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My Eight-Year Quest to Digitize 45 Videotapes


For the last eight years, I’ve carried around this field of videotapes thru four various apartments and one home. They’re family home movies from my childhood.

All of my family's old home videos

After 600+ hours of labor, I lastly digitized and arranged them smartly sufficient to throw away the usual tapes. Right here’s what the footage appears like now:

All of my home movies, digitized and watchable from a non-public media sharing server

There are 513 separate clips, every with a title, description, a recording date, tags for everyone in the video, and everyone’s ages on the time of the recording. I host the entirety on a non-public media-sharing net arena that most real looking seemingly my family can access, and it costs less than $1 monthly to retain it working.

This submit explains how I did it, why it took me eight years, and the system to develop the identical element with slightly of less effort.

My naïve first try 🔗︎

Around 2010, my mom sold some procure of VHS to DVD converter and ran all of our home movies thru it.

Photo of rewritable DVDs labeled by letter

The distinctive DVD copies of the tapes my mom made (I’m no longer certain what took arena to the lacking letters)

The arena changed into as soon as that there changed into as soon as most real looking seemingly one dwelling of DVDs. All people in my family lived in a obvious allege, which made it inconvenient to trail discs around.

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

Screenshot of my converted DVD files on Google Cloud Storage

Sharing DVD rips of my family’s home movies on Google Cloud Storage

A pair of weeks later, I requested if any individual had watched the tapes. No one had. I hadn’t either. Within the age of YouTube, it gave the influence so dreary to download a 3-hour thriller file making an try for attention-grabbing footage.

The most real looking seemingly one mad changed into as soon as my mom. “Okay, kindly,” she stated, “Now, can I lastly throw out all these tapes?”

Uh oh. That changed into as soon as a scary query. What if there were tapes that we neglected? What if we would maybe well additionally digitize at a bigger high quality? What if there changed into as soon as attention-grabbing recordsdata on the VHS tape labels?

I’d by no system feel contented throwing away the usual tapes until I changed into as soon as assured that we had a entire retract of the total movies on the most real looking that you likely can additionally imagine high quality. That intended doing the work myself.

Miniature did I do know what I changed into as soon as getting myself into.

That doesn’t sound so onerous 🔗︎

If you happen to’re wondering why this took me eight years and heaps of of hours, I don’t blame you. I thought it would maybe well also be an easy conducting too.

Right here’s what the digitization course of appears like from initiate to attain:


Or pretty, that’s what the digitization course of appears like in theory. Right here’s what it regarded like in apply:


As a rule I spent changed into as soon as in re-work. I’d total a stage most real looking seemingly to take into narrative a flaw in my approach one or two steps later. As an illustration, I captured video from 20 tapes forward of realizing that the audio changed into as soon as slightly of out of sync. Or I chanced on after weeks of bettering that I’d been exporting video in a format that doesn’t strengthen online streaming.

For the sake of each person’s sanity, I’m explaining the approach as if it had actual forward high-tail as a substitute of consistently forcing my readers to jump backward and restart alongside with me.

Step 1: Video retract 🔗︎

Okay, relief to 2012. My mom changed into as soon as concerned to total her 20-year custodianship of the family home movies, so the following time I saw her, she handed me an fabulous cardboard field of videotapes. My digitization whisk had begun.

The glaring solution would be to outsource it to a skilled. There are plenty of digitization companies, collectively with companies that specialize in processing feeble home movies.

I’m moderately privateness-sensitive, so I felt unlucky handing strangers footage that includes me potty working in direction of (on the suitable age; nothing uncommon!). Moreover, I thought, how onerous would maybe well additionally it be to digitize video?

Spoiler alert: in fact onerous.

My first try at video retract 🔗︎

The feeble family VCR changed into as soon as peaceful in my dad’s basement, so I requested him to dig it out subsequent time we met for lunch. I sold a cheap RCA to USB adaptor from Amazon, and I changed into as soon as off to the races.

Picture of TOTMC RCA to USB adaptor

The TOTMC video retract instrument, the first of many A/V units I purchased in some unspecified time in the future of this course of.

To course of the video from the USB retract instrument, I outdated VirtualDub, which changed into as soon as slightly dated in 2012, but no longer that dated.

Shooting video in [VirtualDub](

The usage of VirtualDub to retract raw footage of me reading to my dad at age 4

The pernicious plague of audio skew 🔗︎

As I started the bettering course of, I realized that the audio and video were slightly of out of sync. Okay, no arena. I will shift the audio a chunk bit.

Ten minutes later, it changed into as soon as out of sync all another time. Did I no longer shift it sufficient the first time?

It slowly dawned on me that the audio and video weren’t merely offset — they captured at various charges. They diverged more and more in some unspecified time in the future of the tape. To retain them in sync, I’d over and over wish to regulate the audio manually every couple of minutes of tape.

Diagram of audio skew with and without correction

If your video setup captures audio and video at various charges, the suitable solution is to trusty the audio by hand every couple of minutes.

