[This extract is taken from the September 2010 issue of PC Authority magazine.]
With all these devices, you'll have to configure your settings correctly. Resolution, frame rate and compression all have a number of alternatives. Bear in mind that although VHS video is an analogue medium and the idea of pixel resolution doesn't apply, it's inherently a fairly low-quality format. That means there's no point in trying to capture at very high resolution, and certainly not beyond the standard TV resolution of around 768 x 576 pixels.
You can't get detail from nowhere, and trying to capture at high resolutions beyond the limits of the tape will simply take up more hard disk space for no good reason.
Also remember that high compression settings effectively lower resolution, too, so there's no point in capturing in HD resolution with the compression turned way up - you may as well drop the resolution and pull back on the compression a little.
An analogue capture device that attaches via FireWire can sidestep much of the hassle of capture configuration, but do the same intermediary job as the camcorder method described above. The box will take the analogue video signal and convert it to the digital DV format, the same as a MiniDV tape-based camcorder uses. That lets you capture as if the output was from a digital camcorder. Canopus' ADVC55 is a particularly hassle-free example of one of these, although at around $300 from many online stores it's rather pricey.
Once you've made your hardware choice, it's time to choose your software. Most capture devices will come with software for digitising video and even for burning it to DVD, which could be one and the same application. But if you're using an existing graphics card or a digital camcorder's conversion abilities you may need to supply your own. One of the best free utilities for video capture we've come across is STOIK Capturer (www.stoik.com). It's entirely free, and can capture from most Windows video devices with a WDM (Windows driver model) driver - that basically means it covers all Windows capture devices.
We suggest using the DV Video Encoder for compressing your raw capture files. This will keep the video at the highest quality during the enhancements we'll be discussing in next month's instalment. Starting with a low resolution and data rate will make compression artefacts more noticeable. So unless you're capturing directly to an archiving format such as WMV or DivX (of which more next month), Microsoft DV Video Encoder compression is recommended, as every Windows system since XP will include it as standard.
This uses a native frame size of 720 x 576 for PAL video, and a standard compression ratio of approximately 5:1. So applying a few filters and outputting to another format won't seriously reduce video quality. However, 1GB of disk space will only be enough for about 4.5 minutes of video, so you'll need plenty free.
If you have capture hardware that includes software capable of capturing to MPEG2, this will save you a lot of disk space and should produce files that are immediately compatible with DVD Video, as this is an MPEG2 format. However, as there are licensing fees associated with MPEG2, free MPEG2 codecs are only available in trial form, such as Etymonix's, which also inserts a watermark.
...Read the rest of this article in the September 2010 issue of PC Authority magazine.