Preserving your treasured home movies by Peter Phun

In our high tech world, they say you can usually tell how old someone's kids are by the camcorder they tote.

At the alarming rate consumer electronics change, if you see someone with their camcorder on their shoulder and if it's obviously not a broadcast quality camera, you can bet it's a VHS analog camcorder---they have grown adult kids.

So for those of us Mac users who have analog videotapes lying around, you better start digitizing before the hardware i.e vcr or camcorder dies. For one thing you won't be able to buy a vcr in a few years and no, I'm not scaring you. Those VHS tapes do not last forever especially if they're not stored properly. My own wedding video will only play for 20 minutes.

What You Will Need

If you own an older Mac and don't have iMovie or iDVD, you can purchase Apple's iLife suite for about $80. At the time of writing June 3, 2007, the most current version of Apple iLife suite is 06. I'm frankly surprised that there wasn't a 07 release this Spring.iLife 06 gives you Garageband 3, iPhoto 6, iWeb,iMovie HD 6 and iDVD 6.

If you're just wanting to digitize your home movies you will only need to concern yourself with iMovie and iDVD. If you're ambitious and are musically inclined, you might enjoy tinkering with Garageband to create some loops to score your video projects.

Since I'm not musically inclined, this tutorial will concentrate on digitizing your analog videos and burning them to DVDs. Before you purchase anything. Dig out all those analog tapes and play them. Make sure you rewind them and play them, then take a note of the ones which don't.

I'm not sure why they stop playing but I suspect it has to do with the mechanism inside those cartridges collecting dust or maybe how they are wound around the 2 spools. I haven't figured out what to do with tapes which refuse to play. I haven't thrown mine out.

The optimist or the “pack-rat” in me won't allow me to. So before you begin, you'll have some idea of how many tapes you have and how many hours of torture you're going to subject yourself to watching as you embark on this labor of love.

Overview of procedure

  1. If you plan to edit the video footage, you will import the video footage first. You can then trim the clips, cut out the parts where the camcorder was left on accidentally. I'm sure they'll be great blackmail materials there, but some basic editing can save you $$ because your hard drive won't fill up with worthless footage.
  2. If you don't plan on any editing at all. iMovie 6 has a new feature called "Make a Magic iMovie" It's as simple as checking a few boxes in a dialog box and iMovie 6 will compile the movie, add tansitions and send it to iDVD to be burned. This feature is so handy especially if you're a good experienced videographer and don't need anything fancy. More on that later.

Making the Connections

In the diagram on the left, a digital miniDV camcorder is being used as the "bridge" for digitizing an analog video signal. Note the actual video signal originates from the analog source of the VCR.

If you are using a “bridge” like the DAC-100 I mentioned, use the diagram on the left as a guide. Note the use of a S-video cable.

Since the picture quality is better and if your setup has that capability, you won't need to plug in the yellow RCA jack, just the left and right (red and white) ones.

The firewire or IEEE cable plugs into your Mac on one end and into the output port of the digital camcorder or bridge. Launch iMovie and you will see the dialog box below. If you are using a “bridge” like the Datavideo DAC-100 I mentioned, use the above diagram as a guide. Note the use of a S-video cable.

If you're using a VCR and digitizing a VHS tape, head over to this post on my blog and look that over then come back.

Since the picture quality is better and if your setup has that capability, you won't need to plug in the yellow RCA jack, just the left and right (red and white) ones.

The firewire or IEEE cable plugs into your Mac on one end and into the output port of the digital camcorder or bridge. screen shot of selector to import or edit video in iMovie

If your connections are correct and your camcorder is turned on in the VTR mode, clicking the left black camcorder icon will start the importing of your video footage. The next step, if you don't want to edit out the bad video footage is so simple, it's almost anti-climactic.

Select “Make A Magic iMovie.” You'll be greeted with a dialog box which allows you to choose some settings and when you close it, the video is sent to iDVD and you can just relax while your Mac takes care of the rest. movie magic dialog box in iMovie Among the choices you can make is the type of transitions between scenes.

Unfortunately, this choice is going to be for "all scenes." The only option you have is “Music.”

Actually it isn't much of a choice because of the wonderful DMCA.

If you plan on using music that you bought from iTunes music store, I have a feeling those songs will be greyed out and you won't be able to use them.

But there are ways around them. Sorry you won't learn how to do that here. If you find the “Make A Magic iMovie” too unsavoury, consider learning to edit in iMovie, it's not that hard.

A book that I highly recommend is “iMovie 6 & iDVD” by David Pogue of the “Missing Manual series” by publishers O'Reilly. The latest edition of this book finally has color---a most welcome improvement. Folks, most of the time I'm all for keeping cost of books down by having black and white illustrations or pictures but the previous edition of this book needed an injection of color to break the pages and pages of grey.

If you have any interest at all in some basic video editing, this is the book that should get you on your road to becoming the “documentarian” of your family's treasured moments.

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