Video: Conversions & Digitizing FAQ + Pricing

There are several methods of capturing analogue video from legacy videotape formats, and different file formats best suited for consumer, archival, and video production work. I use several workflows, depending on whether clients require modest-sized digital files to share on social media and post on YouTube, or raw files for use in post-production.

For consumer and prosumer tape formats like VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS, Video 8, Hi8, Digital8, and MiniDV, the basic cost from tape to DVD-R or as digital files (such as the popular MP4 H264) is $20 for the first hour, and $5 for each additional hour per tape.

For Betamax, the cost is an additional $5 per tape, due to the increasing scarcity of the format’s VCRs and parts.

For VHS tapes in the European PAL and SECAM standards, the transfer / digitizing cost is also an additional $5 per tape. PAL and SECAM are often printed on the tape labels and sleeve, and use branding like E-180 (which is roughly identical in length to North American T-120 VHS tapes.

Please consult this basic primer on international video standards if you’re unsure about the standard used by its original country of origin.

Depending on final resolution and size, digital files (such as MP4 H264) can be transferred to client-supplied USB memory sticks or hard drives, and uploaded to Google Drive or a client’s cloud for no additional charge, although for large batches in which the final files exceed 50 GB, there’s an additional $10 charge to transfer materials to an additional client-supplied memory stick, or hard drive, or separate cloud.

Most consumer / prosumer tapes are captured via Firewire to either Final Cut Pro 7 as ProRes MOV files on an iMac before rendering, or as AVI files via Premiere on an iMac & PC, after which the footage undergoes basic colour correction and volume boosting before they’re rendered as MP4 H264 files.

It’s also possible to capture broadcast tape formats – U-Matic (low band, high band, and SP) and Betacam (low band, SP, and SX) – via Firewire using breakout boxes such as an AJA Io and a Laird Enigma which will transcode video from Y/C 358 and Betacam RGB inputs as ProRes MOV files via FCP7. A workflow to capture U-Matic Y/C 688 outputs is currently in the works.

Note: certain tape broadcast tape brands like AMPEX cannot be transferred, nor tapes similarly affected by “sticky tape syndrome,” a condition which the bonding agent of magnetic particles containing the audio-video recording have degraded over time and poor storage, and any attempt to play the tapes result in clogging debris which can damage the delicate video heads of the VCR.

The same holds true for early reel-to-reel / open reel videotapes, which are prone to shedding, sticky tape syndrome, and mold. These tapes require “baking,” and at present is beyond my scope of expertise.

Additionally, any tapes affected by mold cannot be transferred due to a high risk in damaging and contaminating a VCR.

Not sure what type of videotapes you have? Here’s a Primer on the best-known legacy formats.

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ADDITIONAL SERVICES

 

CUSTOM VISUAL EFFECTS USING VINTAGE ANALOGUE CONSUMER / BROADCAST / ENG GEAR, TAPE MEDIA, TEST GEAR, AND CRT MONITORS

 

TRANSFERRING ANALOGUE MEDIA (LPs + AUDIO CASSETTES) to CD + DIGITAL FORMATS

 

EDITING / MIXING / RESTORING (MUSIC + VOICE) for FILM + PODCASTS

 


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