Frankly, I'm surprised — the video quality is much better than I expected. Last time I tried a videotapeto-digital video service, the results looked as if I were viewing the video through water.
Occasionally my dear editor forwards notices of new gadgets, software and services he thinks might interest me enough to try out and cover in this column.
Usually he’s right, and yet when he sent information about a service for digitizing videotapes and making them accessible for sharing on the Internet, I was skeptical.
Still, I offered to take a look, and when I learned Digital Silo (www.digitalsilo.com) also makes DVDs of the video it digitizes, I was happy to try it.
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After all, like many people, I have a box full of home videocassettes and have heard that videotapes lose quality after a few years and significantly deteriorate within 20.
Digital Silo’s pitch for using the service is that it converts video into “broadcast quality” MPEG-4 digital files using “some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world.” The service reportedly corrects and restores original quality whenever possible, stores the files on secure servers and makes them available for viewing over the Internet.
A subscriber can create video segments and assemble them into video albums to share, or download the files for editing and burning on DVDs. Plus, for every hour of tape transferred, Digital Silo will send a DVD copy.
The service does sound pretty good, so let’s find out how well it works.
First, the cost: Subscribers can store and share up to 240 hours of video for $10 per year. Plus, there’s a one-time fee for digitizing the video, archiving it on the server and preparing it for viewing on the Internet.
The fee is $45 per hour of video (based on total hours of video transferred, not number of tapes sent) for video in these formats: Betamax, UMatic, VHS, VHS-C, SVHS, Video8, Hi8, Digital8, miniDV, and MicroMV.
The fee for converting film is $249 per hour of 8mm/Super 8mm film and $339 per hour of 16mm film.
When the conversion is finished, the video is accessible for viewing online from a computer, video-enabled cellphone and other mobile devices.
After customers sign up, Digital Silo sends a Federal Express box with packing material, inventory sheets and a shipping label (the company pays for shipping).
It takes some time to dig through the family’s video storage box to find the tapes I want to send, sort them chronologically, give them titles and attach the provided barcode labels. Digital Silo appears to have the process rather well organized, and it’s quite easy to follow their directions.
I wish I’d edited the tapes, but at least I’ll have the footage for my family to watch years from now; and maybe I’ll still edit them — sometime.
Last time, I pulled out one of these tapes for my kids to watch, they were riveted to the TV for the duration. Kids love to see their former selves. I think we all do.
When the inventory is done and the box packed with the videocassettes, I drop it off at a FedEx pickup place.
It takes a couple of weeks to process the videotapes and post them for online viewing by downloading or streaming them in Windows Media, MPEG-4, RealVideo and Quicktime formats. I log on and watch one video at 300K for DSL streaming (there are choices to match the viewer’s modem type).
Frankly, I’m surprised; the video quality is much better than I expected. Last time I tried a videotape-to-digital video service, the results looked as if I were viewing the video through water. This conversion demonstrates the process has improved a lot.
Next, I grab one of the DVDs and start watching it on the family TV. My kids hear it, gather and plant themselves on the couch. The video quality is quite good — as good or better than it was on tape.
But remember, I said the video quality is good. The video content, on the other hand, is embarrassing. Of course, it’s not Digital Silo’s fault that the person who took the video occasionally missed the subject, forgot to stop recording or taped 45 minutes of toddler ballet.
Videotape to DVD:
Digital Silo does excellent work, yet if you have dozens of old tapes to digitize, the expense may be prohibitive.
There are cheaper alternatives that involve doing the tape-to-DVD transfers yourself, with some additional software and hardware. The conversion is not difficult; it just takes some time.
I tried it with ADS Tech DVD Xpress ($89, Windows, www.adstech.com), which includes software and hardware for the conversion. Plus, you need a VCR for videotape playback and a DVD-burning drive for recording the digitized video, but you probably already have those. If using so much equipment seems daunting, don’t worry. It’s pretty straightforward and the directions are clear.
DVD Xpress enables conversion directly to the DVD, or the user can save the footage on a PC for editing and burning as a movie with chapters.
So far, all I’ve done is convert a VHS tape and burned it on a DVD. Once again, I’m surprised by the video quality.
It’s not the same high quality that Digital Silo’s professional equipment can produce, but it’s quite good for its consumer-level price, and certainly good enough for many conversion projects.
No matter which way I choose to convert the remaining family video tapes, I’m comfortable knowing the video will be safe, so that the toddler I videotaped 10 years ago can watch again when she’s a mom and a grandma.
My 20-something kids wish we’d had a camcorder to record their early years, and I do, too.