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25 Jan 2021
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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 06 Oct 2021 21:02 #116606

  • PaulG
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Hello VHS Digitizers!

I'm trying to digitize a VHS tape using a Hollywood Dazzle DV-Bridge. It's similar to the Canopus. The VHS player (crappy JVC consumer model) is going analog composite (yellow) and analog audio into the Dazzle and Firewire 400 to 800 to Thunderbolt into a Mac Pro trash can. In FCP 10.5.4 import window I can select the Dazzle as a source under the camera section (iSight is the other option) and when I do, the play window shows up. If I hit Play on the VHS deck, the video and audio plays fine in the import window. If click the "Import" button, a counter appears on the upper left and a timecode display shows on the upper right of the Import screen. If I let it play, it appears to be capturing the video. But when I hit the "Stop Import" button, there is no video clip added to the Event. I've tried the iSight camera and its able to capture and save clips correctly, but with this device, it pretends to capture, but it never does. I've tried different tapes, but not different decks (don't have another VHS player at my disposal) so I'm at a loss as to what's happening. I called Apple/FCP Tech Support and was told that they had no idea what was happening. I pointed out that it was a bug to imply that recording is happening if the video is not actually being captured despite indications to the contrary, but was rebuffed. Is my problem that I don't have decent time-code or a TBC or other fancy pro VHS gear? Or is something else going on? Any suggestions?

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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 06 Oct 2021 21:07 #116607

Try capturing using the QuickTime player. It’s much more forgiving.

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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 06 Oct 2021 21:14 #116608

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I tried that but it wanted to crash or beach-ball. The Dazzle shows up as a camera source in the New Movie Recording window, but then QT crashes when I try to select it.

I've also tried iMovie, Premiere and some third party apps. The FCP window was the most promising.

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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 08 Oct 2021 01:34 #116623

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I've finally had success using an elderly firewire iMac running High Sierra. I used QT Player to do a movie recording. In researching the issue, on an Adobe forum I learned that post Mojave Mac OS no longer supports DV only HDV ingest. Not sure if this is true, but the older iMac was the ticket.

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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 08 Oct 2021 07:06 #116628

It’s not, but the Dazzle might not be compatible with newer OSs.

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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 08 Oct 2021 16:45 #116635

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The real problem here is you're too smart, too video centrically educated, and over thinking the problem. Essentially you're trying to make a square of toilet paper into a bed spread. VHS tape has but 240 lines of resolution only meant to play on 300 line CRTs and they look great played back on those but there's NOTHING you can do technically to make them look decent when played on todays equipment. There's a limited amount of information on the media itself and you can't recreate what the signal itself didn't deposit on the tape. Piping via firewire and capturing a Quicktime file may get you a 13 gb/hr file but you can't pull any additional information from a larger file that wasn't there on the tape to begin with.

Here's an example. Super 8 film from the '70s (Top) placed on VHS tape in 1990. If anything the film was 50 years fresher and would have had better colors but simple physics tells you you can't put 10# of sugar in a 2# bag without leaving a mess on the table. Same S8 film run this year in 1080 ProRes 442 (1.1GB / Min file size) looks stupendous by comparison even considering dye shift and fading due to age since the first time it was transferred. The other sample is a wedding from the '60s.

As I tell customers, even with all my skill and talent and a bevy of editing programs installed I simply can't make the left look like the right no matter how much pixie dust I throw at it or billable hours I spend on it and I'm savvy enough not to waste the time trying. You can't polish a turd and anything VHS wise is turdish, technically speaking.

Camcorder tapes having 400 lines resolution is a different story but what most folk did back in the VHS days is copy those analog signals to VHS as a convenience for not having to drag out the camera to hook the cables to the TV but in doing so they tossed away 160 lines resolution that can never be gotten back.

I didn't bother futzing with my own family VHS tapes using the best possible capture technique & software & connections because I knew it would all be for naught when judged by the time vs. reward continuum. (I do maintain a player / CRT setup in the lobby to demonstrate the visual difference as to why any current video I produce may appear different to what they recall.)
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Digitizing VHS Problem: Bug or Feature? 08 Oct 2021 17:20 #116636

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I think my problem (which is now resolved [no pun intended]) is that I had to resort to an older iMac with a deprecated OS to achieve my intended result. I am under no illusions about the quality of SD VHS transfers to HD and beyond, nor do I care. I was merely trying to archive a video of my wife from 25 years ago before I lost the ability to watch it in any form in the future. I have no editorial use for these clips and they won't be part of any other film. They are merely a record of her image and voice from then. They are snapshots to me. Luckily, I have rarely used tape ingest for my work in FCP (both classic and X) although I have spent many hours in various digital suites from the 80's onward and have laid hands on every video format known to man.

What I am curious about is how FCP (and by extension, Mac OS) treats non-professional low quality video sources and what it requires in order to capture a signal. The Big Sur computer had no problem displaying video/audio from the Dazzle, but could not capture it for some reason. I have not found a spec sheet on what time code or TBC or gen lock or other pro audio aspects need to be fulfilled in order for the capture to work. I would like to think there's a "crash-edit" override where it doesn't care about rolls, drop-outs, lack of timecode etc. But this will be a rare problem for me going forward, so at this point more academic (for me) and maybe of more concern for archivists of consumer analog tape formats.

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