Workshop: A Digital Facelift for Your Analog Movies


Does your video collection harbor some VHS treasures? Sooner or later, they are bound to go the way of the dodo. Neither VHS tapes nor Super-8 cassettes are really suitable for long-term storage of film footage: each video session shortens the life expectancy of the tapes. While the mechanical scanning of magnetic tapes only marginally reduces image quality, it eventually adds up to a considerable worsening that can manifest itself as lost color or audio information, or even a broken tape. And no user would be happy with the prospect of having to throw away treasured videos one day. There's always the option of copying analog videos with a second VCR, but by the third copy, the video quality will have worsened considerably compared to the original.

You need a solution - and you'll find it in CDs and DVDs. The idea is simple: transfer analog films to your PC using a TV card or DV camcorder, enhance them and then burn them to DVD or CD. Unlike VHS and Super-8 tapes, which are read mechanically, optical media are scanned without being touched at all; this preserves the video quality of DVD movies, no matter how often you watch them. What's more, the digital original and the digital copy are identical, provided the media are the same size. In other words, each successive generation is just as good as the first one. DVDs and CDs have another advantage to offer: they take up less space than video cassettes.

So how do you digitalize analog movies? This workshop tells you everything you need to know to transfer VHS and Super-8 movies to your PC in very few steps.

Copying the video data is only half the game. You'll often find that the analog originals are interspersed with heavy noise, faded colors and even snow. The fact of the matter is that you can use relatively easy tools to freshen up the digitalized images and put the zing back in old, faded or yellowed film footage. You don't even have to spend a fortune on special software. Freeware programs such as Virtual Dub offer convenient editing features you can use to modify and edit your videos.