Saving Home Movies from Disappearing

David Pogue in the NYTimes on the troubles of moving old media formats to newer ones. Home movies proved to be the tough one: He tries the old methods, and finds them lacking, he pays good money for the pros to do it, and finds that lacking (beautiful quality, but only to VHS tape and not DVD?!?). It’s a good discussion about a personal attic-archivist problem. And I want to go digging in my own notes somewhere for a service that will convert home movies to DVD format.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 04, 2006 in • Longevity
7 CommentsPermalink

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This is a conundrum. DVDs use lossy compression and average between 4-6 Mb/s of data (peaking at about 9.8 Mb/s). While they look good, they are not a good archival format as their lossy compression is across frames and that makes editing more difficult. BUT, optical discs are fairly robust and reasonably long-lived IF you buy premium gold ones.

On the other hand DV tape is 25 Mb/s and while still lossy, compresses each frame individually and is better suited for editing later. But mini DV tape and the machines to play it may not be as long-lived as DVD.

With that said, you might want to look at a place like to transfer your home movies to BOTH DVD and DV tape. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

Another thing to do would be to store the DV files on multiple hard drives, but that requires more maintenance. I like triple-redundant hard drives with one copy off site.



Richard L. Hess  on 12/04  at  12:21 PM

Thanks, Richard! I knew you’d have some exceedingly sensible observations to make. And a recommendation, too. Cool! In fact, I think it was homemoviedepot that I woulda found once I began the hunt.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 12/04  at  03:09 PM

or you can visit and try VHS to DVD and transfer your home video tapes to dvd. You can get a pretty good conversion at a reasonable price from a lot of places. But what are most of these companies lacking? Care and attention to detail! Other ways you get totally amateurish product done with domestic equipment.

vhs to dvd  on 12/29  at  06:17 AM

Hello there, and thanks for posting word of another vendor which converts movies to dvd.

I’m curious about one thing you said, though: Which specific companies lack care and attention to detail? Is that true of vhs-to-dvd in your experience? Of homemoviedepot? of vhs-to-dvd? Others as yet unnamed? What has your experience been?

It would make a good project, I guess, to take a home video and send it to various and sundry people advertising the service and compare the results. Hmmm. I seem to have one or two of those videos around. Let’s hope that 2007 provides opportunity and means to conduct such an experiment and report on it.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 12/29  at  11:55 AM

Oh dear, oh dear. In poking around the web site of vhs to dvd, I’ve encountered something that gives me pause: “We cannot transfer (convert, copy, record) any copyrighted material including commercial movies, concerts, sport events, TV shows, etc. unless you procure us with a written permission from the copyright owner.”

This part of their FAQ mentions and confuses two things:

commercial things, of which examples are listed
copyrighted material

I wrote about this on my other blog, after getting exasperated by a kind of two-tier system that implies: Corporations have copyright and you, dear individual, do not. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The moment the camera shutter is pressed down, copyright is created.

Alas, vhs to dvd buys into this all-too-common two tier approach. I think what they mean is that they will not reproduce something that has obviously been created by an obvious commercial entity without the commercial entity copyright holder’s permission.

I haven’t gone through their signup process, so I don’t know what is required to, say, obtain my brother’s permission to transfer video he shot of my grandfather’s 100th birthday party. I think, actually, that makes a good test case. I also have a cousin with video of grandpa telling a lengthy joke. Will cousin’s signature be required, as he is copyright holder of that tape?

I’ve inquired and will post my findings here.

I suspect that what drives this policy more is not copyright but commercial. I predict that since those are “home movies” the company won’t put up any barriers based on “copyright.” In actuality, the reason they wouldn’t put up barriers (if I’m right) is that it’s not a commercial video/movie.

I totally understand why the company wouldn’t reproduce commercial works, but it’s unfortunate that in doing so, they perpetuate a false distinction between what is copyright and what is commercial.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 12/29  at  12:19 PM

I saw Home Movie Depot mentioned here. It looks like they are now owned by ScanDigital and all their VHS to DVD conversion is done in Fishers, Indiana.

Jim Brown  on 12/14  at  05:48 AM

Jim, thank you for the updated info on Home Movie Depot.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 12/14  at  07:18 AM

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