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Advice On Best VCR For Transferring To DVD

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hi guys, I currently have some old family videos and some old sporting events I'd like to transfer to DVD and then once there, load to my computer to edit in iMovie.

But my question is what is the best high end VCR out there that is the best to get? I'm looking for something that cleans up the tape, maybe does TBC, color correcting etc. but without having to spend $500+. Basically I'm looking to get the best possible VCR that will produce the absolute best quality possible from the tape. Or am I better off waiting til way down the road when there might be a VCR/Blu-Ray Recorder combo machine? I've debated on some VCR/DVD Recorder combo's but I heard those aren't the best to use for dubbing from VCR - DVD? Any suggestions would be helpful thanks!
post #2 of 12
The simplest approach would be to get a 4-head S-VHS VCR (JVC, etc) and then a capture card that supports S-VHS input. This allows you to get the highest resolution from the image stored on the tape. Then do all your color correction, etc in software. There's a recent article on lifehacker that discusses the top video editing tools, I won't go into it here.

Even with the S-VHS vcr, the difference between that and regular composite video (yellow video cable) may be negligible depending on what type of camera was used to capture the video.
post #3 of 12
This question is not as easy to answer as it was a year ago: circumstances have taken a bizarre turn since then. Until recently, there was slow but steady drop in second-hand prices for the "top" VCRs year after year, as the number of people needing to transfer their tapes dwindled. However, I notice over the last few months that "top" VCR prices are skyrocketing back up to absurd levels not seen since 2005. I'm at a loss as to why this is happening: all the obsessive hobbyists have long since either finished their transfer projects and put their VCRs back on the market, or still hold onto their VCRs and don't need another. Who the hell is out there now offering $300-500 for a fifteen year old beat-up JVC? Its insane.

Given current prices, I'd suggest you try an "ordinary" VCR first and see what you think of the dubs. Sometimes these give results preferable to the "top" vcrs: don't be overly-swayed by forum regulars who insist "no other vcr in the world will do except a circa 1993 JVC svhs with TBC/DNR." It ain't necessarily so: the "cleanup" performed by the TBC/DNR is a trade-off, where the color is improved but sharpness and realistic detail goes out the window. This varies tape to tape, and can be especially annoying with sports because of motion anomalies caused by over-processing the video. The TBC/DNR "cleanup" also tends to make your relatives in home videos look like the freakish CGI-animated characters in "Polar Express." In other words, "video noise" in tapes was not a big deal until we forum types made it a big deal to the exclusion of all other factors. Sometimes, "noisy-but-natural" beats "ultra-clean-but-plastic-looking," and only you can decide that based on your own tapes.

Unless you actually have SVHS tapes in your collection, don't even waste your time with "mid-range" SVHS models that do not have the TBC/DNR feature: those models are exactly the same as their non-SVHS sisters except for their ability to play/record SVHS tapes. The SVHS feature in and of itself offers no advantage whatever for playing regular VHS. Check local thrift shops, Craigs List or eBay for an ordinary Sharp 4-head hifi vcr, they have a great picture and good tracking ability. They cost no more than $25. Mid to late 1990s Panasonics and Mitsubishis are also decent, although the Sharps have a better picture. (JVCs can be a freaky crapshoot: many of them were unreliable and used ones tend to eat tapes. The only reason to risk gambling on a used JVC is to get the TBC/DNR feature, which they more-or-less perfected.)

If, after playing with an "ordinary" VCR for awhile, you decide you really do need the TBC/DNR cleanup features, your choices narrow and become more difficult. Prices for most popular second-hand TBC/DNR vcrs are simply outrageous at the moment: I wouldn't pay $300 for an old JVC svhs if you put a gun to my head. There is too much risk of the machine being abused or tanking shortly after purchase. In the last month alone, I have had five AVS members contact me with tales of JVC repair woe, most often involving a $250 fee to replace the hare-brained "dynamic drum" video heads. Many members here have no problems with their old JVCs, but you need to keep your own budget in perspective: a goodly number of them ARE fragile after all these years, risky to ship, and they WILL cost a kings ransom to repair (if you can even find a competent JVC-specialist tech).

Instead of the relentlessly hyped "classic" JVC svhs models, at current ridiculous $300 prices you should consider the much newer "DVHS" models instead. They are far more reliable, JVC made major changes under the hood, and they have similar TBC/DNR cleanup features for VHS and SVHS playback. You can pick up a JVC HM-DH40000 or SR-VD400 DVHS for not much more (or even less) than people are asking for an ancient 9500 svhs. The Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U is also stellar, using a better tape mechanism but the same TBC/DNR as JVC. (If you shop carefully, you can sometimes find the very last of the good JVC svhs decks a little cheaper. These are lesser-known "industrial" models, like SR-V10 and SR-V101. I feel the 10 is nicer, but the 101 is newer.)

