How to encode SD, standard def video, into HD… also how to: VHS to DVD

Transferring / encoding SD Video to HD Digital Video, a few notes on the capture and transcoding of legacy formats.  Specific instructions for capturing video and transcoding to streaming for Sony decks and how to transfer VHS to DVD.

Equipment racks @ gravlab span a few eras. Above, reel to reel tape for audio archive transcoding

100’s of millions of hours of TV, news and memories like weddings and birthdays recorded on decaying standard-definition analog videotape. If this material is to be preserved, it needs to be transferred to a digital format. Film, tape (and DVDs !)  have a shelf life, and it’s not very long, before chemical burn in starts to eat and destroy tape.

Gravitylab will transcode video from legacy analog formats (such as 3/4-inch U-Matic, Betacam, VHS, 1-inch, et. al.) to HD digital archival quality.

How we transcode from SD film to Digital video:

Analog-to-digital pass-through conversion allows analog video to pass through the Audio/Video (A/V) or S-Video input jacks of a digital camcorder and then be output via a port as digital video to a computer. Follow the steps below to use the analog-to-digital pass-through conversion on a Sony camcorder.

IMPORTANT: Not all Sony digital camcorders have analog-to-digital pass-through conversion. RTFM.

  1. Connect an A/V cable to the line out jack of the analog playback device.

  2. Connect the other end of the A/V cable to the corresponding jack on the digital camcorder.

  3. Connect an i.LINK cable to the i.LINK port on the digital camcorder.

  4. Connect the other end of the i.LINK cable to the i.LINK or digital input jack on the computer.

  5. Turn on the digital camcorder to the VCR or VTR mode.

  6. If a tape is inserted in the digital camcorder, remove it.

  7. In the digital camcorder menu, set DEMO MODE to OFF.

  8. In the digital camcorder menu, set the A/V – DV OUT setting to ON.

  9. Turn on the playback device.

  10. Turn on the computer and start the installed video capture software.

  11. Begin playing back the analog video on the playback device.

  12. Use the video capture software on the computer to record the analog-to-digital signal.


  • The recording procedure depends on the video capture software being used. For details on how to capture video, refer to the instruction manual or help files of the video capture software. We use a variety, including Sorenson Squeeze and ffmpeg.
  • Video that contains copyright protection signals such as the ID-2 system cannot be converted.
  • Depending on the condition of the analog video signal, the images may not be reproduced correctly when you convert the analog video signals into digital video signals. The images may contain noise or incorrect colors.

What formats do we see most often? : MiniDV, 8mm, VHS, Hi8, DVCam, Betamax, Betacam SP, one-inch and 3/4-inch comprise the majority of “old” formats. For consumers, VHS and mini tape (MiniDV or DVCam) are most popular, and also VHS and Betacam SP.

Videotape formats have different issues. For example, 3/4-inch has a tendency to clog deck heads. VHS has 250 lines of resolution and, when you are capturing and converting video, (transcoding to any high quality format, such as H.264, VP9, or H.265), the video quality suffers. There’s poor quality video improved just a bit on the digital file. Timebase correction is used along with individual deck controls to get the maximum possible quality.

The Video Signal

The Composite Video signal generally is sent from 1/2″ Reel-to-Reel decks, consumer VHS, Betamax and S-VHS decks and some 3/4″-Cassette U-Matic decks. All of the video signal (YCbCr) is sent on one wire, with the audio on one or two wires (mono or stereo). Some of early U-Matic VTR recorded in mono, later in stereo. Some the the 1967-ish 1″ deck had two audio tracks, but the second was adding an additional layer of sound after the original video recording, not stereo.

The S-Video configuration has the video signal divided into to paths Y (luma, gray scale) and C (chroma, color) with two audio outs for stereo; often sent from earlier VHS and S-VHS VTR.

The Component Video configuration uses the NTSC US RGB title below, the video signal separated into 3 paths Y (luma), Yb (chroma #1) and Yc (chroma #2) with two audio channels for stereo; this signal is sent from later S-VHS decks, BetaSP VTR (videotape recorder) and Sony J1, J3 and J30 playback decks (that playback multiple formats, but do not record).

