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Media Hardware Technology

Ask Slashdot: Which VHS Player To Buy? 201

Posted by timothy
from the and-which-8-track dept.
stkpogo (799773) writes "I have several old VHS tapes that I'd like to digitize but my old VHS machine died years ago. What's a good VHS player to get so I can make nice clean digital videos from my old tapes before they're gone? I have a few TV -> USB adapters." How would you go about this, especially with tapes (like old home movies) you might be worried about sticking into a low-end VCR? And with what number of tapes does it make sense to outsource the digitizing?
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Ask Slashdot: Which VHS Player To Buy?

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  • by ArmoredDragon (3450605) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:20PM (#46908927)

    It was like my first first post.

  • Something before the macrovision chip with 4+ heads... Though Im not sure if the heads affect playback...

    • by HTMLSpinnr (531389) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:46PM (#46909119) Homepage
      The number of heads only matters if the content was recorded at SLP/EP speed. On a 4-head VCR, 2 wider heads are optimized for SP playback, and the other two narrower heads are optimized for SLP/EP.
      • by beltsbear (2489652) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @09:28PM (#46910817)

        Not always. Heads are used for many things. The first 4 head units were done for better pause action not for better EP mode.

        If you are playing back a regular 2 hour mode tape and don't care about the sound almost anything that was good quality will work. If you need good sound and the original was done in HIFI you should make sure the new deck you get is HIFI as well.

        My last good VCR was an 8 head unit. 2 for SP, 2 for SLP/EP, 2 for better pause and 2 for HIFI sound.

        • by CanEHdian (1098955) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @09:55PM (#46910885)

          Not always. Heads are used for many things. The first 4 head units were done for better pause action not for better EP mode.

          Was this right after "Basic Instinct" came out on VHS? ;-)

    • Or use a video stabiliser (AKA Macrovision stripper). But if they're not commercial tapes, there won;t be any protection.

    • by Casandro (751346)

      Macrovision is record only.
      Professional VHS and/or S-VHS recorders actually had a switch where you could turn of the Macrovision AGC so those never were a problem.
      Such professional VTRs are now available fairly cheap, even the ones with little use. I'd gravitate towards an S-VHS one since they are able to play VHS, and they provide the S-Video output for no cross colour.

  • Bees knees (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:25PM (#46908963)

    Buy a broadcast-quality Sony player from eBay.

    BTW remember to retension the tapes, which means to rewind the tape, then wind it to the end of the reel, then rewind it again.

    • Re:Bees knees (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:30PM (#46909003) Homepage Journal

      Buy a broadcast-quality Sony player from eBay.

      "Broadcast quality" Sony players run Beta, not VHS.

      • by unitron (5733)

        Sony developed Beta, but manufactured both formats for the consumer market.

      • "Broadcast quality" Sony players run Beta, not VHS.

        Beta?! It's a trap!

      • Not necessarily.

        see: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sony-S... [ebay.com]

        Studios still needed a way to replay VHS tapes from a variety of sources, such as mailed in VHS tapes from regular people. Production was done in a format that's derived from Beta, but not quite beta.

      • by Casandro (751346)

        Actually the "broadcast quality" equipment ran various forms of Betacam which only shares the cassette size with Beta. The closest thing ever promoted by Sony for actual broadcast use was U-Matic, an ancestor of Beta with 3/4inch tape. It came in Low Band, High Band and SP.

        However as stated before, there's a professional market where quality doesn't matter, and that's where (S-)VHS came in.

      • by iluvcapra (782887)

        The Sony "SVO-" line of VHS/SVHS VTRs were used throughout studio production in the 90s. At dear University we had SVO-5800s, and these could record and play back VHS and SVHS, they had a 9-Pin P2 remote control implementation for editing controllers and so they could be controlled from an MC. They also had a full time base corrector, VITC and LTC recorder, reader and decoder, and they could also be genlocked. They had I/Os on BNCs and XLRs.

        At my public access station in the mid 90s we had Panasonic AG-7

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Yes, rewinding (is a player that rewinds softly, not in one that just maxes the voltage to the motor) then playing, then rewinding again is a VERY GOOD IDEA.

      Also, not all players are created equal. With some tapes, you want a high-end player, with others, you want a player that can follow the tape's errant tracking WAY OUT OF BOUNDS.

      I go to a GoodWill store, buy 4-5 decent looking VCRs, exchange the 2 that don't work, and try the same tape in all of them. You will find different tapes work better in differe

    • by Casandro (751346)

      VHS never was broadcast quality, however there's still a large market for professional non broadcast TV. For example companies would want to put internal information video on VHS since it's cheap and "good enough". For that market you get better (S-)VHS recorders.

