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Turning old home movies into digital video

Q. I have been searching for the interface between an 8mm film projector and camcorder. I gather it is a box where you project the picture into one end and you record the image at the other. I looked in Crutchfield and could not find anything. Can you help?

Q. I am trying to get old technology _ 8mm and Super 8 home movies _ converted to digital movies. There is a lot of information on the Internet, some confusing, some conflicting, about the best media to convert old movies to digital format. What equipment is necessary after conversion? We nonprofessionals have a hard time sorting all this out.

A. A few years ago I transferred about four hours of 8mm film to VHS videotape, then more recently transferred the VHS videotape to digital format stored on a CD-ROM. Some of these films were more than 60 years old.

I used a video transfer box (borrowed from a relative). The film is projected into the transfer box and the image is reflected off a mirror onto a ground glass, where a video camera can record the image. These video transfer boxes cost about $75. Raynox (www.raynox.com) is one company that produces video transfer equipment.

However, the video transfer box is not absolutely necessary. Some people project the film onto a small white background (with little or no texture in order to eliminate glare), and point their tripod-mounted video camera at the projected image and record.

One problem with transferring film to video is flicker. Film is shot between 18 and 24 frames per second while video scans at 60 fields per second. This discrepancy between rates causes flicker. It is important to use a variable speed film projector to eliminate this problem. You may need to adjust the projector's speed to find the right mix.

Okay, so now you've got the 8mm film (or slides) transferred to video (VHS, 8mm video or digital video, whichever format your camcorder uses). If your camcorder is digital, then most likely it came with software and instructions on transferring to your computer for capturing, editing and storing the video on your hard disk or CD-ROM. The de facto transfer method of digital video camcorders is IEEE 1394, or FireWire, a high speed (400 bits per second) medium.

For users with analog tape (VHS, 8mm), you will need a converter to do the analog-to-digital transfer of the video to your PC. Dazzle Digital Video Creator 50 (www.dazzle.com) provides a USB video connection for analog camcorders. Using this device you can capture video from a camcorder, TV or VCR. Some video cards are also capable of capturing video. They will have an S-Video connection (round with 7 pin receptors) and most likely came with an S-Video cable. (Now you know what that's for!)

On the software side, you will need video-capture software to read and process the video and write it to the hard disk. Windows Movie Maker can be used for this. It is a simple, no-frills capture program with some limited editing capabilities. It comes included with Windows XP and was introduced on Windows Me. Once captured to your hard drive, the video is available for editing or copying to a CD-ROM.

Keep in mind that not only is the process very demanding upon your PC's processor and memory resources, it also is capable of using tremendous amounts of hard disk space. Depending on the quality of the video capture (controlled through the video capture software), disk space can be used up at the rate of 1 gigabyte per minute of video. So make sure you have plenty of free disk space and you know which quality level you desire.

In my case, my needs were very simple. No editing was necessary; I just wanted to transfer the film to disk (then CD-ROM). I used the Microsoft Movie Maker application. However, if you want to try your hand at professional movie editing, there are many products available that will allow you to add special effects to rival Steven Spielberg.

Now, with all this said, you just may want to drop off your 8mm tapes or slides at your local camera store and let it handle the transfer. You'll hear many opinions on the ultimate longevity of data stored on CD-ROMs/DVDs, but one thing is certain: It will be much longer than the cellulose-based film 8mm movies and VHS tapes are made from. And since the video is now stored digitally, it will be transferable to whichever medium comes our way in the future, without loss of quality.

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