim. I do not own, but the following Sonnet product seems to indicate compatibility with the Beige G3, as long as you are running it in OS X, not OS 9 (where the card would only give the usual 1.1 speed). At one time I was looking for a USB 2.0 card to allow faster syncing with my iPod 5G (which is USB 2.0 only), and I emailed them if this card was truly compatible with a beige G3 (the Mac I was considering was a G3 All in One). I never did order the card, but someone at Sonnet emailed back and said it would work, and they had tested it with an USB iPod.

http://www.sonnettech.com/product/tango_2.html

The very similar Allegro USB 2.0 only card does not mention the Beige G3, and lists the B/W G3, so I assume this is not compatible with the Beige G3.

Mark McKenney

Mark,

Thanks for the info. I've forwarded it to Robert Krautheim.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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