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Digital technology preserves movies, photos, music

In countless attics and closets, memories are stored, nearly forgotten: old Super 8 film, LP records (even 45s!), and fading black-and-white snapshots, not to mention color slides and prints. Old videotapes as well.

As we age, so do the media on which we've stored our memories and moments of the past. Analog is out. Digital is in.

We tell ourselves that we should really get those old films and snaps stored in a safe, convenient medium. Fortunately, today's technology offers us a number of ways to do that.

For the technology-confident do-it-yourselfer, there are a number of devices available for both Apple and Windows users. Mostly, doing it yourself requires a learning curve to understand the software. And patience.

Terry Dunham, a writer and publisher with homes in Kentucky and Florida, says he has converted thousands of old slides as well as video to his computer using Apple's iPhoto application. To convert old home video, he used a JVC dual-deck recorder. One deck took the old VHS videotape, one deck ran a mini video disc. He recorded from the tape to the disc, then played the disc in his digital camcorder to record onto his computer.

"There I can edit it — using Apple's iMovie application — and then save it on a digital video disc (DVD), e-mail small sections to friends and family," he said in an e-mail interview. Using AppleTV, Dunham can view these digitized images on his flat-screen TV.

"When I'm not watching TV programs, the Apple TV screen saver is randomly showing a rolling slide show of those images and others from my own 9,000-image collection. It's amazing how often I'm stopped in my tracks walking from room to room by a photo I've forgotten or by a memory that prompts me to sit down and watch for a while," Dunham said.

For his parents, Dunham plans to combine old film and video and a song composed and recorded by his mother years ago and sent to his father as he went into the Army.

"That single record is a very vulnerable link to a great story from our parents' past, but once it's digitized, it'll be on multiple CDs, multiple computers, backup drives, etc.," Dunham says. "It'll pretty well last for another bunch of generations.

"It's a love song. Imagine a slide show made from a selection of the digitized photos of my parents when they were young and building a family, with the song in the background. As they say, 'Priceless.' "

Help is easy to find

For many people, doing it yourself isn't an option, and a commercial transfer house offers the necessary services. Check the Yellow Pages under "Video — Duplication Services."

One of the largest transfer houses in the bay area is Media Concepts in St. Petersburg. Rick Smith, senior vice president, says digitizing Super 8 film is best done with a special projector that shows the film on a special screen. It is then videotaped with a high-resolution camera that converts the image to videotape.

He discourages a do-it-yourself approach to this process. The problem is that Super 8 film runs at 18 or 24 frames a second and a videocamera records at 20 frames a second. Without specialized equipment, the result is a black "hum bar" that rolls across the videotaped image. Media Concepts charges by the foot for such conversion — 18 cents.

The customer receives a videotape master recording that can be placed in a safe place, like a bank safe deposit box. It can be played on a conventional camcorder, Smith said. Media Concepts will also record the images on a DVD for the customer, including on the increasingly popular Blu-ray format.

"The marriage between the video world and the computer world is becoming closer and closer," Smith said.

As more pop songs from decades ago become unavailable for purchase or download from the Internet, people look for a way to save favorite tunes from those old records. Media Concepts will also convert LP records or 45s, even old 78s and reel-to-reel audiotapes. The charge is $25 per CD. Each CD holds about 72 minutes of music, Smith said.

A slide show of life

As for those shoeboxes full of old snapshots, one alternative is You buy a box for $124.95 into which you pack as many photos as will fit. The company scans them onto a CD. Then you can use those images to create scrapbooks, displays, calendars, whatever; and the images are preserved, safe from moisture, creasing, spills or degradation.

The company also handles slides and negatives, and transfers VHS tapes to DVDs.

An increasingly popular trend in digitizing old images, Smith said, is to create celebration CDs of images and sounds from a person's life or work. Fifty photos can be recorded in an hour on a CD for $75 an hour, Smith said. That includes background music and titles at the beginning and end.

These CDs are becoming popular to show at graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties, even viewings at funeral homes.

Brett Funeral Home in St. Petersburg now has a memorial CD made for approximately 25 percent of its clients, according to owner Terry Brett. "Families are moving away from the traditional type of funeral and more (to) a 'celebration of life' type gathering," he said. "In that respect, a number of years ago, we installed a large flat-screen TV in our chapel that allows families to watch a video . . . telling the story of the individual's life."

Most run five to six minutes, Smith said, and cost $195 for up to 60 photos on one CD.

It's a "more interesting way for families to enjoy memories of a loved one," Smith noted.

10 super ideas

For people who are hesitant about taking old home movies to a commercial business for conversion, there are a number of practical factors to consider. In an e-mail interview, Wash Phillips, a technical writer in Redmond, Wash., who once had his own library of Super 8 films, offered these suggestions and tips. Fred. W. Wright Jr.

1. Super 8 film, like most media, will deteriorate over time, especially in light and certain other conditions. The original reels were short — about three minutes long — so many people already have consolidated their multiple reels onto a larger reel that holds about an hour's worth. But those larger reels, too, lack longevity.

2. CDs and DVDs, kept in their protective cases, are expected to last a long time (until the next new medium is created and marketed).

3. Super 8 projectors are mostly over the hill. For most people who may still have a projector and screen stuffed away in a closet or attic, it's more of a hassle to sort out short reels to play, set up the equipment and get it going. Once the project lightbulb burns out — it inevitably will if it hasn't already — it is increasingly difficult to replace and more and more costly.

4. Running old Super 8 film through an old projector runs the risk of the film loop faltering over the hot projector light. If that happens, the light can "cook" a frame, which would then have to be cut out and the undamaged ends spliced — a tedious and old-fashioned process.

5. Super 8 films (except for those shot on a few later models) are normally silent. If the film is converted by a commercial transfer company to a CD, titles and music can be added to accompany the visuals.

6. Sometimes, those doing the transfer can even accommodate narration you may want to include. That's a bit more complicated since it involves pacing the recorded statements to fit what's on the screen at the time.

7. Costs for any and all services are usually assessed around the running time on the CD or DVD. The transfer house knows how long it takes them to do each service offered and charges accordingly.

8. If you decide to use a commercial transfer house, make a detailed list of the films you're thinking of transferring. (For example, "Jennifer's wedding, 1996," or "Trip to Grand Canyon, 1991.") This lets you estimate the cost and helps minimize loss of Super 8 footage when you deliver the originals.

9. If you plan to convert your old film, ask friends if they've already done so — either by themselves (then ask what type of equipment they used) or through a commercial transfer house (ask about costs, quality of service).

10. When you've decided which transfer house will digitize your old film, pack your films carefully in a suitable container so nothing will fall out and be lost en route. Deliver them with your list in hand. Be ready to specify which services you want and ask for a definite completion date.

Digital technology preserves movies, photos, music 03/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 4:02pm]
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