  • Do the math (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:25PM (#46908967)

    And with what number of tapes does it make sense to outsource the digitizing?

    evaluate the cost of a vcr and the amount of time you have to transfer, I cannot provide a value to your time then compare it to the cost of outsourcing and make choice.

    • Re:Do the math (Score:4, Insightful)

      by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:52PM (#46909151) Homepage Journal
      That, exactly. I can't really imagine how it could be worth your time and effort to do it yourself, unless you have VHS tapes that have material on them that you don't want a third party to see. Send your tapes to someone else to have them transfered to DVD and spend the extra time you just bought yourself doing something enjoyable.
      • I had some VHS tapes converted to DVD at Walmart. Cost was about $20 for 2 tapes. Took about a week. Results are quite good, considering the VHS tapes were made from old 8mm movies going back to the late 40's. At the time I looked at doing it myself, but decided my time was worth more than $20.
      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "That, exactly. I can't really imagine how it could be worth your time and effort to do it yourself, unless you have VHS tapes that have material on them that you don't want a third party to see. Send your tapes to someone else to have them transfered to DVD and spend the extra time you just bought yourself doing something enjoyable."

        Exactly! Where I live, we have an audiovisual document center where all that stuff is archived for the community.
        They digitize any analog materiel, even for free if you give th

      • by mikael (484)

        I did some digitizing using a TV card (around $120) and and a cheap $50 VCR. The recorded visual and sound quality was as good as the tape itself. But then you need to weigh up the costs of a large capacity disk drive, the TV card, VCR and cables. Those cheap VCR don't last long even with modern cassettes. The motors usually end up burning out. No different from those low cost USB cassette players. The torque required to just loosen up the tape is equivalent to holding a pen firmly in one hand and trying to

    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:56PM (#46909179) Journal

      evaluate the cost of a vcr and the amount of time you have to transfer, I cannot provide a value to your time then compare it to the cost of outsourcing and make choice.

      Include the cost of your time in dealing with the outsourcing service, too.

      There's also the issues of:
        - what values you put on letting others see your tapes,
        - the risk of them making copies,
        - whether anything you want to tansfer is copyright-encumbered and the service wouldn't copy that for you.
        - the relative likelyhood of quality transfers and tape damage when done by a professional service versus do-it-yourself. They have the experience but you have the personal involvement.
      You need to evaluate these as well.

      (I often do things myself rather than hire them done because I'm more comfortable blaming myself than someone else if something breaks - even if breakage due to my efforts may be more likely. I also enjoy learning new skills and technical trivia, even if I'm unlikely to use them again later, and surprising situations keep coming up where some tidbit turns out to be useful.)

  • Panasonic AG1980P (Score:4, Informative)

    by tetatdo (1924764) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:27PM (#46908983)
    I am working on a similar project with old VHS movie, if you can pick up a SVHS deck, that will help. Anything prosumer is good too. I just picked up 2 Panasonic AG1980P and that is supposed to be one of the better decks for such a purpose. I found them on goodwill's website! Hopefully they work. These have TBCs (time based correctors) which are supposed to correct issues with the picture due to damaged or old tapes, etc.
    • Re:Panasonic AG1980P (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bitmanhome (254112) <bitmanNO@SPAMpobox.com> on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:15PM (#46909321)

      Be sure to test every tape with the TBC on and off. I've noticed a hint of pixelation with it on, and the dynamic range seems to be a bit narrower too. I believe you should leave TBC off as much as possible as long as your capture device likes the signal.

    • Re:Panasonic AG1980P (Score:5, Informative)

      by microcars (708223) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:32PM (#46909381) Homepage

      These are excellent machines that will play back just about any VHS tape you can throw at them.
      I am looking at 5 of them across the room from me right now. 3 are in excellent condition, one needs some audio work and one needs all the capacitors changed.
      I also leave the screws off the covers so I can slide them back and manually clean the heads when I run into some bad tapes (tapes that were crinkled or damaged or have iron oxide flaking off).

      The capacitors is the big issue with these. Every.Single.One needs to be replaced at some point.
      I used to send my machines out to a place in Texas to have them changed for around $300 after I bought them on eBay.
      Then there was a guy selling them on eBay with the caps changed out for around $300 and they were running like new.
      I think he is still there.

      These machines are excellent at playing back difficult to track tapes, or ones recorded in SLP/EP mode.
      don't buy one of those all-in-one VHS to DVD machines unless your tapes are all in good condition and recorded in SP mode.

    • by kimvette (919543)

      The Panasonic AG1980P is really great - as good as it gets when it comes to VHS.

