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Best recorder VHS to HDD ?

by Jak T Rip / January 5, 2012 6:55 AM PST

Hi all,

I still have a pile of VHS tapes that I wouldd like to transfer to HDD. What I want to find is a good standalone device that can copy the videos from VHS to HDD in a reasonably small video format. H.264 and m4a preferred.

After having the videos on HDD, I'd like to transfer them to my laptop or other computer, so the device must allow data transfer (preferably in both directions).

Any ideas what is the best choice here? I have seen three devices so far that might do the job: Funai, Panasonic and Toshiba offer 3-in-1 devices, but I can't find any info on the created file formats or connectivity to laptops (many VCRs can only read from USB but do not allow transferring the HDD content... but that is a must for me!).

Copying to DVD is a no-go for me, that would be a waste of material.

Thanks for your help!

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All Answers

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by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 5, 2012 7:14 AM PST

I do have a rather nice HDD+DVD recorder but it was still a miss for your requirements.

Why isn't some video capture device a solution for you?

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Ranked #1 at Amazon for your consideration.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 5, 2012 7:28 AM PST
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In these day of hi-def. ....
by ahtoi / January 5, 2012 8:38 AM PST

why would you want to do this? As far as what you want done, there shouldn't be any problem...but not the way you like it to be done. I suppose you could check to see such capturing device is available (for h.246). I do have a device that would output divx format (don't know if that's still in the market or not). Divx also use less space than dvd format.

As for so call connectivity, I am not sure what you are thinking about.

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You need an analog capture device
by Pepe7 / January 5, 2012 10:03 AM PST

Something akin to an elgato would likely suffice to capture to mp4. Keep it simple and let your PC do the capture with software. Been there, done that. There are probably better ones, but since you are capturing VHS content, it won't be as critical of an issue as capturing higher quality content from DVD. Here's a link (look at some reviews for more details too)-

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I don't need any video capturing device/software
by Jak T Rip / January 5, 2012 8:53 PM PST

Thanks for the replies everyone, but I am searching for a standalone device, not a video capture solution. When transferring hundreds of videos this does make a difference. I want to put in the cassette, press record, and leave the rest up to the device.
This is possible with the 3-in-1 devices I found, but I don't know how they store the data and so on. If it's not exactly H264 I could live with that as long as it has some decent compression, but if it is some proprietary format I'd be doomed.<div>
Is there anyone who has experience with a funai, panasonic or toshiba 3-in-1 device and knows what formats they save in and if/how these data can be transferred once the hdd is full? In the worst case I could even unscrew the device and get the HDD out every time it is full, or replace it with a bigger one.

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Buggy units, they are
by Pepe7 / January 6, 2012 12:03 AM PST

The primary reason you would want to use a capture device attached to a PC is they are less buggy and you gain control over the end product, including file format, as you've mentioned. The all in one units are much more problematic in this regard. The idea of simply 'removing a hard drive' as you've suggested isn't in the cards with those particular devices. What's stored on the drives is intended for playback and not export, generally. I assume something like the following is what you are referring to?

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yes, exactly!
by Jak T Rip / January 6, 2012 9:19 PM PST
In reply to: Buggy units, they are

These are the devices I was looking into. I know that the Funai device can record in different quality/size, which was one of my concerns. It also has a USB port but I fear that it only lets you playback from it, not export through it.

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Can you supply 1 or 2 examples?
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 6, 2012 1:01 AM PST

I didn't find one unit that met your specs. This is why I abandoned the search even though I own one of the usual HDD recorders (which failed your spec too.)

All the units that have HDDs that I encountered use proprietary files systems that are not like anything in Linux or other systems. Your thought of removing the HDD is something you may not accept as a dead end.

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that is what I fear
by Jak T Rip / January 6, 2012 9:39 PM PST

Hey Bob,

this is the major fear I have that keeps me from buying these devices. If there is one device that does not use proprietary formatting and video format I will buy it immediately.

If there is really no such device, my second best idea would be buying a video capturing standalone device like the ones from DViCO. But I have the same issue here: the features tell me alot about playback formats but nothing about capturing formats, export capabilities, HDD formatting.

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Looks close but.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 7, 2012 1:11 AM PST
In reply to: that is what I fear
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no, a recorder
by Jak T Rip / January 7, 2012 3:20 AM PST
In reply to: Looks close but.
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Nothing in that manual either.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 7, 2012 3:35 AM PST
In reply to: no, a recorder

"TVIX-HD's FTP server and Samba server allow you totransfer files from your PC"

I read the entire manual and nothing tells me I can transfer from the device to the PC. Only from the PC to the device.

There are reasons such a thing is not made but that's not what this discussion is about. I think the VHS system I noted is cheap and effective.

