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2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??

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Fred Turner
2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 8, 2017 at 8:23:24 am

Hey Folks—

This is purely a personal project, so I'm aiming to do everything at minimal cost— can't justify spending tons just for some hobby/personal needs.

Okay, so, I've got some old VHS and VHS-C tapes that I'd like to capture and clean up for archival purposes, while also retaining the ability to edit the footage later, if need be. In the past, I've tried digitizing and capturing VHS material via DV camcorder and my JVC SR-VS20 MiniDV/SuperVHS dual deck, but the results have usually looked worse than the original, w/ a general "flattening" of colors. Even with a good analog-to-DV conversion, I have numerous misgivings w/ this DV capture method:

1. Aforementioned conversion quality problems
2. DV's high data rate relative to its resolution these days (compared to, say, AVCHD from a more recent HD camcorder); it uses so much more disk space than more modern codecs need
3. Unsuitability of DV for cleaning/processing and then re-encoding the already-subpar image quality of these old tapes.

So, I started contemplating capturing "directly" via a capture card on my 2010 Mac Pro. Again, considering minimal cost, I have looked at BlackMagic Intensity Pro, but also the Kona LSe and LHe cards, all of which I'm seeing on eBay for under $100.

Would either of these be a good choice for what I'm trying to do? How about the following workflow?

1. Import via card as ProRes. I would think ProRes 422 LT would suffice for this generally low-res SD. Any objections?
2. Clean up the footage a bit by color correcting and reducing noise. Welcome any suggestions and tips on this. Have read about the Neat noise reduction filter, but it's $75 minimum...not bad if this were an important or paying gig, but probably more than I want to spend for a modest # of old tapes.
3. Transcode to H.264 at a fairly high data rate— but still quite a bit less than DV— for archival and easy playback when we want to simply view what's there.

Thx,
Fred


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Noah Kadner
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 8, 2017 at 6:59:32 pm

Without expecting miracles due to garbage-in/garbage-out, yes that workflow sounds fine.

Noah

FCPWORKS - FCPX Workflow
FCP Exchange - FCPX Workshops
XinTwo - FCPX Training


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Fred Turner
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 8, 2017 at 11:05:29 pm

[Noah Kadner] "Without expecting miracles due to garbage-in/garbage-out, yes that workflow sounds fine.
"


Ok, thanks, Noah! Yeah, definitely not expecting any miracles. Just want to do the best job I can w/ what's there. So, do you have any experience with or preference between those 2 cards? Or, 4 cards really (Kona LSe, LHe, Intensity Pro, Intensity Pro 4K)?

Further questions:
1. Do you agree w/ my assessment about it being preferable to circumvent DV and use card+ProRes?
2. For my anticipated small amount of work, is there any benefit to considering the Intensity Pro 4K at about double the cost? Something I'm not considering WRT future utility or expansion?
3. What sort of specs/data rate would you target for archival transcoding in my step #3, keeping in mind that I'd like to retain enough headroom so that I might "re-online" at some later point for editing?
4. Think ProRes LT will suffice for the intermediate cleanup, or should I use "full" ProRes 422?

Sorry for so many questions. I guess I'm mentally wrangling this process and formulating my plan as I gather info. Any advice, tips, things to consider, or commentary is greatly appreciated.

Thx again,
Fred


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Mark Suszko
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 9, 2017 at 2:58:02 pm

I have another method I sometimes use; I have a dual-drive VHS/DVD recorder. Pop the VHS into the unit, add black disk, press button. Finalize the DVD, import and transcode to prores using free MPEG STREAMCLIP or VLC, edit as you like.

These combo recorders are cheap to buy new at Walmart or online thru ebay, Amazon, etc. My Panasonic works great. You can find these with and without tuners; the tuner-less ones should be in the 50-dollar range.


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Fred Turner
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 9, 2017 at 3:18:30 pm

Thanks, Mark, good to have options! However, for this, I'll be trying to avoid adding more compression/decompression cycles until the end, when I go to archive. The DVD route wouldn't afford me the ability to clean up the footage w/o decompressing and recompressing at an intermediate step. Plus, I'm aiming for final compression more advanced than the fairly low bitrate, older MPEG-2 used on a DVD recorder— probably H.264 @ higher bitrate. We have one of those recorders in the basement, though, so I'll definitely keep it in mind as a possibility for future projects.

Thx,
Fred


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Mark Suszko
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 9, 2017 at 3:34:57 pm

Sure, Fred, totally understand. But a side note: my panny model has user-selectable compression rates omn the mpeg2 encoding, and withe the built-in signal processing, the VHS dubs it makes in highest-quality mode look damn good, even considering the cross-conversions. Just wanted to mention that as well.


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Noah Kadner
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 9, 2017 at 6:35:20 pm

Yeah that would be a major recompression step / loss in quality, not too mention MPEG2 is not directly editable. Your first instinct to feed directly into a recorder that can capture ProRes is much simpler, least destructive to the already iffy VHS source.


Further questions:
1. Do you agree w/ my assessment about it being preferable to circumvent DV and use card+ProRes? Yes
2. For my anticipated small amount of work, is there any benefit to considering the Intensity Pro 4K at about double the cost? Something I'm not considering WRT future utility or expansion? 4K and beyond is where we're heading, you'd be future proofing yourself a bit more if not having an immediate need for this particular task.
3. What sort of specs/data rate would you target for archival transcoding in my step #3, keeping in mind that I'd like to retain enough headroom so that I might "re-online" at some later point for editing? Go ProRes 422, LT will introduce a certain amount of visual noise and artifacting for a not that significant amount of space savings.
4. Think ProRes LT will suffice for the intermediate cleanup, or should I use "full" ProRes 422?

Noah

FCPWORKS - FCPX Workflow
FCP Exchange - FCPX Workshops
XinTwo - FCPX Training


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Fred Turner
Re: 2017 Edition: Better quality VHS capture...on the cheap??
on Jan 12, 2017 at 4:12:27 pm

Thanks for the input, guys! I found a non-4K Intensity Pro at the right price on the 'Bay, so I went w/ that. It was less than half the going rate for the 4K versions, so I opted to save now, rather than gamble that I'd be able to make use of 4K w/ it later. If I have that need, I'll just worry about a card upgrade then w/o hurting myself too bad now.

So, I'll plan on ProRes 422 as an intermediate for capture and cleanup, but revisiting a question above, what should I target for archival after the cleanup is done? Is H.264 at a decent bitrate going to suffice for mostly archival to almost never be touched again, while retaining the possibility to re-import and edit some footage later? Any recommendations on specs/bitrate for this, given relatively crummy SD VHS?

Speaking of cleanup, I'm a complete newbie there. Any good tips or how-tos? As far as audio, is FCPX's sound processing upon import recommended?

One other technical question: the signal on tape is split Y/C, right? So I'd do best to spit out S-Video from the deck (JVC SR-VS20) to the card, right? This seems obvious, but just want to make sure I'm not overlooking something equally obvious!

Thx again,
Fred


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