My Eight-Year Quest to Digitize 45 Videotapes

Last modified on October 23, 2020

For the closing eight years, I’ve carried round this subject of videotapes by 4 diversified flats and one dwelling. They’re family dwelling motion pictures from my childhood.

All of my family's old home videos

After 600+ hours of labor, I ultimately digitized and arranged them successfully satisfactory to throw away the long-established tapes. Here’s what the footage appears esteem now:

All of my dwelling motion pictures, digitized and watchable from a private media sharing server

There are 513 separate clips, each with a title, description, a recording date, tags for everyone inside the video, and everyone’s ages on the time of the recording. I host the whole thing on a private media-sharing internet plight that biggest my family can win entry to, and it prices decrease than $1 per thirty days to wait on it working.

This put up explains how I did it, why it took me eight years, and the development that it's likely you may discontinue the equivalent factor with a diminutive a lot much less effort.

My naïve first try 🔗︎

Round 2010, my mother purchased some type of VHS to DVD converter and ran all of our dwelling motion pictures by it.

Photo of rewritable DVDs labeled by letter

The long-established DVD copies of the tapes my mother made (I’m not apparent what happened to the missing letters)

The world used to be that there used to be biggest one state of affairs of DVDs. Everyone in my family lived in a diversified articulate, which made it inconvenient to cross discs round.

In 2012, my sister gave me the DVDs. I ripped them to video recordsdata and threw all of them up on cloud storage. Discipline solved!

Screenshot of my converted DVD files on Google Cloud Storage

Sharing DVD rips of my family’s dwelling motion pictures on Google Cloud Storage

About a weeks later, I requested if somebody had watched the tapes. No particular person had. I hadn’t both. Within the age of YouTube, it regarded so lifeless to obtain a 3-hour thriller file trying to find attention-grabbing footage.

The biggest one excited used to be my mother. “Okay, large,” she talked about, “Now, can I finally throw out all these tapes?”

Uh oh. That used to be a scary search recordsdata from. What if there have been tapes that we ignored? What if we could digitize at a elevated fantastic? What if there used to be attention-grabbing recordsdata on the VHS tape labels?

I’d by no means really feel comfortable throwing away the long-established tapes till I used to be assured that we had a complete bewitch of the complete motion pictures on the very agreeable which that it's likely you may think about fantastic. That meant doing the work myself.

Small did I do know what I used to be getting myself into.

That doesn’t sound so fascinating 🔗︎

Within the event you’re questioning why this took me eight years and varied of of hours, I don’t blame you. I perception it's miles going to be a straightforward enterprise too.

Here’s what the digitization route of appears esteem from delivery to attain:


Or barely, that’s what the digitization route of appears esteem in precept. Here’s what it regarded esteem in observe:


As a rule I spent used to be in re-work. I’d complete a stage biggest to sight a flaw in my method one or two steps later. As an illustration, I captured video from 20 tapes sooner than realizing that the audio used to be a diminutive out of sync. Or I came upon after weeks of modifying that I’d been exporting video in a format that doesn’t toughen on-line streaming.

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m explaining the route of as if it had energy ahead hump in put of constantly forcing my readers to soar backward and restart alongside with me.

Step 1: Video bewitch 🔗︎

Okay, encourage to 2012. My mother used to agonize to complete her 20-year custodianship of the family dwelling motion pictures, so the next time I noticed her, she handed me a large cardboard subject of videotapes. My digitization roam had begun.

The obtrusive answer might be to outsource it to a gifted. There are a great deal of digitization corporations, in conjunction with firms specializing in processing mature dwelling motion pictures.

I’m reasonably privacy-sensitive, so I felt discouraged handing strangers footage that capabilities me potty teaching (on the acceptable age; nothing odd!). Moreover, I perception, how fascinating might nicely nicely it's to digitize video?

Spoiler alert: in truth fascinating.

My first try at video bewitch 🔗︎

The mature family VCR used to be serene in my dad’s basement, so I requested him to dig it out subsequent time we met for lunch. I purchased a low-payment RCA to USB adaptor from Amazon, and I used to be off to the races.

Picture of TOTMC RCA to USB adaptor

The TOTMC video bewitch software, the primary of many A/V gadgets I purchased all of the gadget by this route of.

To route of the video from the USB bewitch software, I light VirtualDub, which used to be a diminutive dated in 2012, however not that dated.

Capturing video in [VirtualDub](

The utilization of VirtualDub to bewitch uncooked footage of me learning to my dad at age 4

The pernicious plague of audio skew 🔗︎

As I began the modifying route of, I spotted that the audio and video have been a diminutive out of sync. Okay, no space. I can be ready to shift the audio a diminutive bit.

