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Old 18th December 2020, 00:42   #1  |  Link
Kaos-Industries
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Second opinion on digitising VHS home videos

Hey there,

I have the responsibility of digitising some old VHS home videos my dad filmed a few decades ago, and need to purchase a VCR to do so (I've decided on a ~20 USB capture card from Amazon, which is already expensive enough for me but the cheapest one with decent reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Capture-Con...r_1_4?dchild=1). I'm an out-of-work web dev and know my way around the command line, so am fairly technically adept, but being born in the late 90s, I don't know a massive amount about VHS and VCRs.

I'm also broke af, so cost is a significant issue for me.

I'm mostly here asking for a second opinion, as I previously posted over on the digitalFAQ forum, where it seems there are a lot of knowledgeable people about this stuff.

I got the following responses, from the same member:

Quote:
30 [for the capture card, actually changed my mind to a 20 one since then] is insanely cheap. Quality capture cards were routinely in the $300+ range in the 2000s, and fell into the $100-150 range in more recent years. Those sub-$50 cards are almost always Chinese junk cards with all sorts of issues, ranging from exposure to AGC on quality, and often with driver issues and poor quality software (use VirtualDub, not whatever junk it came with).

If you want any sort of quality from your conversions, without issues, then yes, you want a S-VHS deck with line TBC. A beater deck is in the under-$200 range, while better maintained decks are often in the $300-400 range, while refurb'd-like-new decks are in the $500+ range. In UK, decks are wee bit less costly, but not by much. Beaters are still under 150-200, while a quality deck imported is about 400€ after VAT (VCRshop.nl, but he does also sell some models on eBay sometimes).

...

Don't use ffmpeg for deinterlace. Use QTGMC via Avisynth (or GUI Hybrid encoder).

The most budget route you can go is certain Dazzle cards (<$50), the ES10/15 recorder for TBC(ish) passthrough (<$150), and a decent VCR, preferably a non-TBC JVC model (<$150). Adjust $USD to GBP. Anything less will significantly lose quality, and make the project honestly pointless to DIY, as it will both have lower quality and be a PITA/pain to do (lots of problems).

You can attempt to use an POS VHS VCR with the ES10/15, but results will be worse.
But the ES10/15 is not optional.
And a good capture card is not optional
So is it true that if I just get a cheap VHS VCR from eBay (not S-VHS) and use the 20 capture card, that the resulting conversions will be terrible quality?

Does it make any difference if the capture card allows me to capture directly to DV, after which I'll be using FFmpeg and/or Avisynth to improve the captures?

Thanks in advance, kinda torn atm so would appreciate any enlightenment.

Last edited by Kaos-Industries; 18th December 2020 at 00:45.
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Old 19th December 2020, 21:25   #2  |  Link
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Anyone at all?
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Old 20th December 2020, 09:42   #3  |  Link
mjb
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That forum is run by the member in question. He treats it like his personal inbox. He is very experienced, but also very opinionated, and tired of answering the same questions. Yours, which boils down to "How do I get the best quality without spending the money on the best gear?" is the one that makes him come out guns blazing. He means well, but only wants to answer the first part and does not want to to indulge any talk of tight budgets. It's all or nothing for him.

He does have a point. Best quality is not an option on a budget. And there are limits to what you can clean up in software... namely, the problems that are solved by good hardware. Affordable hardware will leave some of the problems unsolved, and will introduce additional problems of their own. With a cheap USB dongle and VCR of unknown provenance, you are definitely taking risks. But if both are decent, you will get video that you can watch, and you might even think it looks pretty good. Just don't show it to that guy. You can ask for further advice on how to clean things up in software.

But it really is up to you to decide how much risk you can take on. The capture card you are looking at is one of many EZCap/EasyCap knockoffs which are known to be fussy about the quality of signal coming from the VCR, dropping so many frames as to not produce usable video, or unsyncable audio, and not outputting the greatest quality. If you end up not being happy with it, you've wasted time and money, and probably can't even resell that gear. But you'll also gain some experience and knowledge in the process, and maybe you'll be glad you got something good enough for now, and you can plan ahead for when you have more money.

If using a real TBC is not an option, the advice to get a DMR-ES10 or DMR-ES15 is good; do an eBay search for ((DMR-ES10, DMR-ES15)) with the double parentheses, and you should find a cheap one because people don't know it can be used as a filter. You can run the video through it, in between the VCR and the capture device, and it stabilizes it, horizontally. So that's a couple of likely problems solved.

You asked about the DV codec. Most capture cards do not output DV; they output H.262 (MPEG-2, like on DVD), or H.264 (what's in most MP4s and on streaming platforms nowadays), and/or YUV "uncompressed" raw video (for each frame, a full-res luma picture and 2 lower-res chroma pictures). Those which output MPEG-2 or H.264 have fast hardware-based encoders on-board, but you have very little control over quality, whereas YUV output is ideal because you can save that, losslessly compressed with a codec like Lagarith or HuffyYUV or whatever, and then transcode to your target format for viewing later.

I would not use DV if I didn't have to. It is comparable to MPEG-2 in quality. The place where you normally find it is in 8mm camcorders. But if you have such a camcorder already, it might be good enough for you—it can work as a decent capture device, and it might even have TBC built-in. It will output DV-encoded video and PCM audio which you transfer to your computer via Firewire, into software which saves those streams into (probably) an AVI container. You might be satisfied with it. The color might be washed out, but given a PAL signal, it's no worse than anything you see on YouTube.