Oddly enough, the cheapest second-hand vcr with TBC/DNR available today used to be the most expensive. The Panasonic AG1980 is easily found in decent condition for about $150. There seems to be a glut of these second hand at present, so its a buyer's market (perhaps because functional JVCs are getting scarcer and more expensive as they get beat on and resold). The AG1980 was a staple of the pro wedding video industry for many years, tons of them were sold. Since 99% of them were heavily used by pros, you aren't going to find one that looks "mint." But they were designed for easy servicing, with tough modular components. Almost any random tech can repair an AG1980, where with JVC you really don't want anyone but a JVC specialist to touch it.

Panasonic took a different approach to TBC/DNR: it is comparable but not the same as the JVC/Mitsubishi circuit. Depending on the individual tape, one or the other will be a better choice. Lots of AVS members own both, to cope with large varied tape collections. The Panasonic is not as good as JVC/Mitsu at cleaning noise form dark or night scenes (an ordinary VCR will often play those better). However, in brighter scenes the AG1980 has a more realistic presentation than JVC/Mitsu, and the Panasonic is more forgiving of tracking issues, especially with EP and HiFi audio. Be careful to look at ONLY the 1980 when shopping Panasonics: the earlier 1970 and 1960 models are prehistoric and do not have the same high-performance TBC/DNR.
post #4 of 12
As usual Citibear gave a excellent rundown on the various VCRs and I agree with him to try a decent regular VCR before resorting to a older industrial machine. I'm in the middle of a large VHS to DVD conversion project and I'm having excellent results with a couple early '00s Samsung VCRs. They are tracking my SP home recorded(58 micron head gap) tapes very well. I also have several Panasonic ES-30v combo units that are also working very well.
You didn't mention what DVDR you planned on using or how many hours you wanted to fit on 1 DVD(it sounded like you didn't plan on recording directly to your PC) but depending on the speed what DVDR you plan on using is as much or more important that your VCR.
post #5 of 12
Original poster, do a search at this forum for lots of VCR info.

If your tapes are low generation dubs in decent condition, I would pass on the fancy TBC/DNR features. Better off getting a regular 4-head hi fi. If you really insist on a higher end machine keep in mind that the high-end JVCs and Panasonics have all been used to death and passed around the continent to death. This goes for the higher end JVCs as well as the higher end Panasonic AG1980. In the last 2-years or so at least 3 members have reported buying a Panasonic AG1980 off of eBay only to be disappointed after receiving a used-to-death faulty Panasonic AG1980 - do a search here for confirmation. It's not that they are bad decks - its just that they all been used to death and shipped to death.

IMO right now EBay is not the place to look for a used VCR unless you need a certain VHS model or any betamax. For regular 4-head VHS hi fi - places like craiglist are a good place to get a decent priced ($5 to $30) VHS hi fi. When looking don't buy anything from sellers like mentioned in this thread Look for a lightly used deck that looks like its coming from a good environment.

I personally swear by the newer, lower end JVC SVHS VCRs - I have 2, a HR-S3911U with a million miles on it and a HR-S5912U with fewer miles on it and both work like out of the box brand new. You won't gain much if any PQ using a SVHS deck for VHS play-back but you may gain certain features for playback. For instance all the newer JVC SVHS decks have a few features that newer JVC VHS only decks lack, like tape calibration for best playback picture and another feature to help stable the picture of certain tapes that may have been recorded on an off spec machine (not a TBC but a rebuilting of the CT pulses.)

I'm not telling you to look only at JVC decks but I have good luck with em and I certainly wouldn't ignore JVC as they have a very large chunk of the market and they are the inventors of VHS, SVHS, VHS-hi fi, VHS-HQ and just about every other VHS feature that others eventually copied. JVC are the ones who set the VHS standards and if all other manufactures actually abided by those standards maybe we wouldn't have all these compatibility issues. But the bottom line from me is to try any 4-head hi fi deck that looks in decent condition.
post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the input guys! I have started transferring some VHS to DVD (mostly personal home videos) using an older Samsung GoVideo DVD/VCR combo out to my Panasonic DMR-E55, and it actually has worked good, although with sporting events I'm a little more picky about quality, my ultimate goal for this is to get them on my iMac to edit in iMovie. As of now my method is record to DVD -R from VHS copy, then convert .vob files to .mp4 and edit in iMovie. So the reason I'm being picky about the VCR I use is by the time I get it to my computer I want the best possible quality version I can get before editing. I'm probably a little more worried about how a standard recording looks on an HDTV more than I am about TBC and all that.
post #7 of 12
If I were you I'd spend any money to upgrade your E55 to a '06 or even '05 Panasonic with full resolution LP and ability to use -RW DVDs. Your E55 drops to 1/2 D1 on speeds slower than SP and also lacks -RW usage. With RWs you could use them over and over as apposed to write once -R discs.
Even though newer Panasonic lets you go to 4hrs/DVD and retain full resolution I prefer to stay under 3hrs or preferably 2hrs 40 minutes/DVD which really minimizes macroblocking during scenes with lots of fast motion.
post #8 of 12
Your current workflow is running against your quest for quality: if you really must have iMovie-editable MP4 files as your end result, you're wasting your time with the intermediary Panasonic DVD recorder. The dub from VHS to VOB is manageable, but reconverting those VOBs to Mac files is just gonna kill any advantage of an upgraded VCR or DVD recorder.