Ten minutes later, it used to be out of sync however once more. Did I not shift it satisfactory the primary time?

It slowly dawned on me that the audio and video weren’t merely offset — they captured at diversified prices. They diverged additional and extra all of the gadget by the tape. To protect them in sync, I’d again and again want to alter the audio manually each couple of minutes of tape.

Diagram of audio skew with and without correction

In case your video setup captures audio and video at diversified prices, the suitable answer is to acceptable the audio by hand each couple of minutes.

Raise out how superior it's to uncover aside between a sound that happens 10 milliseconds too early or 10 milliseconds too late? It’s difficult! Judge to your self.

Here’s a video of me enjoying with my sad, affected particular person kitten Dusky Magic. The audio is a diminutive out of sync with the video. Is the audio sooner than the video or on the encourage of it?

Instance of a video clip with audio and video out of sync

Here’s the piece the place Magic jumps, slowed to 1/fifth tempo:

Audio and video out of sync, slowed to 1/fifth tempo

Acknowledge: The audio is coming in a few milliseconds late.

Audio correction alone took hours of late, maddening work. It finally happened to me that I might nicely nicely wait on a methods flung from this headache if I selected one thing diversified than Amazon’s least expensive video bewitch software. After a diminutive additional be taught, I purchased a model modern one:

GV-USB2 video capture device

My second try at procuring a video bewitch software

Even with the modern software, there used to be serene audio skew.

Going trim 🔗︎

Likely it used to be the VCR. Digitization boards talked about audio skew wouldn’t occur with a VCR that had a “time-primarily based totally corrector” (TBC), a frequent characteristic on Immense VHS (S-VHS) VCRs.

For certain! What used to be I doing messing round with my tiresome conventional VCR when there used to be a trim VCR that may perhaps nicely resolve my space?

No particular person makes S-VHS VCRs anymore, however they’re serene accessible on eBay. I spent $179 on a JVC SR-V10U, a VCR mannequin that’s supposedly effectively-passable to VHS digitization:

Photo of expensive VCR with S-VHS support

The classic JVC SR-V10U VCR that I purchased on eBay for $179

The trim VCR arrived inside the mail. After months of fighting mismatched sound, I used to be extraordinarily gratified to have actual in my palms the instruments that promised to resolve all my issues.

I opened the sector, crooked the whole thing up, and the audio used to be serene out of sync. Suppose.

Uninteresting troubleshooting and the multi-year rut 🔗︎

Troubleshooting my {hardware} used to be discouraged. I’d haul the complete instruments out of my closet, mosey on the encourage of my desktop to traipse the whole thing in, try a bewitch, and sight that it didn’t work.

Oh, a random discussion board put up from 2008 says to arrange some sketchy, unsigned Chinese software driver? It’s a disagreeable perception, however I’m decided. It doesn’t restore the subject.

I tried diversified capturing software. I purchased a selected VHS tape to gorgeous the magnetic heads of my VCR. I purchased a 3rd bewitch software. The implications have been constantly the equivalent.

Invariably, I’d stop, disconnect the whole thing, and banish the instruments to my closet for however some other few months.

Surrendering to digitization professionals 🔗︎

Like a flash ahead to 2018. I had dragged these videotapes and varied of instruments to 4 diversified flats, and I used to be getting ready to cross from Original York Metropolis to Massachusetts. I couldn’t make clear fascinating this stuff however once more when it had turn into explicit that I’d by no means attain the enterprise on my have.

I requested my family in the event that they’d be ample with me sending the tapes to a digitization agency. Happily, no particular person minded — they've been all mighty additional attracted to seeing the footage however once more.

Me: On the totally different hand it means some agency has win entry to to all of our dwelling motion pictures. You’re okay with that?
My sister: Yeah, I don’t care. You’re the suitable one who worries about that. Wait, you have gotten lawful paid any particular person to discontinue that from the delivery?
Me: Uh…

It fee $750 to digitize all 45 tapes. That can sound pricey, however by that stage, I'd have paid the relief to wait on a methods flung from however some other minute of troubleshooting video instruments.

When the recordsdata acquired right here encourage, the fantastic used to be undisputably higher. My captures constantly had “tearing” all of the gadget by which by the edges, however the consultants digitized the whole thing with none distortion. Higher of all, the audio and video synced up completely.

Here’s a video that compares the digitization agency’s bewitch with one among my have:

A comparability of educated video bewitch vs. my have on a tape of my mother recording my first journey writing code

Step 2: Bettering 🔗︎

With dwelling motion pictures, about 90% of the footage is lifeless, 8% is racy, and a pair of% is unbelievable. After you digitize the tapes, there’s serene a complete bunch work to discontinue.