Gain you know the scheme sophisticated it is to distinguish between a sound that happens 10 milliseconds too early or 10 milliseconds too silly? It’s no longer easy! Take to your self.

Right here’s a video of me fiddling with my miserable, affected person kitten Gloomy Magic. The audio is slightly of out of sync with the video. Is the audio forward of the video or in the relief of it?

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

Right here’s the piece the put aside Magic jumps, slowed to 1/fifth flee:

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

Resolution: The audio is coming in about a milliseconds silly.

Audio correction alone took hours of leisurely, maddening work. It lastly occurred to me that I’d retract away from this headache if I selected something various than Amazon’s most cost-efficient video retract instrument. After slightly more study, I sold a brand fresh one:

GV-USB2 video capture device

My second try at buying a video retract instrument

Even with the fresh instrument, there changed into as soon as peaceful audio skew.

Going handsome 🔗︎

Presumably it changed into as soon as the VCR. Digitization forums stated audio skew wouldn’t happen with a VCR that had a “time-essentially based fully corrector” (TBC), a customary characteristic on Expansive VHS (S-VHS) VCRs.

For certain! What changed into after I doing messing around with my dead in style VCR when there changed into as soon as a handsome VCR that would maybe well additionally clear up my arena?

No one makes S-VHS VCRs anymore, but they’re peaceful on hand on eBay. I spent $179 on a JVC SR-V10U, a VCR mannequin that’s supposedly smartly-great to VHS digitization:

Photo of expensive VCR with S-VHS support

The normal JVC SR-V10U VCR that I sold on eBay for $179

The handsome VCR arrived in the mail. After months of combating mismatched sound, I changed into as soon as extremely contented to occupy upright in my fingers the gear that promised to clear up all my complications.

I opened the sphere, bent the entirety up, and the audio changed into as soon as peaceful out of sync. Issue.

Slack troubleshooting and the multi-year rut 🔗︎

Troubleshooting my hardware changed into as soon as depressing. I’d haul the total gear out of my closet, stoop in the relief of my desktop to rush the entirety in, try a retract, and explore that it didn’t work.

Oh, a random dialogue board submit from 2008 says to set up some sketchy, unsigned Chinese language instrument driver? It’s a frightful concept, but I’m desperate. It doesn’t fix the arena.

I tried various taking pictures machine. I sold a particular VHS tape to neat the magnetic heads of my VCR. I sold a third retract instrument. The outcomes were consistently the identical.

Invariably, I’d quit, disconnect the entirety, and banish the gear to my closet for another few months.

Surrendering to digitization mavens 🔗︎

Quick forward to 2018. I had dragged these videotapes and heaps of gear to four various apartments, and I changed into as soon as making ready to transfer from Contemporary York City to Massachusetts. I couldn’t clarify engaging this stuff all another time when it had change into definite that I’d by no system attain the conducting on my occupy.

I requested my family in the event that they’d be contented with me sending the tapes to a digitization company. Happily, no person minded — they were all noteworthy more mad by seeing the footage all another time.

Me: On the opposite hand it system some company has access to all of our home movies. You’re okay with that?

My sister: Yeah, I don’t care. You’re the suitable one who worries about that. Wait, you’ve unbiased paid any individual to attain that from the initiate?

Me: Uh…

It price $750 to digitize all 45 tapes. That might well sound pricey, but by that point, I’d occupy paid something else to retain away from another minute of troubleshooting video gear.

When the recordsdata came relief, the high quality changed into as soon as undisputably better. My captures consistently had “tearing” across the perimeters, however the experts digitized the entirety with none distortion. Better of all, the audio and video synced up perfectly.

Right here’s a video that compares the digitization company’s retract with one amongst my occupy:

A comparability of skilled video retract vs. my occupy on a tape of my mom recording my first trip writing code

Step 2: Improving 🔗︎

With home movies, about 90% of the footage is dreary, 8% is titillating, and a pair of% is fabulous. After you digitize the tapes, there’s peaceful a entire bunch work to attain.

Improving with Adobe Premiere 🔗︎

VHS tapes possess a lengthy circulation of video clips blended with tiring air. To edit a tape, it is vital to title the put aside every clip begins and ends.

For my bettering, I outdated Adobe Premiere Parts, which costs less than $100 for a lifetime license. Its needed characteristic for bettering VHS tapes is the zoomable timeline. It lets you to find rough scene boundaries fleet after which zoom in to to find the particular video body the put aside a clip begins or ends.

Screenshot of Adobe Premiere Elements' zoomable edit feature

The critical zoomable edit timeline in Adobe Premiere Parts

The arena with Premiere is that it requires frequent initiating and stopping. My course of changed into as soon as:

  1. Start a raw retract file containing 30-120 minutes of video.
  2. Designate the boundaries of a particular person clip.
  3. Export the clip.
  4. Wait 2-15 minutes until the export completes.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until the tape ends.

