Let’s face it: VHS is dead. The problem is that a lot of people still have a huge VHS collection, including all sort of personal mementos like birthday parties, weddings, Christmas, Bar Mitzvahs, trips – you name it. With a PC with a DVD burner, a video capture card (or a video card with VIVO function) and a VCR you can convert all your VHS tapes in DVDs. You may even start working with this and make some money – there is a huge market for this kind of conversion out there for people that don’t want to go through the hassle of converting the tapes themselves. In this tutorial we will show you how to convert your VHS tapes into DVDs. In this part we will cover the hardware part, i.e., the physical installation of your VCR to your PC, including how to install a video capture board to your PC.
To convert VHS tapes into DVDs you will need the following parts:
- One PC.
- Enough available space on HDD (minimum of 10 GB recommended) – if you are going to work professionally with this we recommend you buying a high capacity, high performance HDD just for storing the video files.
- A DVD burner installed on it.
- A video capture card or a video card with VIVO (Video In, Video Out) function installed on it.
- A VCR (a stereo “6-head” VCR is highly recommended), system-compatible with the video system under which the VHS tapes were encoded.
- Audio/Video cable (this is a cable with three RCA male connectors at each end, one yellow, one red and one white).
- Audio cable (only if a video card with VIVO feature is used, this cable has two RCA male connectors, one red and one white, at one end and a 3.5 mm stereo mini jack at the other end). This is the same cable used to connect a Discman to a stereo.
- Video capture/editing and DVD authoring programs (they usually come with the video capture board; more on that on part 2 of our tutorial).
- Blank DVD media (DVD-R or DVD+R).
- Your VHS tapes (of course!).
The video capture card is the heart of the conversion and it can be internal (the kind we will be talking about), external (installed on a USB or FireWire port, allowing you to use even a laptop instead of a desktop PC for this process) or integrated on your video card (VIVO, Video In, Video Out).
We need to spend a moment explaining how the video capture card works, to avoid common misconceptions. Video capture cards have two major components: a TV and FM tuner and a video decoder chip, as you can see in Figure 1. Video card with VIVO function have only the video decoder chip.
Figure 1: Video capture card components.
As you may have already heard, there are several different video signal coding systems in the world, including NTSC, SECAM and all flavors of PAL. So, if you want to convert a VHS recorded under SECAM system, you need to play it on a SECAM-compatible VCR.
We are very lucky because nowadays virtually all decoder chips available on the market can decode all TV systems in the world. Yes, you are reading it right. This means that you can convert a SECAM tape using a SECAM VCR on your computer, even if you are located in the USA, where the TV system is NTSC-M. By the way, SECAM is the TV system used in France.
However, to capture video directly from the TV system – i.e., record a show from cable TV using your video capture card – your video capture card tuner needs to be compatible with the video encoding system used on your cable TV or terrestrial TV (in the case you are using a regular antenna). So you won’t be able to record TV shows in Germany (where the TV system is PAL-B) using a video capture card using a NTSC-M tuner (standard used in the US).
In Figure 1 you can that the tuner used on our video capture card was an NTSC-M/PAL-M/PAL-N tuner (MTS, Multichannel Television Sound, is an audio standard).
So, the systems listed on the tuner refer only to the tuner itself, having nothing to do with the decoder chip capabilities. Take a look at the diagram in Figure 2 to have a better picture.
Figure 2: How a video capture card works.
Do you still not believe in us? Take a look at Conexant CX23883, Phillips SAA7133 and ATI Rage Theater specs – which are three very popular decoder chips – and see how they say they support all TV standards.
What you need to do is to install your video capture board to your PC and your VCR to your video capture board. Let’s see how this is done.
[nextpage title=”Installing Video Capture Boards”]
On Figures 3 and 4 you see two video capture boards from different brands. The first one is from Leadtek (TV2000XP Expert), and the second one is from PowerColor (Theater 550 Pro). Installing a video capture board to a PC is very simple: open your computer (with it turned off, of couse) and install it on any empty PCI slot. External video capture boards are easier to install: just connect them to any available USB (or FireWire, depending on the model) port.
Figure 3: Leadtek TV2000XP Expert video capture card.
Figure 4: PowerColor Theater 550 Pro video capture card.
Internal video cards have only one input connector on them. You need to install an adapter that comes with the board that will expand this single input in several inputs. In Figure 5, you can see the Leadtek TV2000XP Expert with its adapter installed. In Figure 6 you see the adapter that came with PowerColor Theater 550 Pro.
Figure 5: Leadtek TV2000XP Expert inputs.
Figure 6: PowerColor Theater 550 Pro inputs.
As you can see, the connectors follow a color code:
- Yellow: Composite video.
- Red: Audio right channel.
- White: Audio left channel.
Video capture boards usually offer two options for the video input: composite video or separated video (S-Video). S-Video provides a better video quality, however home VCR systems usually don’t have a S-Video output. So you will probably have to use the composite video input, and all our explanations will consider this option. However, if your VCR has a S-Video output, please use it instead, as it will provide a better image quality.
[nextpage title=”Installing Video Capture Boards (Cont’d)”]
Some video capture cards have a small squared internal audio output, to be connected to your motherboard (or to your sound card, if you use and add-in sound card instead of your motherboard’s on-board audio). This connection allows you to listed to what is being captured through the PC speakers. Without this connection you will be able to listen to what you have captured only after playing the generated file. For this connection you will need a cable that comes with the video capture board.
Figure 7: Cable for connecting the internal audio output.
Figure 8: Cable installed on the video capture card.