Bettering with Adobe Premiere 🔗︎

VHS tapes personal a protracted motion of video clips combined with ineffective air. To edit a tape, it's likely you may perhaps nicely perhaps like to title the place each clip begins and ends.

For my modifying, I light Adobe Premiere Parts, which prices decrease than $100 for a lifetime license. Its an essential characteristic for modifying VHS tapes is the zoomable timeline. It permits you to get hold of tough scene boundaries fleet after which zoom in to get hold of the precise video physique the place a clip begins or ends.

Screenshot of Adobe Premiere Elements' zoomable edit feature

The expedient zoomable edit timeline in Adobe Premiere Parts

The world with Premiere is that it requires frequent initiating and stopping. My route of used to be:

  1. Birth a uncooked bewitch file containing 30-120 minutes of video.
  2. Designate the boundaries of a selected particular person clip.
  3. Export the clip.
  4. Wait 2-15 minutes till the export completes.
  5. Repeat steps 2-Four till the tape ends.

The lengthy waits meant that I used to be constantly context-switching between video modifying and a few diversified exercise, scrambling my focal stage for hours

The diversified draw back used to be non-reproducibility. Fixing just a little error used to be practically as fascinating as doing all of your complete factor from scratch. That bit me fascinating once I reached the video-sharing stage. Simplest then did I label I should have been exporting the movies in a format that internet browsers might nicely nicely motion natively. My alternate selections have been to restart the late route of of exporting a lot of of clips or to re-encode the exported motion pictures to however some other format, degrading their fantastic.

Robo-editing 🔗︎

After an embarrassing number of hours doing the whole thing by hand, I puzzled if I might nicely nicely merely throw synthetic intelligence on the matter. Figuring out clip boundaries regarded esteem an correct machine learning exercise. I knew that accuracy might be decrease than perfect, however perhaps it will probably nicely nicely discontinue 80% of the work, and I’d restore the closing 20% manually.

I experimented with a software known as pyscenedetect, which analyzes video recordsdata and prints out the timecodes the place scene changes happen:

 $ docker elope 
    --volume "/motion pictures:/choose" 
    --input /choose/check out.mp4 
    --output /choose 
    detect-reveal materials --threshold 80 
[PySceneDetect] Output checklist state of affairs:
[PySceneDetect] Loaded 1 video, framerate: 29.97 FPS, decision: 720 x 480
[PySceneDetect] Downscale issue state of affairs to some, fantastic decision: 240 x 160
[PySceneDetect] Scene guidelines CSV file title format:
[PySceneDetect] Detecting scenes...
[PySceneDetect] Processed 55135 frames in 117.6 seconds (life like 468.96 FPS).
[PySceneDetect] Detected 33 scenes, life like shot dimension 55.7 seconds.
[PySceneDetect] Writing scene guidelines to CSV file:
  /choose/have a look at-Scenes.csv
[PySceneDetect] Scene Checklist:
 | Scene # | Birth Physique |  Birth Time  |  Cease Physique  |   Cease Time   |
 |      1  |           0 | 00: 00: 00.000 |        1011 | 00: 00: 33.734 |
 |      2  |        1011 | 00: 00: 33.734 |        1292 | 00: 00: 43.110 |
 |      3  |        1292 | 00: 00: 43.110 |        1878 | 00: 01: 02.663 |
 |      4  |        1878 | 00: 01: 02.663 |        2027 | 00: 01: 07.634 |

It used to be definitely about 80% acceptable, however checking the software’s work took additional time than it saved me. On the totally different hand, pyscenedetect sparked one among my most crucial realizations of this complete enterprise: figuring out scene boundaries and exporting clips are separate duties.

I remembered that I’m a programmer 🔗︎

Till that stage, I had thought to be “modifying” because the entirety I used to be doing in Adobe Premiere. Chopping out subclips of uncooked footage felt inextricably tied to discovering clip boundaries as a result of that’s how Premiere introduced it. When pyscenedetect printed out its desk of metadata, it made me label I might nicely nicely decouple scene discovering from video exporting. That used to be a gamechanger.

The purpose that modifying used to be so late and time-drinking used to be that I wanted to wait on wanting ahead to Premiere to export each clip. If I recorded the metadata in a spreadsheet and wrote a script that exported motion pictures robotically, the modifying route of would wing by.

What’s additional, spreadsheets dramatically expanded the fashion of recordsdata I captured. Before the whole thing, I stuffed metadata into the filename, however that’s limiting and rigid. Having a complete spreadsheet allowed me to catalog so mighty additional relating to the clip esteem who’s in it, when it used to be recorded, and any diversified recordsdata I want to repeat alongside the video when people see it.

Spreadsheet of home video metadata

Capturing metadata about my dwelling motion pictures in a large spreadsheet

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