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To record tapes,
by ahtoi / January 7, 2012 4:05 AM PST
In reply to: no, a recorder

I think you need an composite input connect. What I get from reading the spec. on this unit. I see it has a composite connection but not mention of whether it's input or output though. If it's not input then you might need an adapter like this as well.

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3-in1 device?
by ahtoi / January 6, 2012 1:13 AM PST

Give model number or link then maybe we can tell you its capabilities.

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thanks for the offer
by Jak T Rip / January 6, 2012 9:29 PM PST
In reply to: 3-in1 device?

please see the 3 links above from Pepe7...

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Something else to think about;
by ahtoi / January 6, 2012 1:22 AM PST

If these are commercial (movies) tapes, they maybe copy protected, which means you might not be able to copy. But if you can bypass that...we don't need to know, hehe.

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Good point
by Pepe7 / January 6, 2012 11:03 AM PST

I forgot about that part. Hopefully the OP is working with non-protected content from VHS.

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The all-in-one devices I'm familiar with won't copy
by mustangj36 / January 6, 2012 1:24 PM PST
In reply to: Good point

protected tapes. Integrated software such as InterVideo WinDVD Creator won't either. I use a capture device from ADS which includes Ulead software that will copy any tape.

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One Box Answer
by WildClay / January 7, 2012 11:33 PM PST

Hi Jak,
I did this recently with around 80 VHS tapes, real pain no matter how you do it. For me it was best to capture to the PC so I am not using the answer I am going to give. However I looked at this long an hard and I own a Panasonic DMR-H55 HDD/DVD video recorder and actually had the same issue, wanted to get what was on the proprietary hard disk to a common format, I went with .wtv (Windows TV format, since my HTPC is cenered around it.

What I can say is there is no one box answer, that is a sure thing unless it came out in the last few days and I missed it. So you known, none of the VHS/HDD/DVD Player/Recorders have files in any usable format except to the unit itself, when my first DVD recorder failed I tried to hook the HDD to my computer and get the files, no such luck.

So just scrub the all-in-one's if you need files you can use/play and or edit on the PC and are not stuck on that box.

Since you don't want your PC tied up for the weeks or months this will take you, I would go with a HD DVR with a compisite input, there are a ton of them, I use Hauppauge, but any of them with composite input will work.

This will still be pretty simple, just toss in a tape and hit record on the DVR and play on the VCR and that is it, once the tape is done you'll have it on hard disk and in a common format. Most DVR's of the type I am talking about are extenable, you can add all the disk you want and/or keep swapping in new disks as you fill them.

To keep the file sizes manageble, and given that these are SD VHS, you miight want to go with a low bit rate recording, I find SD clocking in at about 5Mbps on average so set your recrd bit rate accordingly, if you store at higher pit rates you will really start to eat up disk, for example, in wtv format a 2 hour show in SD takes 6GB of disk, in HD that might hit 18GB. So copied at the same quality for 100 2 hour movies you'll need about 600GB but I would just go with a 2TB drive.

The trick for fast and easy use on the DVR is just set the defaults to optimize for this operation and then you'll only need to name stuff, all the other settings will be set.

The advantage of getting them on a DVR is that it meets 90% of your criteria, the solution takes your VCR plus one box, there is no one box solution:

- Will allow essentially 2 button operatrion, press record on the DVR and Play on the VHS
- Recorded shows can be directly played back on your TV and/or PC
- Standard file formats are used MPEG4/WTV/H.264 and the list goes on. (Deciding on the format is not a critical as it once was with all of the format converters out there today but I would start out with the format you are most likely to use the most, convsersions can take a very long time, so once you get this stuff you want it in a format you can use without another step.
- All files will be accessable to your PC as well as the TV, so at your leasure you can mess with the video if you want to. (I used VideoReDo to remove commercials)
- The DVR can be used for many other recording situations, like recording more TV from live TV
- The DVR goes into the future with you, if you get an HD model then once this project is done you can keep using it for newer material.

I huneted low and high for answers to this and I think a DVR plus your VCR is as close as you will get, also note that the DVR's are stand-alone, no need for a computer in the mix at all and no need for what you want to mess with the networking side of the box.

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Great details
by Pepe7 / January 8, 2012 12:59 AM PST
In reply to: One Box Answer

That's definitely going to help someone who visits in the future w/ the same question. Very nice!

What's your take on the .wtv format so far? I've not worked with that one before. Just wondering if you've encountered any issues vs others that are more common in cyberspace...


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So Far So Good
by WildClay / January 8, 2012 2:07 AM PST
In reply to: Great details

My experience with the wtv format is really limited to cutting commercials out of shows, watching them, and recording them to "finalized" DVD and Blu-Ray discs (Blu-Ray so far just to test it, but I have burned a lot of DVD's I put in a Sony 400 DVD changer/player.