NTSC is well established standard, started in 1940. It is the standard definition (SD) format used in the US and most of the Americas (except parts of So. America). It defines the signal resolution as 525 horizontal lines, with 486 scan lines actually caring image; the others are used for signal housekeeping. The other TV signal standards, PAL and SECAM, are used in Europe, Asia, Africa and parts of South America see map is the Wikipedia NTSC entry.

NTSC PAL and SECAM fFormat Basics Wikipedia
What’s the difference in the signal between analog and digital ?

What about keeping legacy machines functioning? (Sony stopped production on their analog decks, by the way. If you didn’t know that and have mini-DV or whatever-it-may-be as a video archive, time to start capturing your archives. Eventually, they’ll all be dead and are inching past their retail prices on ebay for some models).

Analog video decks need some witchcraft and some love, just as streaming video transcoding does. We clean decks with tape head cleaners, but we also bring in maintenance engineers to provide repair and service. As we have multiple decks of the same format, it’s common to interchange parts.

3/4-inch source video is a slog. Machine heads get dirty quicker using this analog format than with other older tape options.

“It doesn’t look as good as I hoped.” That’s because you are transcoding analog source video and pushing it into a container of better quality. Converting old analog video to any other format is simply not going to look as good as using native digital sources and making an exact replica.

How to encode VHS to DVD


A Few Essentials Before Transferring VHS Tapes to DVD


There are three basic ways to convert VHS to DVD: Use an all-in-one DVD and VCR machine; attach the VCR to a DVD recorder; get an analog-to-digital converter to attach the VCR to a computer. Regardless of the method you choose, you’re going to need a VCR. If you don’t have one, ask friends or family if they have one you can borrow. You can also pick up a used model pretty inexpensively at thrift stores, garage sales, or online at sites like eBay. If you prefer something new, some big box stores still sell combo devices.

Method for Converting VHS to DVD How the VHS to DVD Conversion is Done Equipment Needed
Direct with a VHS/DVD combo player The combo player does all the work.
  • Combo VCR/DVD player
  • Blank DVD-R disc
VHS player to DVD recorder Connect the VCR to a DVD recorder.
  • VCR
  • DVD recorder
  • RCA cables
  • Blank DVD-R disc
VHS to computer using an analog-to-digital adapter Use an analog-to-digital adapter to connect the VCR to a computer. Once the video is on the computer you can share it online or burn it to DVD.
  • VCR
  • Computer with a DVD burner
  • Analog-to-digital adapter
  • DVD burning software
  • Blank DVD-R disc

Before getting started, make sure the VCR is in good working condition. You don’t want to put in a tape containing your favorite family memories just to have the machine chew it up or ruin it. If the VCR’s heads are dirty you’re going to end up with a fuzzy picture. To clean the VCR, you can purchase a cleaning tape, which you insert into the player and it does the work for you. Conversely, you can also clean the VCR yourself using a Q-tip, blank sheet of paper, and rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. You’ll need to unplug the player and remove the top of the VCR to clean it.

Once you’ve selected a method for transferring your old family VHS tapes to DVD you’ll want to play the tape in the VCR. There’s no telling what time has done to the tape, and it’s best to make sure the video is in good shape before getting started. It is a time-consuming process, since you have to play the entire tape to record it. There’s no way around it. If you have a 90-minute VHS tape, it’s going to take at least that long to convert it to DVD.

When picking DVD recording media you can choose between DVD-R and DVD-RW. With DVD-R, you can only record once, with DVD-RW you can record multiple times to one disc. These are memories that you want to keep, so you’re probably better off recording to DVD-R. Since VHS tapes don’t support high-quality video (aka HD), there’s no need to record to Blu-ray discs. They can be expensive, and they are for HD video. This method is for recording family videos, not copyrighted material such as movies.

Convert VHS Tapes to DVD with a Combo Player

This is probably the most direct method of the three options, but you’ll need a combo VCR/DVD player to do it. Here’s how it works:

1. Power Up

Hook up the VCR/DVD combo player to your TV and turn it on. Make sure the VCR’s heads are clean before starting the recording process.

