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Digitizing video lets you copy moving pictures that are trapped on physical media — on VHS tapes, Betacam, U-Matic, LaserDisc, and so on — to a file your hard drive. (And then from there, perhaps to your web site or to be saved for posterity.)

Digitizing Video

You'll need a computer with video digitizer hardware, accompanying software (most digitizer hardware will include the software), and a player for the video media that you're working with. (The media player may be the hardest part — it's not so easy to find a working LaserDisc player or Beta videotape player.) This article assumes that the media player includes video out ports — for instance, composite output or S-Video.

There are many choices for video digitizers to choose from. If possible, its a good idea to choose one whose input types match the output from your media player. (If the digitizer only accepts newer component video input, it won't be able to handle the old-school composite output from your VCR. And while innumerable video converter hardware gadgets are available, that's just one more gadget in the mix.) For standard-definition video, we've had good luck with El Gato Video Capture, a simple device that digitizes video from composite or S-Video sources. For hi-definition video, we have used the El Gato High Definition Game Recorder, which accepts unencrypted HDMI, composite video, and component video.

Once they're hooked up — the digitizing device to the computer, and the media player to the digitizing device — it's a matter of hitting record in the digitizing software, hitting play on the player, and waiting while the video is transferred in real time.

Before you start recording, you should give at least a little thought to the recording format you're using- at the most basic level, lossless vs lossy. For something where you're willing to accept the quality hit for editing, or when you don't have the time, just record straight to your final video format. If you would like to do any processing of the video file, it would be a great idea to capture to a lossless video format. Two great choices are HuffYUV / FFvhuff and lossless H264.

Why to choose HuffYUV/FFvhuff:

Light on processor power compared to lossless H264
Well-supported in tons of software packages

Why to choose lossless H264:

More efficient
Much less storage space required vs HuffYUV/FFvhuff

When it's done digitizing, you'll likely need to choose a video format to save your files. H.264 is a great choice, and MPEG-4 is in second place. Both are compatible with YouTube,, and most other places where you might want to upload video.

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