You should probably look into an external USB2 or FireWire breakout box with encoders that feed directly into your Mac, and encode the VHS straight to AVI or MP4 right from the start. This avoids the DVD step, maximizing display quality of the final MP4s. I assume your goal with the MP4s is to create some kind of media server, perhaps with AppleTV, in which case you'll want the MP4 files to take quality precedence over the "soon to be obsolete" DVDs. If so, its better to encode the MP4s straight off the tapes and let any necessary DVDs take the secondary re-conversion quality hit, rather than the other way around as you're currently doing.

Unfortunately, Apple recently chose to turn the once-brilliant Mac into nothing more than a loading dock for iPhones and iPads, so finding really good inexpensive or freeware video apps is getting increasingly difficult (and will only get harder with the misbegotten new breaks-everything "Lion" OS). If you can't find any really good software/hardware encoder combos for your Mac, you may want to consider acquiring a dirt-cheap second-hand WinTel box just to do VHS>AVI conversions and DVD authoring. I keep an 8-year-old Windows XP hulk around just to do gruntwork VHS/DVD/file conversions, freeing my newer Mac and Windows laptops for final editing and everything else. The old XP hulk also lets me grind DVD burners into the ground, replacing them with cheap off-the-shelf drives (rather than pound on the embedded SuperDrive burners).
post #9 of 12
Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

Your current workflow is running against your quest for quality: if you really must have iMovie-editable MP4 files as your end result, you're wasting your time with the intermediary Panasonic DVD recorder. The dub from VHS to VOB is manageable, but reconverting those VOBs to Mac files is just gonna kill any advantage of an upgraded VCR or DVD recorder.

I'm agree, is a much better option just to buy/built a Linux/Windows HTPC.
post #10 of 12
You have the same workflow that I have - VHS to imovie. This is what you want for the transfer:


It is the analog to digital passthrough between your vcr and your mac via firewire.
post #11 of 12
I've been researching how to transfer my old VHS tapes to DVD (and to my iMac Desktop itself) and was told this is the best device to use. Any opinions?

Like others on this subject, I'm unsure about what model DVD recorder to buy.... I've never done transfers of any kind.
post #12 of 12
Originally Posted by Rivergull View Post

I've been researching how to transfer my old VHS tapes to DVD (and to my iMac Desktop itself) and was told this is the best device to use. Any opinions?

Like others on this subject, I'm unsure about what model DVD recorder to buy.... I've never done transfers of any kind.

As in the earlier posts, you need to decide what is your priority end result before buying any additional hardware. What do you envision doing most often with the digitized VHS: viewing it via AppleTV or some other hard drive based media server system, or are you happiest with individual DVDs that you can hold in your hand and archive physically? Each can be converted to the other, but at the cost of a slight loss in quality, so you want the best quality to be in the form you would use the most.

DVDs offer universal playback and sharing, you can hand a disc to almost anyone and play it almost anywhere. Making DVDs usually involves a more-or-less 1 to 1 workflow: each tape becomes one DVD, so if you have 100 tapes you create 100 DVDs. The advantage of the 100 DVDs is you don't have all your digital eggs in one basket: over the years a few might fail or become unplayable but most will remain intact, and this spreads your risk of data loss across 100 separate storage discs. The drawback is, you're stuck with 100 DVDs: this takes much less space than 100 VHS tapes but still requires searching thru them for a particular show, scene or movie. Digitizing directly to DVD format uses the lossy MPEG2 codec: the DVDs may look perfectly fine but if you re-encode them later to MP4 or H264 for a media server the quality might degrade noticeably. Should you decide the advantages of DVDs outweigh the drawbacks, skip dubbing tapes to your Mac and buy the $228 Magnavox MDR533 DVD/HDD recorder from WalMart website. This is a standalone workstation for creating DVDs: you dub the tapes to the Magnavox hard drive, performing simple editing and DVD authoring with the remote control using your TV as monitor. Since its a dedicated device, you avoid tying up your computer and putting too much stress on the fragile Apple SuperDrive burner. The Magnavox line inputs can also be used to record from a cable or satellite box, and it has a built-in 16:9 ATSC tuner/timer for off-air recording.

If you think you'll only need the occasional DVD, and will mostly view the VHS conversions on portable electronics (iPad, laptop) or a media server like AppleTV, you should probably buy the Elgato and dub the VHS directly to your Mac as AVI, MP4 or H264 files. AVI uncompressed would be the largest size file but the best to archive for later conversion to MP4 or DVD. Going straight from VHS to MP4 would save some time and result immediately in a smaller broadly compatible file, at some sacrifice in quality if used to make a DVD later. Editing AVIs and MP4s would require appropriate software, ditto converting those files to DVD format. The Elgato products are the most popular analog > digital video interface for Macs, others are available although some do not make it clear they are compatible with both Macs and Windows PCs. Keeping all the VHS as MP4 or AVI files on a hard drive entails some risk of the hard drive failing, with loss or corruption of your videos. Its a good idea to clone the HDD contents to a backup HDD, and/or burn data dvds of the files.
Edited by CitiBear - 12/2/12 at 11:30pm
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