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Summary:

Like many of you, most recorded footage of my youth was on those archaic black plastic things called VHS tapes. As the rest of society moves into the digital age, I’m facing a battle of preserving my childhood memories on something a little more robust and […]

Elgato Video Capture Boxshot

Like many of you, most recorded footage of my youth was on those archaic black plastic things called VHS tapes. As the rest of society moves into the digital age, I’m facing a battle of preserving my childhood memories on something a little more robust and modern than 800 feet of mylar tape. With many video capturing solutions on the market, I settled on a new product by Elgato, called Video Capture.

As new formats for recording video footage come to market, the quality of these mediums greatly improves. Since the VHS system is considered “analog” and is composed of interlaced video, converting to a digital solution requires some special equipment. These breakout boxes work by allowing you to connect your device via some type of connector (depending on the quality of the box) and to your Mac via USB or FireWire.

Since we’re using the breakout box as an intermediary and there are three devices in the chain, there is a potential for less than stellar quality due to any number of reasons: the breakout box in particular, the video tape you’re capturing from, or the VCR deck itself. Considering most of these devices are in the same price range, they are probably all comparable in quality. (Though as you will read on the Internet, everyone has a different opinion as to which one is the best.)

Elgato Video Capture

Elgato’s solution, retailing for $99, is a very simple dongle that attaches either via composite or S-video to your device and via USB to your Mac. The biggest concern many have about these types of devices is the flexibility they will have with capturing their video. Elgato includes their own video capture software with their device, though it is quite simple. For many, this is all you will need.

Getting Started

When you start the software, you are asked simple questions about how you have chosen to connect your media device and the aspect ratio of your footage. For folks converting from VHS like me, you’ll want to pick 4:3. The video will be captured at 640×480 resolution.

Elgato Video Capture Screenshot

The biggest oddity about the way the software functions is that before recording, it asks the user to determine the overall length of the recorded project. There are several options to choose from, at varying intervals from 10 to 180 minutes, each giving you an estimate of the final output size. You can stop recording at any point before your pre-set time has elapsed. If you have footage recorded in “EP” or “LP” modes, your tapes could have more than 3 hours of footage on them, making it awkward for bulk captures.

Recording

Once you begin recording, it is pretty much hit or miss. When you hit stop recording, the application is done and saves your file. For some, this may not be a concern as they plan to further split up clips or edit their footage in something like iMovie. Others may find this problematic if they are looking for a bit more control. Some of these concerns can be assuaged as the application does allow users to trim the start and end points of their captured footage.

After you stop recording, you have options within the software to instantly play the file in QuickTime, add it to iTunes, edit with iMovie or upload directly to YouTube. The videos are output in either H.264 or MPEG-4.

Based on the footage I have captured thus far, I have been quite impressed with Elgato’s solution. Sometimes the quality may not be the best but again, in my case, this is VHS we’re talking about. How many times in your home movies are there other concerns to worry about, like somebody panning the camera too fast?

I’m rating Elgato’s solution four out of five stars. Its software is simple and easy to use, and they included all of the cables I would need to plug its device directly into my VCR. The only cons are the limited in-application editing options and the awkward “time restrictions.” The good news is that these could easily be corrected with a future software update.

For some, they may criticize the lack of higher definition inputs, such as component video or HDMI, but these types of capture devices exist and are much pricier. It really just depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Why go overboard for something simple? As a quick and simple way to preserve VHS tapes, this is a great solution and feels a bit stronger than some of the other slightly cheaper options.

If you’ve had an opportunity to use the Elgato video capture or one of the other competitor products, let me know in the comments below.

  1. Looks like a nice product. I wish they had an HD option in this price range.

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    1. ElGato Turbo

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  2. Please try recording video from a VHS tape encoded with Macrovision copy protection. My experience with any second generation analog video copying solution is that these tapes result in video that fades in and out.

    Consumers should be warned that if you want to make a legal archive copy of your “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” tape this may not work. Wait for someone to post a review where they actually test it properly.

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    1. Seking

      I actually had a little blurb about that, but it didn’t survive editing. My apologies for that. Unfortunately, I don’t own any commercial VHS tapes anymore, but I can tell you that plugging in my Verizon cable box was just fine. Not sure if that helps or not.

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  3. I believe the prompt for overall length up front is to help you estimate the file size, in addition to presenting the option during recording to have the elgato software automatically stop recording once the specified length is hit. As this is a checkbox, unchecking it will require you to stand by your mac and stop it on your own as desired. It’s simply there for convenience.

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  4. A few questions:

    – when you want to ‘start to record’, do you have to click some button on the interface and start the playback device at the same time (i.e. like in the old days when recording a vinyl record onto a cassette)

    – once you stop recording, where does the file wind up saved, and in what format? how large are these files – one mpeg-4 file for one actual ‘record’ session? if the video (in my case, 8mm video from the ’90s) is an hour or two, how big are those files going to be?

    Thanks!

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  5. Ken Burns Effect Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Why not shell out 2x $ for EyeTV 250 and get tv-receiver and more powerful processing as well?

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  6. My “free” solution is using RCA cables from the outputs of my VCR into an older firewire enabled video cam, then firewire cable to my Mac from the camera and record through the camera. With this wiring setup, I set the camera to playback mode. When I push play on the VCR, I press play on the firewire camera tape player (no tape needs to be in there obviously) and then “Import” in iMovie at the same time.

    It’s only going to be so good since it’s analog. This also makes me a few dollars from time to time when friends of family need old tapes converted to DVD’s. Throw it on there and record, rip to iDVD and burn a few copies. All the while sitting on my couch watching TV.

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  7. The thing that surprises me about the Video Capture – is that it just seems like a product ElGato should have released YEARS AGO. And now it just seems like a ‘Too little, Too late’ kinda product as the pure digital world moves forward.

    I concur with Ken B – ya might as well get a Hybrid TV tuner for Mac and enjoy a much broader experience of (re) caputuring your past – while enjoying the Digital now – and future.

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  8. Can this be used as a Quicktime video-in source, say to use security camera software with a cheap camera with RCA video-out?

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  9. Looking for some help with basic questions. My goal: convert all of my VHS-C and VHS home movies to a digital format. My beginner’s guess is that I could (a) use this product to load the video into iMovie on my Mac (which I have yet to use); (b) edit in iMovie; and (c) burn the edited or unedited version on to a DVD for long term storage.

    Am I right about the above? Would really appreciate input. Also, how does this compare to products like the ADVC video converter?

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  10. I got the newest ElGato. It works great. I now have several of my old VCR tapes converted and on my Mac. I even did some DVD’s from these. Only one problem. Not many DVD players can read MPEG-4 so the DVD’s are only readable on my computer. Making a friend a copy for his DVD player is not going to work.

    How do I record these MPEG-4 files on to DVD’s that is readable on most of my friends DVD players on their tv’s? Is H.264 readable if recorded on DVD readable by players?

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    1. Have you tried burning the DVDs using iDVD? That will convert the h.264 to MPEG-2 automagically, making it compatible with commercial DVD Players.

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