The basis to my set-up in this context, is Win7 Windows Media Center (WMC) with a WinTV board and a software package I found here ( called VideoReDo TV H.264 (VRD). So basically a DVR that lets you edit.

Mostly I record shows using WMC and then use VRD to remove the commercials, the watch them commercial free through WMC and burn some of them to a DVD that is finalized for playback in any DVD/Blu-Ray player. (I have a 400 DVD Sony changer we keep certain seriies in for re-watching they go in)

For this wtv has worked out very will, I record HD commercial channels in the WMC "best" quality mode and it is OK on disk space, typical is 4GB disk per hour of programming.

It takes VRD a couple seconds to load the wtv file for the 1 hour show, then about a minute to scan it for commercials and once you agree with the suggested cut another couple minutes to save the with your cuts, I often cut things like long openings with no show content as well as commercials.

So end to end, it takes about 5 minutes to open, cut, and save a 1 hour show which is now a 38-42 minutes show. I also have it put chapter marks at the places I cut since the commercials are already strategically placed they serve well as chapter markers, this tends to apply more to movies but still is nice Happy

I give the times to process and space as it is the only things I am really familiar with, so hopewfully you can relate that to your expiences doing similar things on other formats.

Other things I have done with VideoReDo is format conversions, go to DVD or Blu-Ray, and MPEG4.

In all cases the quiality is retained, there are no artifacts introduced, and no video/audio sync issues and to my eye and through my playback devices, I see no differences. (HP 2310e Monitor and Panasonic 50" Plasma TV")

I gave the times to process, space, and results as the only things I am familiar with to speak on, I am a major novie in the video and multi-media space, took me two years to figure out my HTPC, so hopefully you can relate that to your expiences doing similar things on other formats. For me wtv is working out very well.

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by Jak T Rip / January 9, 2012 6:23 AM PST
In reply to: So Far So Good

Hey WildClay, thank you much for your replies!!!
So I figure that all one-solution-devices use proprietary formats for copy protection, which is not usable for me. Why would I spend dozens of hours to rescue my tapes from one dead format to another...?

So the 2nd best option is a VCR for playback and a standalone DVR for recording. But the big question still is which device allows to record in a format I can directly use without having to transcode it.
I read that some DVRs produce small chunk files in a strange format, others use a proprietary formatting or, if they are able to record to a normally formatted HDD, somehow encript the files to make them unusable without the unit! And I was almost believing in this one here, before I read that it can only record 30 minute chunks and one has to press the record button again for longer capturing!! How stupid is that?!?!

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"which device allows to record in a format...
by ahtoi / January 9, 2012 11:45 AM PST
In reply to: THANK YOU!

I can directly use without having to transcode it." The answer is most if not all of them can be play without transcoding. It depends on what player/device you have. Of course the most readily available device is a dvd player. However, you mention you like h.246 format for its space saving usage. There you can't have it both way.

Personally, all my stuffs are in dvd format. Reason being the dvd discs are inexpensive. I use divx format when dvd discs were more expensive...and there were many players that were capable of playing divx.

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DVD = no option for me
by Jak T Rip / January 9, 2012 5:45 PM PST

DVDs are expensive compared to HDDs. As well, they require more physical space. They can get scratches and are not as easy to backup as files on an HDD. Self burned DVDs and CDs dont last as long as advertised.

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Keep reading, keep researching
by Pepe7 / January 9, 2012 11:56 PM PST
In reply to: DVD = no option for me

Understand, WildClay's solution doesn't imply your final product has to be on a physical disk. That's only the one he spoke most about in his description above given his playback preferences & particular stable of hardware/devices.

Instead of exporting/creating a DVD, you could stick with a MP4 file on the PC and send to another PC or device for playback of your choice. If you went with another solution that imported your footage and produced compressed MP4 files from the get go you would be all set, basically.

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You are right
by WildClay / January 10, 2012 10:45 AM PST

I ended up burning those DVD to have them in the 400 DVD changer with the rest of the stuff, and will still do some going forward, but most of what I record will never see a DVD, just played back on the PC or TV from the PC.

You are spot on about the research, this is not really "off-the-shelf" yet in the sense of a nicely integrated solution and like most things one really needs to approach the solution from what they plan to actually do and then seek out the best fit for those requirementsm and that can mean (it did for me) doing a lot of reading and a lot of downloading and trying these packages out.

The solution I ended up with was not even on my radar at the start of this adventure and I was very glad I took the time to find the right combination for what I needed to to and how I wanted to do it, and the time to think it all out.