Install one end of the cable on the appropriate connector on your video capture card (see Figure 8) and the other end on your motherboard, on a connector labeled “Aux In”. Look for this connector carefully, as it may be difficult to locate it, since it is usually located near or under the video card.
Figure 10: Installing the internal audio cable.
Figure 11: Internal audio cable installed.
Some motherboards don’t have an Aux In input. In this case you have two options. Don’t make this connection – what will prevent you to hear what is being captured in real-time – or connect the cable to the CD In connector – but in this case you will lose the audio connection of your DVD burner, which may be even worse.
[nextpage title=”Installing Video Cards With VIVO”]
If your video card features VIVO (Video In, Video Out), all you have to do is to install an adapter on the video card’s mini-DIN connector to use this function. You can see if your video card has VIVO function by reading its manual or simply by checking if it came with a VIVO adapter or not.
Figure 12: Video card with its VIVO adapter installed.
As you can see, the VIVO adapter has more cables than the standard video capture board adapter. This happens because VIVO function, as the name implies, also feature video outputs, feature usually not present on standard video capture boards.
In Figure 13 we show the VIVO connectors. In this particular model the composite video input uses an orange connector, and not a yellow one.
If you pay attention, you will notice that the VIVO function doesn’t provide audio inputs, differently from what happens with standard video capture cards. In this case the audio output from the VCR must be installed on the “line in” input from the motherboard (or sound card, if you use an add-on sound card).
[nextpage title=”Installing Your VCR To Your Video Capture Board”]
To hook up your VCR to your video capture board all you will need is an A/V cable (A/V stands for audio/video). This cable is shown in Figure 14 and comes with the VCR.
Your VCR will probably have six female RCA connectors on its back: video in, video out, left audio in, left audio out, right audio in and right audio out. We will need the outputs, i.e., the connectors labeled as “line out”. Just connect one end of the A/V cable to the corresponding connectors on the VCR. Simply follow the colors on the connectors or the code we mentioned before:
- Yellow: Composite video.
- Red: Audio right channel.
- White: Audio left channel.
Figure 15: Our VCR, view from the back.
Figure 16: Installing the A/V cable to the VCR.
Now install the other end of the cable to your video capture board. This is very simple to be done, just connect the connectors that use the same color code. You can see this on Figures 17 and 18.
Figure 17: Installing the A/V cable to the video capture board.
Figure 18: Installing the A/V cable to the video capture board.
If you are using a video card with VIVO function, the installation is a little bit different.
[nextpage title=”Installing Your VCR To Your VIVO Video Card”]
Since the video card doesn’t provide audio inputs, the installation of the VCR to your computer is a little bit different, since you will need to install the VCR’s audio outputs to your motherboard. You will need the cable shown in Figure 19, which has a 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack at one end and two male RCA connectors (one is usually white and the other is usually red) at the other. This is the very same cable used to connect a Discman to a home stereo, so you may ask for this kind of cable when shopping.
Figure 19: Cable that will be needed to install the VCR to the PC.
The cable connection on the VCR will be done like shown in Figure 20. You must use the connectors labeled “line out” on the VCR. The audio outputs from the VCR must be connected to the mini-jack cable (cable in Figure 19) and the video output from the VCR must use one RCA-RCA cable to be connected to your video card. In our case, instead of buying a RCA-RCA cable, we used the standard A/V cable shown in Figure 14, because it came with the VCR and we could use it for free. As you can see, we plugged in only the yellow connector from the cable, leaving the other two connectors (white and red) unplugged.
Figure 20: Installing the cables to the VCR.
The other yellow connector from the A/V cable (video output) must be installed to the video composite input of the video card, as shown in Figure 21.
Figure 21: Installing the VCR video output to the VIVO video card.
The other cable should be installed to the “line in” connector on your motherboard, which is light blue, see Figure 22.
Figure 22: Installing the VCR audio output to the motherboard.
If your computer has more than one blue connector, as it is the case of the computer found in Figure 23, use the connector located near the green (which is the “line out” output) and the pink (which is the “mic in” input) connectors.
Figure 23: Installing the VCR audio output to the motherboard.
Now that everything is connected, it is time for capturing what is in your VHS tape. This is done by software and we will cover this on the next part of our tutorial.
[nextpage title=”Driver Installation”]
After performing the physical installation of your video capture card, the next step is to install its drivers. After turning your PC on Windows will detect an unknown multimedia device. Run the video capture card’s installation program to install the drivers. You can check if the drivers were installed correctly by going to Control Panel, System, Device Manager and checking them under “Sound, video and game controllers”, see Figure 24. In our example, our Leadtek TV2000XP Expert video capture card was correctly installed.
Figure 24: Video capture drivers.
If Windows isn’t recognizing your video capture card, try physically reinstalling the card (it may be a bad contact) and, if that doesn’t work, upgrading the video capture drivers by downloading the latest version on the manufacturer’s website.
If you are using a video card with VIVO function, you need to install the VIVO driver, if it isn’t already installed. If your video card is based on an NVIDIA GPU, open NVIDIA’s download page, select Multimedia Software, WDM driver and then your GPU model. Download and install this driver.
If your video card is based on an ATI GPU, it will probably be using ATI Rage Theater chip. The driver for this chip is already included in Catalyst package (Catalyst is the name given by ATI to their video driver). You may want to upgrade the video drivers to their last versions going to ATI’s download page. Pay attention because you need to install Microsoft .Net software before installing the video drivers (this software is available on ATI’s website).
Now that everything is connected and the drivers are installed, it is time for capturing what is in your VHS tape. This is done by software and we will cover this on the next part of our tutorial.
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