  • by Velociraptor101 (2746841) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:31PM (#46909015)
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ... [amazon.com] "Toshiba DVR620 DVD/VHS Recorder" Highly recommend it. Read reviews and follow fellow buyers recommendations and its fantastic. Non-tech users can be taught to use it as well.
    • by pubwvj (1045960)

      Hmm... No. I have one of these. It just ate a VHS tape. It does that time to time. Sucks it in and just keeps on grinding the tape to shreds.

      I bought this unit for the ability to transfer VHS to DVD. I was not happy with the results.

      It is better to just buy DVDs on eBay or used on Amazon for a couple of bucks if your VHS are commercial releases. The quality is far better and it doesn't waste your time. Put the VHS tapes in a time capsule.

      • It is better to just buy DVDs on eBay or used on Amazon for a couple of bucks if your VHS are commercial releases.

        Unless it's something that hasn't been rereleased on DVD like the film Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, or something that was taped off air and never officially released on home video at all like the TV series Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:46PM (#46909117) Homepage

    I've had good luck with an Ion cassette-to-USB deck for ripping an old tape collection to digital on the computer. They've got a VHS-to-USB one as well: http://www.ionaudio.com/products/details/vcr-2-pc [ionaudio.com].

    • That's been discontinued, and AFAIK only has PC drivers. Their replacement is just a composite -> USB box, but it does have OS X drivers.

      Dunno if either has OSS support, alas.

      I like the VCR2DVD deck idea, assuming one can be found that does a quality job. I reckon finding a higher-end (S) VHS deck (with 4+ heads, stereo, auto tracking, maybe jog/shuttle knob) and testing it with a few sacrificable tapes is the way to go for OP. For 8mm video I'd recommend finding a Digital8 deck or camera, since it in

  • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:46PM (#46909121)
    I've converted several old family VHS (and Beta/Hi8) tapes to digital. In my experience, s-video output makes a much bigger quality difference than the type or quality of player. Composite video (the yellow plug in the yellow, red, white RCA triplet) combines both luminosity (brightness) and chroma (color) into one signal, resulting in a lot of crosstalk (the shimmering "marching ants" when you display high-contrast lines and borders). S-video keeps these signals separate so there is no cross-talk. Makes for a much cleaner transfer to digital.

    Of course if the original tape was recorded using a composite signal, then there's nothing you can do.
    • by Air-conditioned cowh (552882) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:13PM (#46909305)
      Also, on top of S-Video output, make sure it has all the latest VHS quality enhancements such as S-VHS (probaby has if it has a S-VIDEO output -duh!) and FM sound. Although it won't help with tapes that were never recorded in these formats, it will certainly bring out the best of the tapes that were.

      For old analogue audio recordings, being able to tweak the audio head azimuth will help bring out the best of the recording. I also consider this essential for archiving cassette and open reel recordings. You have to hear how much difference being able to tweak aziumuth makes to believe it. It is a critical adjustment and the playback azimuth has to match that of the recorder otherwise all your top end goes down the plug-hole and it sounds washed out.
      • by adolf (21054)

        Eh?

        There's a lot of misinformation here: Not just with your post, but everywhere.

        Let's start with audio.

        Initially, all VHS tapes had a monaural sound track that is recorded linearly at very low speed, in a manner not at all dissimilar to a Compact Cassette (but worse). It sucks, but it's all that such a tape has: If you have such a tape, you'll have to make the best of it.

        Some VHS tapes (mostly original studio releases) also have a linear stereo soundtrack. This also sucks (again, because the tape speed

  • by Talinom (243100) * on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:55PM (#46909171) Homepage Journal
    2 head VCRs are SP only. 4 head VCRs add two heads for EP. If all of your content is SP then a 2 head VCR should suffice. Depending upon the quality of the audio you want to present you might consider either stereo or Hi-Fi. Whatever VCR you choose should have manual tracking adjustment.

    For capturing content on a Windows box I cannot recommend the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 [amazon.com] highly enough. That capture card should also be compatible with MythTV [linuxtv.org].

    The output from my current consumer grade 4 head Panasonic Omnivision (mono audio) VCR was friggin amazing. My wife had a selection of out of print VHS tapes and I captured them with that card. She was missing one tape and while searching for it I found a three pack of DVDs, one of which matched what she was missing and two of which matched what she had. I had to look at the output frame by frame to see if there was any perceptible difference between the Hauppauge output and the DVD. There was none.

