Digitizing Audio and Video
Submitted by Dale E. Lee
One of the principle aims of Family History is to preserve items of historic importance.
We do this on a National basis by creating Repositories of historic artifacts and documents relating to issues at the Federal level. One such repository is the National Archives of the United States.
We do the same on the State (Province, Shire, etc.) level and on the local level. However, the preservation of historic materials is not limited to Governmental and Religious entities. Family organizations can also contribute to the preservation of relevant historic materials at the family level.
One of the activities well worth considering is in the digitization of old audio and video tapes of:
- family reunions,
- personal histories,
- special events such as 50th anniversaries.
(The kinds of recordings where there is no concern of copyright issues.)
By digitizing old tapes, you’ll probably discover information about your own family you never knew before. The information you gain can fill in gaps in your knowledge of the family and may even reveal things that are totally new and surprising.
We all spend time trying to accomplish the tasks we are given at work, at church, in amusement or other activities. However, everything we do takes time, and while we’re accomplishing those important tasks, the rest of the world is doing the same, and what they are doing may not be visible to us. Asking for and digitizing old family tapes, is an activity the whole family can get involved in while sharing the expense.
Digitizing old audio tapes requires hardware and software that will convert the audio signals into digital signal formats such as WAV or MP3. If you convert old video tapes to digital, you’ll likely be converting to such formats as MP4, AVI, MOV. To find conversion kits that will accomplish the task, you’ll soon see that digitizing audio to digital is fairly inexpensive, running from $17 to about $35. But video to digital formatting is a bit more expensive, running from around $75 to $200. Some video converters are even as expensive as $300. In addition to buying equipment and doing it yourself, you can look into using a service to do the digitizing for you, but if you have a lot of tapes to digitize, that may become the most expensive option of all.
The important thing to realize is that each of the hardware tools available has a different set of connectors. When scrutinizing a particular conversion kit, be sure that it has the right connectors for the player you will be using. Many old cassette tape players have a 3.5 output port, but not very many of the digital converters have 3.5 connectors. The point is to be careful in choosing the right converter by double checking the ports your player has and comparing them to the connectors the converter uses.
Another important issue is to think through the output format you want as the result. Every conversion kit will have it’s own set of output formats that it will support and it is important that you discover the most advantageous format for your use in the future. (WAV, MP3, MP4, AVI, etc.)
But what if you don’t have an old cassette player any longer? If you don’t have an old cassette player, there are new players that will play cassettes just as before, but which also have USB ports instead of the old 3.5 ports. This allows you to plug them directly into your computer and convert to digital if you wish.
As far as video is concerned, there are old VHS players available, but most are both expensive and used (renewed) equipment and you’d need to buy the converter as well as a player.
However, there are new super 8 reel converters that will convert reels into digital videos using frame by frame scanning. If you have super 8 reels, you may want to consider spreading the expense of the converter across the family organization.
You can find many available products by searching on “audio to digital converters” or “video to digital converter”, etc., on the internet.
Once you start digitizing your old audio and video tapes, you’ll probably realize how convenient it is to have all of them recorded and stored in once place, instead of strewn all over the house and garage. This makes it easy to make copies to send to relatives. Once digitized, you can even write them to DVD.
The effort to digitize is well worth your while, as eventually the old technology will disappear completely and you’ll wish you’d converted before that happens.
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