The Low End Mac Mailbag

Making DVDs from Videotape with and without Macs

Dan Knight - 2007.10.03

Today's Mailbag includes several responses and tips following up on Tips and Options for Digitizing Analog Video and Burning DVDs, the last mailbag published before our two week hiatus. dk - Tip Jar

Why Use iMovie and iDVD?

From Scott Cook:

I'm not sure why you are using iMovie and iDVD? I've never used iMovie or iDVD for analog video captures. It would take a long time. You can edit many, but not all, videos in Toast 6 if all you want to do is trim the black frames from the ends of the tape. QuickTime Pro will trim the ends of video too.

Based on what I have read in the past, I'm under the impression that Toast 6 Titanium encodes higher quality MPEG-2 than iDVD does, at least earlier versions of iDVD. I do know that Tsunami MPEG encoder is considered to be the highest quality MPEG-2 software encoder available. It is used by many pro video dudes who don't have expensive hardware encoders.

I once compared the same video encoded with Tsunami and Toast 6 Titanium set on the high quality setting. The MPEG-2 encoded with Toast 6 Titanium looked better to my eyes. That simple test really helped me with my decision making on MPEG-2 encoding. It's irrelevant to this discussion because we're talking about low quality VHS master tapes here.

Scott Cook


The reason I'm using iMovie is twofold. Most importantly, I can create projects with multiple chapters, such as individual Christmas celebrations from a family videotape covering 25 years. If you only want to review Christmas 1997, iDVD will let you have that option. The other benefit I've discovered is that you can do color correction, fiddle with the sound, etc. in iMovie, which you couldn't do in a straight dub to MPEG-2.

All things considered, I'd probably be best off not digitizing at 640 x 480, which should keep file size down.

Thanks again for your tips.


A Better Way to Digitize Video

From Chris Kilner:


I have a Canopus ADVC 3000 and have done lots of video capture and editing on a variety of Macs, but with the low cost of standalone set-top DVD recorders, the easiest way to get analog video to DVD is to use a DVD recorder (although I still use the ADVC 3000 to get rid of Macrovision, etc.).

Chris Kilner


Thanks for writing. I picked up a Pioneer deck that does VHS and records DVDs. I'd love to be able to use rewritable discs and digitize that way, but my Mac won't recognize the discs. Ditto for DVD-R. :-(


DVDs from Home Movies

From Christopher Beaver:

Hey, Dan-

Hope all goes well. The easiest way I've found to dub from VHS to DVDs is to attach the VHS player to a Sony VRD-VC20. There's no encoding involved. The Sony burns the DVD in real time. You hit record on the Sony and play on the VHS. That's all there is to it.

There may be newer models of the Sony. But I believe the basic idea behind the device was to convert home movies, etc. to DVDs.

The connecting cables can be everything from FireWire to S-VHS to your basic old-time video cables, the ones with the RCA plugs, yellow, red, and white.

In my experience the most versatile DVD format is DVD-R in that it seems to play on more machines than DVD+R.

The VC20 has drawbacks. It doesn't play back discs, and you can't monitor what you're doing. Everything is automatic. You just record, and that's it. It fails to burn so rarely that I would call the machine as reliable as they get.

Plus, because you're making the DVD in real time, you don't have options like creating beautiful menus and so forth. You can however set chapters for a range of intervals including every five minutes. For home movies, it might be perfect. It's simple and it works.

I like this topic very much and would be interested in other solutions to these issues. I personally use the Sony to record edited video from an Avid editing system onto DVDs. I'd love to know about other real-time DVD recorders. It would be nice if there was a DVD recorder that could monitor what it's recording.

Very best always,
Christopher Beaver


Thanks for sharing your solution. I'm not ready to invest $300 in a dedicated DVD burner. In fact, I have two DVD recorders - one a LiteOn that works with DVD-R and DVD-RW, the other a Pioneer with DVD+R support and also built-in VHS deck. That should be perfect for dubbing, but I've found the DVDs can't be played on some DVD players and often aren't recognized in my Mac.


Hey, Dan -

Thanks as always for your quick and thoughtful response.

Just to update my information about the stand-alone Sony burner: The latest Sony dedicated burner is called the VRD-VC30. It retails on the Sony site for $230. And it has a built-in picture monitor, so it beats the previous price and adds the picture monitor, the lack of which was a major complaint of mine about the earlier version I own.

At this point I probably sound like a front for Sony. I'm definitely not. But I do like this burner even with its limitations, and the new one sounds not only better but cheaper.

Final editorial note: I've made several DVDs from old VHS tapes since I first wrote you about the Sony burner. They look really great when played back. Do the DVDs really look better than the original VHS tapes, or is it just me?

Thanks again, Dan, for your extremely helpful information.

Christopher B


Thanks for the tip on Sony's latest freestanding burner. This could make it a much easier way for anyone to burn DVDs.