    Even with normal recordings from home there can be issues with the picture quality. If you have problems with the video becoming lighter and darker that my not be a copy protection issue (obviously as you are working with home movies). Consider purchasing a Digital video stabilizer. The guys at the electronics repair shop nearby recommend ones by MCM Electronics [amazon.com] to help mitigate transfer issues.

    Tossing your MPEG-2 output from the Hauppauge through the NLE of your choice might help with noise reduction (I use NeatVideo> [neatvideo.com] and color skew. YMMV.
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      My older Panasonic VHS (which I bought used in 1984, but it was about a year old then) is a two-head, and it does EP -- tho there's a considerable loss of quality. Not so noticeable on my newer Panasonic 4-head (got it about 1998, I forget exactly).

      You still want to go with a 4-head if you can find it -- trust me, having seen playback side by side, it makes a BIG difference -- even on tapes recorded with the 2-head, and especially on tapes recorded in EP by the 2-head. No comparison. (I checked with that so

  • by edibobb (113989) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @02:56PM (#46909175) Homepage
    Get a cheap, new VHS player. It's higher quality than the expensive ones were 30 years ago. Something like Toshiba SD-V296. A used one will probably work, but you're taking a chance that it's sold because it's unreliable.
  • http://www.ebay.ca/itm/NICE-So... [www.ebay.ca]

    That should do the job, and it'll keep its resale value. Skip the ultra cost-reduced thingies you see at walmart.

  • I went thru this a couple of years ago. I had hundreds of movies on VHS I had bought over many years. I had a very good VHS deck to play them on. I spent several weeks playing them into my computer, using Pinnacle Studio to trim the beginnings and ends and remove some of the noise, and Handbrake to further transform them to MP4 files on my Plex server. The result was OK, if not spectacular. Since them I have found many of my favorite movies in the DVD bargain bin at Walmart, at much better quality than
  • Send your VHS tapes into a company and have them do it. They have much better equipment than you can afford, and it saves you the hassle of having to find a recorder and do it yourself. I recently sent VHS tapes + 8mm reels + slides in to a company to have them digitized. The results were incredible. I have a VCR and a capture card, as well as a slide projector and a slide scanner, but the quality of their high end equipment was unbelievable. I didn't realize an old slide could hold such high quality photog

  • that is, if the content wasn't that which you created yourself.

    • by SeaFox (739806)

      If they're available in a torrent they are 90% likely to have been released on DVD or Blu-ray. You'd be surprised how cheap older movies sell for even in HD.

  • Have a 17 year old Sony player and it works great.

    • There is a lot of variability throughout the years with Sony VHS players. Back in the early '90s, the quality was very good (and I paid 700 dollars for a VHS/HiFi deck). Later, when they started outsourcing to China, their quality went to crap (early 2000 vintage). I own both decks FWIW.
  • by Hamsterdan (815291) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @04:08PM (#46909541)

    I did about 15-20 of them last year, some of them Macrovision protected. I used an Hauppauge PVR-150 capture card (didn't seem to mind Macrovision like my Theatre 550), or I could have used my video stabiliser.

    I used two vcrs. A really nice JVC from around 1986 (HR-830U) for most of the tapes with the PVR-150. for some of the tapes where I couldn't get audio from both channels (mangled tape), I used a Samsung VHS/DVD combo since that one allowed me to force left or right on both channels (but no manual tracking).

    Most important thing, be prepared to clean the machine quite a bit using a wet cleaning system, not the abrasive ones, as those old tapes could flake (or be dirty). For capture, I used DVD movie factory (came with an old burner) and Video Redo (trial) for commercial removal and editing. Figure about 2GB/hour on DVD Quality (not worth going higher since it's only VHS.

    If it's an old VCR, be prepared to replace straps as some of them might have dried out or decomposed / broken (like I'm about to do on the old Beta, one of them is slipping).

    As someone else said in the thread, some home movies might have issues with white balance, a video stabiliser is helpful to help fix that issue...

  • find a local place that will do it for you and pay them to do it.

    If you absolutely have to do it yourself, find a local place that does it and ask what tape deck they use.

  • A couple of hundred bucks and who knows how many hours of work and fiddling for movies you haven't watched since your last player died? That seems a bit steep to me.

    We just came across a bunch of boxes of old VHS movies, and after some conversation... we're just tossing them in the Goodwill donation box. If we haven't watched 'em in five years, there's no point in going to all the trouble of copying them to a new format. The handful we might have converted, we've long since bought on DVD or Blu-Ray, no

  • Find the Magnavox DVD Recorder ZV427MG9 with Line-In Recording at Walmart (or Amazon) for about $160. It is worth searching for, or having it delivered to your local store from another store. This is a VHS-to-DVD recorder, and does an amazing job. I copied about 40 VHS tapes to DVD's (priceless family videos). The audio is perfectly synchronized with the video. Now I am loaning it out to other family members and friends for their collections. Be sure to specify the highest quality. The results are amazing.
  • These are going cheap (like all the other analog NTSC gear) on eBay or from video supply houses now that the world has gone digital. You likely can buy a good used rackmount VHS deck for less than the shipping will cost you. I bought a Panasonic AG-6500 for $40 about a year ago.