Last edited by mjb; 20th December 2020 at 22:52.
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Old 21st December 2020, 20:50   #4  |  Link
Kaos-Industries
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mjb View Post
That forum is run by the member in question. He treats it like his personal inbox. He is very experienced, but also very opinionated, and tired of answering the same questions. Yours, which boils down to "How do I get the best quality without spending the money on the best gear?" is the one that makes him come out guns blazing. He means well, but only wants to answer the first part and does not want to to indulge any talk of tight budgets. It's all or nothing for him.

He does have a point. Best quality is not an option on a budget. And there are limits to what you can clean up in software... namely, the problems that are solved by good hardware. Affordable hardware will leave some of the problems unsolved, and will introduce additional problems of their own. With a cheap USB dongle and VCR of unknown provenance, you are definitely taking risks. But if both are decent, you will get video that you can watch, and you might even think it looks pretty good. Just don't show it to that guy. You can ask for further advice on how to clean things up in software.

But it really is up to you to decide how much risk you can take on. The capture card you are looking at is one of many EZCap/EasyCap knockoffs which are known to be fussy about the quality of signal coming from the VCR, dropping so many frames as to not produce usable video, or unsyncable audio, and not outputting the greatest quality. If you end up not being happy with it, you've wasted time and money, and probably can't even resell that gear. But you'll also gain some experience and knowledge in the process, and maybe you'll be glad you got something good enough for now, and you can plan ahead for when you have more money.

If using a real TBC is not an option, the advice to get a DMR-ES10 or DMR-ES15 is good; do an eBay search for ((DMR-ES10, DMR-ES15)) with the double parentheses, and you should find a cheap one because people don't know it can be used as a filter. You can run the video through it, in between the VCR and the capture device, and it stabilizes it, horizontally. So that's a couple of likely problems solved.

You asked about the DV codec. Most capture cards do not output DV; they output H.262 (MPEG-2, like on DVD), or H.264 (what's in most MP4s and on streaming platforms nowadays), and/or YUV "uncompressed" raw video (for each frame, a full-res luma picture and 2 lower-res chroma pictures). Those which output MPEG-2 or H.264 have fast hardware-based encoders on-board, but you have very little control over quality, whereas YUV output is ideal because you can save that, losslessly compressed with a codec like Lagarith or HuffyYUV or whatever, and then transcode to your target format for viewing later.

I would not use DV if I didn't have to. It is comparable to MPEG-2 in quality. The place where you normally find it is in 8mm camcorders. But if you have such a camcorder already, it might be good enough for you—it can work as a decent capture device, and it might even have TBC built-in. It will output DV-encoded video and PCM audio which you transfer to your computer via Firewire, into software which saves those streams into (probably) an AVI container. You might be satisfied with it. The color might be washed out, but given a PAL signal, it's no worse than anything you see on YouTube.
Sorry, I've only just seen this, had assumed I'd never get a response on this forum. What you say makes a lot of sense, and I've finally decided to hold off for a bit until I've saved up enough money to do this. Would saving up about 300 total be enough for a decent system? Thanks to you and realising how relatively cheap they are I've decided on an ES15 for TBC passthrough, just need to get hold of an S-VHS unit and Windows 10-compatible USB capture card with the ~270 that'll be remaining.

Also great tip on the OR search with eBay, I had no idea it supported operators like that.
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Old 22nd December 2020, 01:56   #5  |  Link
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People are unloading VCRs every day on eBay, Craigslist, and at charity shops/thrift stores (don't go to such an unsanitary store during the pandemic though). You can always find one within your budget. The lower your budget, the longer you might have to wait to find what you want, and you might have to jump on it. Don't be afraid to make an offer that's less than the advertised price. Worst that can happen is they'll say no.

S-VHS decks cost a little more, but they are also more likely to be in good shape, I think. They came out when DVDs and Tivos were becoming very popular. Nevertheless, when buying online, I'd want to buy from a reputable dealer or someone who has tested the unit and accepts returns. You don't want to get stuck with something that needs repair.

My understanding is the JVC HR-S7600EK is the lowest end of the UK models that have the built-in TBC you want, and a quick look at eBay shows none, but there's a 7700 (the four digits after the S are all you need to worry about) for 300 and another for 375. But click on the Sold filter and you'll see that the 7700, 8600, 9500 were bought/auctioned recently all for well under 200 ... so if I were you I'd point this out to the current sellers and ask if they'll take 200 ... if not, just wait and something will turn up. You'll have plenty left over for a decent capture card.
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Old 22nd December 2020, 18:44   #6  |  Link
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Professional quality decks are usually cheaper than super-hyped JVC ones and way much better. Not to mention way more reliable, usually they worked 24/7/365. Mayn have been discarded as soon as got their 1000h on drum, which leaves them with at least 3000h until noticeable errors are seen (newest ones even 7000) - the only point to be checked would be if they have been abused or not.

Right now one can have 2x AG7600 on ebay Germany for 250, which is less than a consumer deck recommended on digitalfaq or videohelp asks for.

One doesn't need a dedicated videocard if the source is crappy - the builtin encoder of said Panasonic es10/15 at its maximum quality provides plenty of reserves should one needs to work upon it (on computer).

One should avoid DV intermediary, especially in the US, for 411 chroma may lead to jaggies. The European 420 chroma is more forgiving and fits easily the DVD system.

Anyway, if you decide to go with a JVC, try getting one with as many zeroes as possible. And beware of capacitor disease JVC is extremely prone at.
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