2. Insert the VHS tape into the VCR deck

Play the video and make sure the quality is good. Rewind the tape to the beginning. If you don’t want to record the entire video, this is a good time to use the fast-forward and rewind features to set the video to the place where you want it to start recording.

3. Insert the blank DVD-R disc into the DVD tray

Once you insert the disc, close the tray. You can also use DVD-RW media. Both will work.

4. Press record

This sounds pretty straightforward, but you might have some settings or special instructions that are unique to your VCR/DVD combo. Before you press the record button, check the manual. If you don’t have one, you can always find a manual online. Typically, there’s a record button, and the machine does all the work. When it’s finished recording, test the DVD by pressing play and watching it on the TV.

Connect a VCR to a DVD Recorder to Transfer VHS Tapes to DVD

This method isn’t quite as direct as using a VCR/DVD combo machine, but if you have a separate VCR and DVD player that also records its pretty straightforward. (Note: This is different than an external DVD burner for a computer.) The only other piece of equipment you’ll need is an RCA cable. You probably don’t need to run out and buy one of these cables. You may already have one that came with your cable box, DVD player, or even TV.

1. Make a connection

You need to connect the VCR to a DVD recorder. That’s where the RCA cable comes into play. The cable is color-coded yellow, red, and white. This is what’s used to transfer the video and full audio. You’ll want to plug the cable into the corresponding color outputs on your VCR and then plug the other end of the cable to the corresponding color-coded inputs on the DVD.

2. Insert the media

Once you’ve made sure that the video heads in the VCR are clean, insert your family VHS tape and play it. Again, if you don’t want to record the entire tape, set it to the point in the tape where you want it to start recording. At this point, you’ll also want to insert a blank DVD-R or DVD-RW disc into the DVD recorder.

3. Record it

When you’re ready to start recording, press play on the VCR and record on the DVD player. This should be a seamless process, but you may want to check your DVD recorder manual in case there’s an extra step or two needed.

How To Use an Analog-to-Digital Adapter to Convert VHS Tapes to DVD

This method takes a couple of more steps, but it’s worth it. In this process, you will be saving the video on a computer first before burning it to DVD.Once the VHS video has been transferred to a computer, you can do a lot more with it such as edit the video, convert it to different formats and watch on multiple devices, and share it with friends and family on social media sites or via a video CDN like GravityLab.

 To get started, you’ll need a VCR, a computer (with a DVD burner – an external drive will work, too), recording software and an analog-to-digital converter. If you don’t have the last item in the list, you should be able to pick a decent one up at an electronics store or on online for around $40.

1. Connect the VCR to the computer

This is where the analog-to-digital converter comes into play. At the very least, one end will be USB and the other end will have a red, white, and yellow RCA cables. Connect the red, white, and yellow cables to the corresponding colored outputs on the VCR and insert the USB to the USB port on your computer.

2. Insert the media


As mentioned previously, before you insert the VHS tape into the VCR, you’ll want to make sure the heads are clean. Insert the DVD-R or DVD-RW disc into the DVD burner.

3. Open the software on your computer

Many analog-to-digital converters will come with software that will transfer the VHS tape to the computer. However, you can also use software that you may already have. Windows users, for example, can use Windows Movie Maker. While Mac users can use iMovie to import and burn the video. The benefit of one of these methods is that you can then edit the movie or share it with others online before burning it to DVD. However, you’ll need to have the available space on your hard drive to accept the video. Figuring that out depends on the length of the content on the VHS tape, For example, a half hour VHS tape could take up to 43GBs of space on your hard drive. This is why you’ll want to burn the digitized video to DVD, upload it to a video cloud service, or convert it to a video format that takes up less space such as MP4.

Open the software on your computer and follow the prompts to import the video.

4. Burn the video to DVD

At this point, if you’re computer automatically goes into sleep mode, you’ll want to disable that feature. It’s more of a precaution to make sure you don’t have any problems burning the DVD. These next steps depend on the software that you’re using. Once you import the video, you can edit the content and add features such as chapters and menus. These will make navigating the content much easier. It’s also ideal if you have a bunch of VHS tapes of family videos and just want to store it on a single DVD.

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