Problems in capturing your old VHS video footage

  • Old VHS Video Tapes

Are you one of those people with priceless old home VHS video footage? I’ve spent a considerable amount of time capturing our old video footage and it occurs to me… that like betamax video recorders, VHS recorders are soon becoming a rarity in people’s homes.

Time is running out! The world is going all digital at an alarming rate! Many are being caught off guard about keeping their valuable home video in a modern day format. This ultimately means storing the video in a file stored on a hard disk drive. Most people’s reaction to capturing old VHS (or Betamax) video is to record it on to DVD. This makes sense as many still have DVD recorders and writeable DVDs are still available to purchase. But the more people I speak with, the more that even DVD recorders are becoming antiquated too!

I recently had a conversation with a friend where they had some priceless home video that they wanted to capture. The problem was that the VHS video recorder chewed up the tape! There’s no other backup and they embarked on trying to repair the VHS video tape themselves. If you have priceless home video footage, you really should be looking to capture it sooner rather than later. This is a terrible situation to be in and it could happen to anyone! My sister lost a huge amount of footage because of the way she stored her video camera’s Hi8 tapes. My niece had been an amazing ice skater winning many competitions in the UK. She started training at a very early age and years later we embarked on recapturing those memories onto hard disk. My sister kept the video tapes safely in a plastic box, something that may seem like a reasonably good thing to do. The problem was that a plastic box didn’t allow the tapes to breath and condensation ruined the tapes beyond recovery. All the video footage was lost forever! I think this is a suitable reminder that if you have priceless home video footage, you really should be looking to capture it sooner rather than later.

My advice is to recapture your old VHS video footage using any means you have available to you. If it means recording it on DVD, then go ahead and do it! Its better than the alternative which is to loose everything! In the UK the video broadcast standard is PAL. This means that every video frame is made up of 625 lines. Interlaced video looks terrible when played back on a computer, tablet or phone. However, VHS can only record around 250 lines per frame and Super-VHS is around 400 lines. This is a far cry from the broadcast standard and results in low resolution video footage. When you recapture this footage on a DVD recorder, it is stored in what we call an interlaced format. Interlaced video looks terrible when played back on a computer, tablet or phone. Each frame of video is spread across half the total number of lines. The first frame is drawn using line 1, 3, 5, 7 and so on… the next frame is drawn using lines 2, 4, 6, 8 and so on. The video looks distinctively unpleasant to watch, especially when there are fast moving scenes. In fact, many old camera video tapes also recorded video into an interlaced format and thus, suffer from the same problem. The good news is that interlaced video footage can be repaired to play back acceptably well on computers, iPads and iPhones.

What does interlaced video look like?

I have some examples below of interlaced footage. You’ll see the interlaced frame followed by the de-interlaced frame. You can see the difference in clarity which makes the video watchable on modern devices.

Interlaced Frame

An interlaced frame. Imagine how disorienting it is to watch a video segment like this!

De-interlaced Frame

This is the same frame de-interlaced. The interlaced video is converted and stored into a new video file.

To further emphasise how much improvement there is, I think it helps to zoom into the video frame so that you can see each line of video. You can see how the interlaced footage has been repaired and restored for prosperity.


How to repair interlaced video

If you have a DVD with old home footage, you can extract the video file and repair it for playback. If you have old VHS video tapes, you can buy specialised accessories which will allow you capture it into high quality video files. Once you have the video files you can use Apple’s Compressor software to make the repair. These are the essential adjustments you need to make on the “Video” tab:

  • Field Order: Progressive
  • Resize Filter: Anti-aliased (Best)
  • Retiming Quality: Best (Motion Compensated)

Once you have your video files repaired, you can make great videos to share with the family. I created the following film based on old home video footage, telling a story of how cameras witness our lives throughout out the years…