    The only caveat here is that these things generally ONLY work in the SP (2 hour) mode. If your home movies were recorded in LP or EP/SLP, you obviously need to look for a deck that can play those speeds.

  • Not one VCR is best for all tapes. For SP speed tapes like home movies, the JVC SVHS and DVHS decks equipped with JVC's "Digipure" TBC/noise reduction from the late 90s-early 00s have some of the best picture quality out there. The Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U DVHS deck is another recommended model. Expect to pay upwards of $200 for a working deck on ebay. The list of model numbers can be found here: http://www.digitalfaq.com/foru... [digitalfaq.com]

    The Panasonic AG-1980P is best for EP/SLP tapes and is also better behaved with
    • ^^^ DVHS, some decks also had firewire outputs, firewire out to firewire in on a machine avoids the need for third party A2D.....

    • >> To avoid frame dropping, you need an external TBC (different from the TBC in the VCR) acting as a frame sync.

      ^This

      Let me add for the person asking the question that I found an external TBC extremely useful back when I was transferring family movies from VHS. Even though I used a nice SVHS unit with an internal TBC, some of the worst older tapes still had lots of dropping out, tearing, and sync issues that magically all but disappeared when I fed the signal through the external TBC. Perhaps you don'

  • Few years ago I bought on ebay the JVC SR-VS10 which is a miniDV and S-VHS, and plays regular VHS. It also has a tuner (analog). There are S-video and composite in/out. AND it has firewire (DV) input and output to complement the miniDV, I've used this to firewire video in and out from a PC. I haven't had problems with jamming but with multiple kinds of inputs/outputs it makes for handling all kinds of video experiments. Retail price from when it was on market was $2000, this one on ebay for $500, http://ww [ebay.com]
  • I've done some VCR conversion and the main problem with basic came-with-the-computer video cards is that they'll stop recording at the first big glitch in the analog video signal being fed to them, and most home recorded video tapes will have more than a few. Very frustrating if say, you have a bunch of mystery 6-hour tapes that you just want to dump onto your hard drive while at work, and then pan the resulting file for gold at your leisure.

    I bought a converter like this one [amazon.com] and it works great, convertin
  • I've only converted home tapes ;)

    Homemade VHS quality is not great to begin with, I used a new (old but in the box) VCR and an EasyCap [amazon.com] (a clone i think). It worked fine. There was no noticeable degradation of quality. The mpeg was about 20GB for a two hour tape. The software i used was Virtual VCR [sourceforge.net]

    To be honest, i think a lot of these best practices are voodoo (it entirely depends on how and when it was recorded), just to jack up the price. As for not wanting to risk a tape on an old player, just test
  • Get a COSTCO membership and they digitize videos. I had it done with some precious ones and they did a great job.
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Good to know... is it a regular thing with the Photo Department? What do they charge, do you recall offhand? Chances are they didn't buy the cheapest gear around, either.

      [You know you've spent too much at Costco when the manager sees you go by and pursues you waving the Executive Membership form... yep, he did. Really.]

      • I did two regular VHS tapes for about $30. Good quality. They were tapes I made in Russia when I lived there, hence: priceless.
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          That would be a wee bit tough to replace, all right! Glad to hear the quality is good. I may use it sometime myself. Thanks!

  • I tried something similar with some audio cassettes a few years ago, and found that I was too late: the tape had begun to stick together, and required more power than my high-end Denon tape deck could muster to play back. Rewinding didn't work either, as there's a tape tension sensor that shuts down the motor if it gets overloaded.

  • you will spend $0 and while some of the VHS players you get won't be work well, you are bound to get a decent one. A VHS head cleaner tape is not a bad idea though. http://www.amazon.com/CleanDr-... [amazon.com]

  • Panasonic made good quality players that are remarkably durable. I'd pick one up used with little fear that it wouldn't work. My older Panasonic VHS dates to 1983 and still works fine. And no, you can't have my newer Panasonic, which also still works. Also, they have NEVER eaten a tape, and the older one in particular worked its little analog ass off. (I've often joked that Panasonic consumer electronics are too dumb to know when they're dead, since they generally work forever.)

    You want a four-head player,

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