…So my brother-in-law, like most people I know, assumes that when it comes to computers I will know the answer. This led to my learning something new this week.
The question: ‘I have an analog camcorder with which we have documented our lives over the past eight years. We recently purchased a Media Center PC (HP Media Center PC, m8200n) and we would like to use that to record our video tapes into digital format so that we can share them and keep them longer. How do we do this?’
Of course it sounds simple, and when I looked at the PC and the camera they both had all of the right connectors, so this should be another five minutes and done solution. I forget that my brother-in-law actually is a rocket scientist, and if it were that simple he probably would have figured it out without my feeble help.
Let’s skip what I tried that did NOT work and move onto what did. What you will need is simple:
- A PC with a Composite Video connector
- The proper cable to connect the Audio/Video jack on the camera to the Composite Video Connector. (For bonus points you will need an audio in connector on the computer)
- An Infrared remote control receiver with the IR wire plugged in
- Windows Vista Home Premium (or Windows Vista Ultimate… either will have the Windows Media Center).
**PLEASE NOTE** If like me you use Windows Media Center to control your television the following procedures will wipe out your settings. Make sure you can recover from that before going forward.
Out of the box WMC does not allow you to record from an analog device, and you really do have to fool it into working. What I have done for Grant and his family, who use their Media Center PC as a desktop and not as a TV, is to configure Media Center to receive the TV feed (or so it thinks) from the Composite Video (the yellow RCA jack). Of course this is not entirely normal behaviour for Media Center, so you do have to fool it into doing what you want.
- In Windows Media Center navigate to Tasks -> Settings -> Set Up TV Signal
- When asked assure it that you do have a set top box.
- Connect your camcorder (VHS/other analog device) to the computer. Remember that Composite Video will not transmit audio, and you will have to connect that separately (usually a white or red RCA jack or, for bonus STEREO, both).
- Select the input that shows your video (for us it was Composite 2)… these procedures should work for SVGA as well, or if you are connecting your VCR to the cable jack)
- Tell it you do not have a remote for your set-top box.
- Select Two Digits, and that you just enter the channel number.
- Since you do not have a set top box the brand is irrelevant… I chose 3M.
- Select C0033
- Using your keyboard enter a two-digit channel (say 05) and press Enter. When asked confirm that the channel changed correctly.
- Confirm that there is no digital antenna connected.
- Return to the Media Center Main Menu
**PLEASE NOTE** You must have your remote control receiver plugged in and the IR wire connected to both configure Media Center's TV settings and any time you use the procedures to record or watch video from your analog device. <note to the dev team at Microsoft: this is an unnecessary pain!>
**SUGGESTION** Media Center allows you to select the recording quality of your video, selecting from BEST to GOOD, and depending on your selection the bit rate and file size will be affected. Since most of your VHS or Super-8 tapes would fit in the FAIR to LOUSY quality range there is no benefit to recording them in the BEST or VERY GOOD qualities… select the lowest possible to save a lot of hard disk space (80 Meg on a 3 minute file… nearly two gigabytes on an hour of video)
The box is now configured, and you should be able to go ahead and watch/record from your analog device. However Media Center THINKS that your analog device is actually live television, so that is what you are going to watch. (It will not matter what channel it thinks it is watching… ignore that)
To Watch: From the main menu navigate to TV -> Live TV. The screen will be black until you press Play on your device (there will be channel information at the bottom… it is irrelevant).
To Record: before pressing play on your analog device press the Record button in the Media Center controls. The Record Screen will come up asking you time and date to record… ignore that, but you should take this opportunity to change the title of the video from 'Untitled Recording' to 'Elise's Confirmation Video'. Once you have named your video (and ensured the video quality) press Record on the Media Center, and then Play on your analog device.
Remember that unlike digital video you actually have to let it run, so recording a one hour video will take you one hour, and so on. Unless you want to get into editing these videos later on you should make sure you are ready to press Stop when the video ends.
Saving your videos for all time
We all know that analog video tape degrades over time, and that digital does not. Windows Media Center allows you to natively burn your videos (they will be stored under Recorded TV) to DVD. This will convert them to DVD format, which will allow you to watch them in any regular DVD player. However if you want to edit them in the future it would be worth your while to save the digital file, a .dvr-ms file, which is natively readable by Windows Movie Maker which can then be used to convert it to the file format of your choice.
Have fun and remember… any of those embarrassing videos <Mitch being discrete> of you or your kids will be on the hard drive when you either sell your computer, or take it into the shop for service. If you don't want anyone to see them, either encrypt them or better yet wipe them off that drive after moving them to an external hard drive or DVD!