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’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.
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.
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.
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.