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Junk Into Digital Gold: Photo and Video

Preserving For Posterity

In our last analog-to-digital article, we covered the ins and outs of converting your old LPs and tapes to digital. The great thing about music conversion is that it’s relatively simple. Plug in the player, hit the record button, stop recording when the media is done playing, maybe filter out some pop and hiss, slice the recording up into tracks, and save the tracks into whatever high-quality format you desire. After a few rounds of trial and error, the settings that suit you best tend to remain your default settings forever.

As we’ll see, film scanning follows in much the same vein and video is even simpler. Unlike audio, most people assume that analog video is by nature imperfect. VHS tapes looked terrible to begin with—if you can’t see the difference versus DVD or especially Blu-ray, then I can’t help you—and being in a drawer for 10 or 20 years doesn't do them any favors. Similarly, the Hi8 or similar camcorder tapes you might have floating around will be passable, but we all know that such media was designed for the age of standard definition. In the United States, that means NTSC format, or effectively 480 interlaced lines. (The actual spec is for 525 vertical lines, but only 480 of these contain picture information.) Color reproduction under NTSC can be anywhere from decent to terrible. As a result, most consumers don’t worry too much about the audio quality or color control of their analog video encodes. You just want to capture the content before it vanishes.