The highpoint of what I ended up with give the best of both worlds, very rare to have to convert formats, everything plays out of WMC, I can burn to DVD, just keep on HDD, or covert it to mpeg4 and put it narly anywhere.

If the OP has a set plan to just move his tapes to DVD and does not want to get into the whole media center deal then his ideal answer is likely going to be different than others. The good news is that if he goes with a DVR then his future options are still open and worse case is he ends putting his DVR on ebay after a couple of years and still has his DVD, and the files on his PC or a spare 2TB USB drive.

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Re: copying to DVD
by Kees_B Forum moderator / January 9, 2012 6:35 AM PST

Copying to DVD-RW then ripping from the DVD to a PC-connected hard disk hardly can be called "waste of material" if you can use that DVD 100 times.


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Ah, but video is a bit tricky
by Pepe7 / January 9, 2012 10:28 AM PST
In reply to: Re: copying to DVD

Contrary to what you might think, if you start using UDF as a file format for saving to DVD-RW, you won't always be able to use one like an old floppy or current USB drive. It's still mucky business to some degree. That's why I always recommend write once schemes for video projects. You don't want to lose the good stuff Wink

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some options
by porsche10x / January 10, 2012 7:55 AM PST

I'm not completely sure that using a stand-alone dvr has any advantages over just using a PC with a capture card.

First, in order to have a truly one-button solution, then the VCR and the hard drive recorder have to be the same physical unit. Next, if you don't want to do any transcoding, this VCR/DVR combo has to do on-the-fly transcoding, possibly to a variety of file types (do you want the files to play on your phone? tablet? TV-connected media player?).

So, a separate DVR and VCR provides a two-button solution, but then, doesn't a VCR and a PC also provide the same two-button solution? Chances are, there are many choices of capture software that will give you a variety of standard file formats and sizes directly while recording, so this is probably simpler than using a stand-alone DVR. If your goal is for small file sizes and multiple formats, say, to watch on multiple devices, your phone, iPod, and TV, then you'll probably want to have the files on your computer anyway, right? I'm pretty sure that this stuff has come a long way and is both powerful and user-friendly. I would imagine that you can bulk-transcode a whole collection of videos completely unattended, so if you need to, that's only one extra button press for your entire video collection.

Don't forget, at VHS-quality standard definition, you can fit well over 1,000 hours of video on a 2TB drive WITHOUT compression.

I don't really use it for this, but my Tivo can record from an attached VHS player. I can transfer the files over my network to my PC. I use VideoRedo which will directly translate Tivo files into pretty much anything, including MPEGs, DVDs, and H.264. Sometimes I copy my kids' shows onto a flash drive to play in the car on long trips. Also, Tivo Desktop software can transcode to burn to DVD or to different formats for phones, etc. I will say that the file jockeying to do this is a bit of a pain.

Again, you might be better off using a PC with capture card. This may end up being the least amount of work for you and least amount of time expended.

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One Main Drawback's to PC + Capture card
by WildClay / January 10, 2012 10:27 AM PST
In reply to: some options

This is the route I ended up taking, Haap WinTv card and my VCR, after looking into the best long term approach, but my target was a HTPC that will be the hub of everything, but that is another story.

The main drawback to a PC and card is that you really tie up your PC, so if this a a casual deal, few tapes then fine, but unless as I did, you can pretty much dedicate a PC to it then converting his collection will take a very long time.

On the other point, format conversion, it adds a lot of time depending on the horsepower of your PC, so one of my goals was the same as his, I did not want to have to convert to other formats for how I was going to use them the most, and in my case that was watching it through WMC along as well as whatever I record these days from TV, using the WinTV card.

I also use VideoReDo, for my application, most cut edits (removing commercials) it is a great app! I use its auto-scan feature to find them and save it back out in wtv format all in a few minutes, acutally inside 3 minutes lately. However as soon as you need to recode, convert formats and such, that can start taking some time, had one one hour show take 14 minutes on a 6 core i7, and while 14 minutes may not seem long it would be if you do it a lot. (wtv to mpeg4)

So I record to wtv format, copy from other sources (like tapes) to wtv format, and watch 90% of the time from WMC in wtv format so no format conversions.

Besides the added processing time, I found when using any package to convert formats it can sometimes take a few tries and some tweeks to get it to come out right, if you stay in one format this is not an issue.

Other than the draw back of tying up a PC, I would agree a video capture card is the better answer for flexibility but I think it will be very hard to beat the VCR+DVR combo on ease of use and of course zero overhead on a PC since there is none in the mix unless you opt to but not required, with this option they acutually never have to see a PC to record or watch, just a little box by the TV somewhere and an HDMI cable. There is something to be said for keeping the TV world simple, very simple.

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