The lengthy waits intended that I changed into as soon as consistently context-switching between video bettering and some various process, scrambling my focal point for hours

The more than a few jam changed into as soon as non-reproducibility. Fixing a limited error changed into as soon as nearly as onerous as doing the total element from scratch. That bit me onerous after I reached the video-sharing stage. Finest then did I perceive I should always were exporting the films in a format that net browsers would maybe well additionally circulation natively. My alternate options were to restart the leisurely course of of exporting heaps of of clips or to re-encode the exported movies to another format, degrading their high quality.

Robo-bettering 🔗︎

After an embarrassing series of hours doing the entirety by hand, I puzzled if I would maybe well additionally merely throw man made intelligence on the arena. Identifying clip boundaries gave the influence like a actual machine finding out process. I knew that accuracy would be less than perfect, but likely it would maybe well additionally attain 80% of the work, and I’d fix the last 20% manually.

I experimented with a machine known as pyscenedetect, which analyzes video recordsdata and prints out the timecodes the put aside scene adjustments happen:

 $ docker rush 
    --volume "/movies:/decide" 
    --input /decide/test.mp4 
    --output /decide 
    detect-speak material --threshold 80 
[PySceneDetect] Output directory dwelling:
[PySceneDetect] Loaded 1 video, framerate: 29.97 FPS, resolution: 720 x 480
[PySceneDetect] Downscale element dwelling to three, efficient resolution: 240 x 160
[PySceneDetect] Scene checklist CSV file title format:
[PySceneDetect] Detecting scenes...
[PySceneDetect] Processed 55135 frames in 117.6 seconds (sensible 468.96 FPS).
[PySceneDetect] Detected 33 scenes, sensible shot size 55.7 seconds.
[PySceneDetect] Writing scene checklist to CSV file:
[PySceneDetect] Scene Record:
 | Scene # | Initiate Frame |  Initiate Time  |  Close Frame  |   Close 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 changed into as soon as certainly about 80% honest, but checking the machine’s work took more time than it saved me. On the opposite hand, pyscenedetect sparked one amongst my most crucial realizations of this entire conducting: figuring out scene boundaries and exporting clips are separate tasks.

I remembered that I’m a programmer 🔗︎

Till that point, I had even handed “bettering” as the entirety I changed into as soon as doing in Adobe Premiere. Cutting out subclips of raw footage felt inextricably tied to finding clip boundaries because that’s how Premiere presented it. When pyscenedetect printed out its table of metadata, it made me perceive I would maybe well additionally decouple scene finding from video exporting. That changed into as soon as a gamechanger.

The rationale that bettering changed into as soon as so leisurely and time-ingesting changed into as soon as that I had to retain making an try forward to Premiere to export every clip. If I recorded the metadata in a spreadsheet and wrote a script that exported movies robotically, the bettering course of would soar by.

What’s more, spreadsheets dramatically expanded the form of recordsdata I captured. Firstly, I stuffed metadata into the filename, but that’s limiting and rigid. Having a entire spreadsheet allowed me to catalog so noteworthy more about the clip like who’s in it, when it changed into as soon as recorded, and any various records I are making an try to most recent alongside the video when of us be aware it.

Spreadsheet of home video metadata

Shooting metadata about my home movies in a broad spreadsheet

Later, I changed into as soon as in a location to utilize that metadata to add recordsdata to the clips like how feeble we all were and an wide description of what’s going on in the clip.

Visualization of how items in my spreadsheet translate to metadata in my media sharing solution

With the added flexibility of a spreadsheet, I will file metadata that affords more recordsdata about the clips and makes them simpler to browse.

The glory of an automatic solution 🔗︎

With the spreadsheet in hand, I wrote a script that chopped my raw movies into smaller clips in accordance with a CSV input.

Right here’s a show disguise retract of what it appears like in high-tail:

At this point, I’d spent heaps of of hours tediously selecting clip boundaries in Premiere, hitting export, waiting a few minutes for it to total, then initiating over. No longer most real looking seemingly that, I had repeated this course of so a lot of times on the identical footage after discovering high quality complications later on.

When I automatic the clip chopping piece, it changed into as soon as a enormous weight off my shoulders. I didn’t wish to disaster about forgetting metadata or selecting the imperfect output format. If I chanced on a mistake after the truth, I would maybe well additionally unbiased tweak my script and rerun the entirety.

Allotment two 🔗︎

Shooting and bettering the clips changed into as soon as most real looking seemingly half of the wrestle. I peaceful obligatory a methodology to piece the entirety with my family in a methodology that changed into as soon as stress-free, regain, and cheap.

In piece two of this submit, I portray the commence source media server I outdated to piece these clips with my family for most real looking seemingly $0.77/month.

Illustrations by Loraine Yow.

Special thanks to my family for allowing me to piece a series of these clips and stills, for recording the entirety in the first arena, and for being so supportive in some unspecified time in the future of this course of.

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