How to archive videotape to DVD

Posted on December 1, 2009 by admin

Many people have large collections of video material – old films, home-movies, sports, TV programmes – all on videotape which is rapidly becoming obsolete. This article looks at how to copy your videotapes to DVD.


Published in the Television Viewer's Guide 2010 edition


Tape is not a good medium for archiving and has been superseded by better storage media: optical, as in DVDs; magnetic, as in hard disk drive (HDD units); and electronic, in the form of memory cards and chips. Of the above, DVD is currently the most widely used. Discs are cheap, and have the advantage that they take up much less space than tapes. Cheap DVD players and recorders are widely available. Discs can also be played back on computers.


How to store videotapes

If videotape cassettes must be stored, see that they are properly labelled, that their record-safety tabs have been broken out, and that they are fully rewound. Store them upright, flap facing into their boxes or sleeves (better, air-sealed in polythene food bags) in a cupboard or box at a normal and stable room temperature. Before playing stored cassettes, examine their spools for mildew, and acclimatise them and the VCR in a temperate room two hours before play. Check the machine before inserting a treasured tape!


Copying video onto DVD

The most precious video tapes are those carrying weddings, graduations, christenings, Christmases, family gatherings, children growing up, holidays etc. These, and perhaps selected movies, are the main candidates for transfer to DVD. The simplest and cheapest way to do it is with a stand-alone DVD recorder and your existing VCR connected by a Scart lead and set to record and play respectively. More convenient is the use of a VHS/DVD combination machine, which may offer some editing features – especially if it boasts a hard-disk drive (HDD). It's also possible to use a PC to capture output from videotape. With suitable software you can then edit your recordings and, when finished, copy them to DVD. This is not as easy as hooking-up a VCR to a DVD recorder!


Settings and options for DVD recorders

In all types of DVD recorder there's a trade-off between image recording quality and record/play time. In general, standard play (SP) VHS recordings are best captured onto disc at the two-hour SP mode. If you choose an LP (long play) mode your recordings are more likely to suffer from video and audio artefacting and interference. Automatic chaptering on the DVD is a useful feature that enables you to quickly navigate through your recorded DVD. The choice between '+' and '–' recording formats is unimportant now, as player compatibility has improved and many recorders are dual-standard. Use blank DVD discs, R (write-once) rather than the more expensive RW types. Buy in bulk, in packs of at least 25 or 50, to get the best price, and while it's not essential to choose top brands or high-grade discs, avoid the very cheapest.


Storing DVD discs

Most of the hints already given for VHS tapes are applicable to discs. Store them in library cases, jewel cases or transparent plastic sleeves, available in 50-packs. These can be easily air-sealed with adhesive tape.

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