As for quality, I haven't been impressed with the few VHS-to-DVD projects I've done thus far. One was recorded off the air, one was a copy (perhaps even a copy of a copy) of a Wheel of Fortune episode (my wife's son won big time!), the third was dubbed from a commercial video, and the fourth, and ongoing project, is a copy of a copy of family videos shot on Beta and VHS over a decade or more. Of the four projects, only the dub from a commercial tape has good quality.

Future projects will be primarily from home videos. I'm hoping they were shot at SP for maximum quality.


Hey, Dan -

Hope the home video project works out. From my perspective, the ultimate quality is what appears in front of the camera, not the medium that carries it. A friend of mine once observed that no moving image is reality. They're all stylized in some way. Van Gogh's flowers are not flowers; they're a memory of flowers. I wish we could all be in IMAX. Meanwhile, our memories are more important than whether the painting was done in oils or Crayolas.

Very best always,
Christopher B

Analog to Digital

From Claud Spinks:

I know you know about this: <>. Why not refer to it in the article about converting tapes to DVDs? Just wondering. Your site is awesome. I look forward to the new stuff daily.



Thanks for writing and for visiting Low End Mac daily. I wasn't familiar with the Canopus ADVC-55 until you sent this link. At US$229, it's an expensive solution to the same problem the US$99 Daystar ProView USB addresses.


VHS to DVD With a Mac

From Gerry Coleman:

Hello Dan! I've been reading about the issues folks are having with importing old VHS video onto DVDs. If I may add my two cents...

What I found to work for me was using a Canopus ADVC100 (now up to model 110) to interface the VHS, using FireWire, to my iBook G4/1 GHz 128/40. Additionally, I used my LaCie mini 160 GB FireWire external drive for storing the iMovie files. I import the video into iMovie 4 in real time, then use iDVD to burn the video to a DVD-R. Using a variation of this method, substitute a Sony BetaSP deck for a VCR, and S-VHS instead of the yellow RCA jack for the video - the principle is still the same), I was able to create DVD masters of a nationally broadcast, 13-episode art program that can be used to make duplicates for sale, using Toast 6 and a Blue & White G3 with a transplanted SuperDrive. We have never had a DVD returned to us due to video or audio quality issues.

The only problem I have with this setup is that it takes so long to convert the iMovie into iDVD 4 - it takes at least 2 hours to burn a half-hour show to DVD. But with iMovie 4, the video can be imported without any baby-sitting. Each video clip can be butt-edited next to each other on the timeline without any jump in the video clip. Just let iMovie and the VCR run, and come back when the tape is just about done. And making duplicates from the iDVD masters only takes about ten minutes!

The files from the 13 shows took up about 110 GB on the external drive, but I could trash the iMovie and iDVD files once the the DVDs were done. Also, make sure whatever drive you use is a 7200 RPM drive with a big cache - the LaCie mini I use has an 8 MB cache. This keeps the video flowing smoothly.

To me, what's most important in a setup like this is using FireWire for both the drive and the video interface (and obviously, the Mac). I realize $269 US retail for the Canopus ADVC110 is not exactly "Low End", but it's a great investment to make if you want to convert a lot of old home movies. Plus, older Macs are more likely to have a FireWire port than a USB 2.0 port. It's certainly cheaper than a new camcorder. (And it's a heckuva lot cheaper than what we use in the broadcast world!)

Hope this helps in the quest for VHS-to-DVD knowledge!

Gerry Coleman


Thanks for writing. It would certainly be nice if I could import directly into iMovie, which I can't do with the Daystar ProView USB. If I decide to invest in more hardware, I'll consider the Canopus line.


Importing Video

From Tom Lee:

Hi Dan,

There are many, many ways to solve this problem. Scott Cook has outlined a number of terrific methods. Here are a couple of other options that your readers might want to consider.

For creating DVDs of, say, VHS tapes, perhaps the fastest method is to bypass the Mac altogether and use a standalone DVD recorder. They've come down in price to the point where even cheap old me has bought one.

If you don't need to do any editing, this is by far the fastest and most hassle-free method for getting video onto DVD. Just use decent blank media, properly close ("finish") the disc, and the result should be playable on just about anything. At standard quality, you can get a bit over 2 hours of video on a standard single-layer blank.

If you want to produce h.264 output, your readers may wish to consider using a dedicated hardware transcoder to do the encoding, rather than relying on the Mac itself. These can do real-time (or faster) encodes even on older Macs, so they're definitely worth a look if you plan to do a lot of this sort of thing.

Thanks for the great columns, Dan!



Thanks for writing. My best bet for the straight dubs might be hooking my Sanyo Hi-Fi VCR to my LiteOn DVD recorder, since the discs my Pioneer DVD-R/VHS deck doesn't produce DVDs my Mac can read or that work on my other DVD players.


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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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