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I’ve always been a fan of the TV program The Twilight Zone. In the mid ‘80s, when I was furiously taping every movie I liked even just a little bit, The Twilight Zone was broadcast two and sometimes three times a night, so I taped those episodes, too. Did you know that there were 156 episodes of that program? And did you know that one season consisted of hour-long episodes? Most people don’t know that, but I do, because I taped almost every one of them—I’m missing maybe four episodes. Unfortunately, those old tapes are pretty much unwatchable today.
In the ‘80s, blank tapes were relatively expensive, especially at the rate I was burning through them. You had to pay about $7 or $8 for a high-quality tape, but I found a way to beat the system. I was buying VHS 3-packs at the Wiz for about $10, but they were generic no-name brands that sometimes seemed pretty good and sometimes not so good. But the passing of time is cruel to VHS quality, and most of my Twilight Zone tapes now produce just a snowy mess of a picture.
My entire collection of movies on VHS tape looks terrible on a modern 46-inch flat panel TV, especially because they’re not widescreen or high definition, and also because I used the thrifty six-hour format. But movies are, for the most part, replaceable. In fact, I purchased many of my favorite movies on DVD over the years, although now I would certainly prefer Blu-ray—but that’s another story of technology evolving over time.
Regardless of how poor the quality of VHS seems today, some of my old tapes are irreplaceable. Old vacation videos, my wedding video, and tapes of my kids when they were babies are not going to be released on Blu-ray any time soon. While I wish the quality of these old tapes was better, I do need to preserve them somehow, before they become as unwatchable as my Twilight Zone collection.
TerraTec offers simple solutions for converting VHS to DVD, or at least converting them to files that can be stored on a hard drive where they won’t deteriorate any more than they already have. Of course, I’ll have to back the files up, but that is simple common sense.
Converting old VHS tapes into digital video is just a few mouse clicks away with the new TerraTec G1 (right), which connects a computer’s USB port to a VCR’s composite or S-Video output. The TerraTec G1 is compatible with NTSC, PAL and SECAM video standards, so it will work with most VCRs. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a VCR; the G1 can capture video from anything that has a composite or S-Video output.
To capture video, all you have to do is press PLAY on the VCR and press the RECORD button on the G1, and the software included with the G1 turns your VHS video into a digital file. You can capture video in the MPEG1 or MPEG2 format. The bundled software also lets you edit out parts you don’t want, such as commercials, and add cross-fade effects, add music or narration to the audio track, and add whatever titling you like. Once you have what you want, you can burn it to CD or DVD blanks. The TerraTec G1 also includes all the cables you need to use it. The G1 costs $79.95.
If you want something a little less dongle-like than the G1 and maybe a bit more rugged, the TerraTec G3 (left) is the answer. Housed in an anodized aluminum enclosure, the G3 features gold-plated inputs and high-quality cables. In addition to composite and S-Video inputs, the G3 also features a SCART input, which is popular in Europe, especially
Both the G1 and G3 are powered by the USB bus, so no additional power supply is required. In fact, both units come with everything you need to convert analog video to digital. If you’ve got old tapes in dire need of conversion, you can now do so, quickly and affordably.
Have you used either of these TerraTec video-conversion products? Tell us about your experiences preserving those happy moments in the Comments section below.