Originally Posted by Chas Tennis
Should I be converting VHS tapes to DVD
? Is DVD the best format to convert to digital?
This is a loaded question, and one that people often fail to fully consider before embarking on a VHS transfer project. The biggest difficulty with this question is there's no longer a clear set of answers: the home video landscape is changing so fast now that it could make "Dr. Who"s head spin.
DVD, and even BluRay, are falling into disuse as more and more people latch on to "ephemeral" storage (web servers, home network streaming, hard drives, thumb drives) instead of physical disc media. Discs need to be encoded in a specific file format that is kind of a pain to re-code later on for tablets, phones, and streaming boxes. For the somewhat older generation that is content with replacing their VHS library with a similar disc library, its a non-issue, but younger people are often annoyed when they can't just instantly copy videos from a DVD to a different type of device like a tablet or media server. This file format annoyance cuts both ways: if you choose to make standard PC video files from your VHS, instead of DVDs, you'll inevitably run into family members who have no idea what to do with them. They'll want a DVD, and converting PC video files to DVD format is nearly as tedious as converting DVD videos to PC files.
With personal family camcorder material, its usually more convenient for the entire family if you opt to make DVD transfers upfront. People of any age will know how to play a DVD, those who insist on moving the videos to their phones or tablets can learn to do it themselves (or if you're feeling overly helpful, you can do it for them). If you decide this is the way you want to go, get a DVD recorder instead of a PC video device. PC-based video inputs can be far more twitchy at handling VHS than standalone DVD recorders, which were designed specifically with the idea people might want to copy their tapes to DVD. If you consider yourself a "techy" type of person, the advantage of using the PC is you can create standard PC video files first, then convert those into DVD format to give family that prefers DVDs. This allows having your cake and eating it too, but at the cost of dealing with twitchy PC video hardware and software. If what you seek is the easiest path to digitized VHS, get the DVD recorder.
Originally Posted by Chas Tennis
The Panasonic EH59 sounded good but we would only be copying say, <100 family VHS tapes so $350 seems steep. We could also possibly lend it to a few other family members. ?
That is an unusually large quantity of personal family tapes: if I had to sit through 100-200 hours of my family on video, I'd probably kill myself from boredom or embarrassment at the halfway point- this stuff is never as interesting as we thought it was when we made it. But leaving that aside:
You need to bear in mind the basic costs of transferring that many tapes. Even if you went to WalMart, which has the cheapest VHS>DVD service I've seen, you would pay $9.95 per tape x 100 tapes for a total of $995, plus sales tax, plus the cost or time necessary to make additional DVD copies for all the family members who want one (if you know how many you need in advance, WalMart can do it, or you can just have them do the original DVD and then you make the duplicates on your PC). So buying a Panasonic recorder for $250- $350 becomes much more attractive. You can lend or rent it to other friends/family when you're done, or sell it on eBay/Craigs List and recoup almost the entire cost (other than what you spend on blank DVDs).
If I found a used one would you expect it's likely that most of these models have been used heavily by a commercial VHS to DVD converter and are likely to be well worn?
You do not need to consider a used DVD recorder. A brand new Panasonic EH59 can be bought for $339 from reputable web dealers like B&H Photo/Video, and as ChurchAVGuy mentioned they often have open-box-like-new units available for $269 (which is less than you'd pay for a used one on eBay). If you don't already have a VCR to copy from, you can find very nice reliable VCRs via friends, family or eBay/CraigsList: a mint 4-head hifi Panasonic typically costs $25 or less.
The Magnavox MDR533 DVD/HDD recorder sells new at WalMart for $248, but as RichardT noted it isn't nearly as optimized for doing VHS transfers as the Panasonic EH59. Editing on the Magnavox can be clunky and it doesn't have any failsafe system to save you from mistakes- all edits are performed on the original recordings, not in a "virtual" edit system like the Panasonic. The Magnavox makes it very difficult to enter title names for each recording, and has a clunky counterintuitive thumbnail system which encourages mistakes on the DVD and makes organizing your recordings more difficult than necessary. Overall, the Magnavox is better for recording off a TV antenna than from VHS.
Combo recorders with built-in VHS>DVD transfer abilities are not generally a good idea when you need to transfer more than a handful of family tapes. They give the illusion of easy use, with both VCR and DVD in a single unit, but in practice they can be very frustrating to operate if you need to make any edits or re-arrange/combine material from multiple tapes. The only one that was really any good was the Panasonic EH-75v, which AVS member mckinct has offered to sell you. Unlike all other combos, the EH-75v includes a hard drive for editing, just like the EH59. Normally I would not advise gambling on a used DVD recorder, but buying from mckinct is the exception: he is a professional service tech who specializes in restoring Panasonic recorders to good-as-new operating condition. If the idea of an all-in-one unit appeals to you, you should definitely talk to mckinct.
But consider very carefully: there are drawbacks to any all-in-one unit. They are great if you know all your tapes were made on the same VHS camcorder back in the day, and you don't expect to do much editing (just push the buttons and copy each entire tape over to a DVD indiscriminately). But if you aren't positive all the tapes were made on the same camcorder, using separate VCR and DVD recorder offers more flexibility (separate VCRs have better tracking range, and you can change to another brand of VCR easily/cheaply to see if it plays your tapes better). Having two units also gives you more direct, quicker control over each one, which makes editing much easier.Edited by CitiBear - 11/19/13 at 11:31am