Capturing and Archiving MiniDV and HDV Tapes on Mac & Windows -LifeFlix Mini Demo

hey everybody it’s lon seidman and i have been a video nerd my entire life and i really got going when i was 13 when i got my first vhs camcorder so i’ve got a pile of tapes that i recorded back then and then as time progressed i switched into different formats and of course that led me into digital video around 1998 or so and i recorded a lot of stuff on these mini dv tapes in fact i have a whole bin full of tapes that i’ve been meaning to capture for quite some time and minidv was a digital format even though it used tapes the video was stored digitally and if you can capture the video digitally from the camcorder you don’t lose any quality as you move the video from one device to another so my plan today is to start capturing some of this dv footage and get a one-to-one copy on my computer and then i can of course store that in the nas and back it up and all the other good stuff that you might want to do with old video now i recorded a lot of this video on this camcorder this is the sony trv 900 this was a real hot ticket back in its day it was so good that sony kept it on the market for a number of years it was pretty much a broadcast quality camera it had a three chip sensor the video looked spectacular on this especially on a crt had a really nice color screen that would pop out here and it would take digital still images with a floppy drive that would attach through a pc card slot here on the back a pc mcia card slot so this thing was really a neat product to play around with and i’ve got a ton of footage that it recorded the problem though is that this doesn’t play the tapes back at all anymore so that is an issue i haven’t been able to use this to actually capture any footage or record anything new but i got about 10 years of active use out of this camera primarily because the visual quality was so good that there was nothing better to upgrade to it was just like the pinnacle of standard

definition video but around 2008 or so i picked up this camera this is a high definition version of the dv format called hdv so it uses the same tapes but can record at 1080i and it also was backwards compatible with the standard definition format and it was transferring video to the computer in the same way using firewire which we’ll talk about more in a minute uh this camera unfortunately though no longer plays back tapes either so i’ve been kind of out of luck but a friend of mine let me borrow this thing this is the hdr fx7 it is overkill for what we’re doing here but this has a functional uh hdv deck on board that can read the tapes that i recorded with both of these cameras and this is what’s going to be our primary capture device now i’m going to be using my mac here for a majority of the capturing today this is the macbook air with the m1 chip the reason is that apple has more dv stuff built into the operating system than microsoft has in windows at the moment and also macs are easier to interface with firewire which i will talk more about when we get to connecting everything up but we will experiment with my windows laptop towards the end of the video because there are some freeware applications out there that will allow some rudimentary video capture from these devices so you can get the footage off and safely stored but again i think it’s going to be easier and less aggravating on the mac side so let’s get into this now and i do want to let you know before we do that in the interest of full disclosure everything that we’re looking at today i paid for with my own funds minus the camcorder that my buddy lent me all of the opinions you’re about to hear are my own

no one is paying for this review nor is anyone reviewing or approving what you’re about to see before it was uploaded so let’s get into it now starting with the firewire connection all right let’s start off with the camera connection here and on the back of this camera is a firewire port and this is the only way to my knowledge that you can bring in digital video from one of these camcorders without capturing just the analog output and i’ve got a firewire cable here that i’ve had for many years that we’re going to plug into the back of the camera my old sony here of course has one of those ports as well let me just move this one out of the way so you can see where that port is right down there and again that’s the only way we can get this video out and the tricky thing is that firewire is a technology that you’re not going to find on current pcs you can still buy adapter cards for desktop computers but on laptops it’s a lot trickier so to get this to work what we’re going to be using are a few adapters from apple and these should work on my thunderbolt equipped pc as well the first adapter here is their thunderbolt 2 firewire adapter there are no usb to firewire adapters out there at all so this is kind of like your only option at the moment if you’re just hooking up to a laptop and of course the laptop has to have a thunderbolt connector so this is the back end of it where we’re going to plug in the other side of this thunderbolt cable this is a firewire 800 connector which is a little different than the connector that came out with the first version of firewire so you might need to get a new cable if you don’t have a cable that looks like this on the other end of your camcorder cable but you’ll notice that the port here is the older thunderbolt style what they used in thunderbolt 1 and 2.

so to make this work we’re going to have to use another connector here which is apple’s thunderbolt 1 and 2 to thunderbolt 3 connector and this will make this adapter work with my modern mac that has the thunderbolt 3 connection on it and remember we’re talking about thunderbolt here so if we were to plug this into a usb type-c port it’s not going to work it’s got to be a usbc port that has thunderbolt on board otherwise you’re out of luck and then we’re going to attach the cable here to the back of that firewire adapter so we’ve got this monstrosity connected here let’s plug it into the mac and see what happens all right we got the mac loaded up the camera is queued up and the cable is plugged in we’ve got that firewire cable of course on the end of this crazy adapter going on here we’re going to plug in that thunderbolt connector and my intent here initially is to keep this as simple as possible because this has a lot of depth that you can fall into with it to get the best results i’m going to go for the quickest and the simplest and then we’ll talk about perhaps some more advanced topics in a future video but i will show you a few things to consider when you’re going

through this process now i have the quicktime player here loaded up on my mac and you may not know that in addition to being a player the quicktime application can also be a recorder and i’m going to go over here to new movie recording the first option and what this will do is pull up my webcam but check this out because we have the camera connected let me zoom in on the screen here a little bit we can click on this little arrow next to the record icon and check it out there’s an option for an hdv vcr which is the camera and then what i’m also going to do here is select the hdv vcr for the audio source and now if i go over to the camera and press play watch what happens we get the image here of a truck that’s on that tape and i’m going to hit the record button here and it’s going to start recording this video onto the hard drive so we’re going to let this run for a second as the truck rolls by and then we’ll have it cut to another scene but there we go there’s the truck driving away and it looks good again this is coming in live over the tape so this is not some digital uh transfer off a card it’s actually playing back the tape we’ve got the break room here from my old office when i was working just out of college and there we go so i’m going to hit stop there and now what i’m going to do is save the file so let’s jump back to my mac screen here hit command s and i’m just going to throw this on the desktop and say capture test 1 give it a name of some kind and now let me hit the stop button on the camera here and now what i’ve got is a file a quicktime file that i can load up and play back and check it out looks pretty good it looks pretty close to what we recorded it looks like it actually de-interlaces the video as it is bringing it in or it could very well just be de-interlacing it via software playback here but it all looks pretty good and again this is not quite a one-to-one copy from the camera but it is pretty darn close

because it brought in that video digitally and we were not capturing the video using analog cables so this is a very pure almost again to one copy off the camera now what it does is it will save it in a codec that might be a little more universal than the native dv codec that brought it in so this is coming in at h.264 versus the native dv and it looks like the data rate here is about four megabits per second or so remember this is standard definition video so you’re not going to really need that much of a bit rate for a good result now there’s another quality setting though let’s take a look at that all right so we’re back on our quicktime screen here and i’m going to pull down that selection arrow that we did before i’m going to leave the hdv vcr here selected so we still capture from the camera but i’m going to move the quality from high to maximum and we’re going to begin the playback again here so i’ll hit play on the camera and record on quicktime and there’s our truck again now this is probably not going to look all that different to you from the standpoint of this youtube video and that’s because we are of course recompressing this video for you to watch later but i’m just going to hit the stop button here just so we can see what the differences are so we’ll hit stop and if i pull up the information about this file what you’ll notice here is that the codec it’s using is different so instead of h.264 the quality setting here will have it record in the prores 422 format and this is apple’s native format that they typically use in final cut pro for editing so if you are intending to bring in this footage to edit that setting is probably the one you want to do because the video won’t have to be re-encoded to bring into your editor so will be of course a higher bit rate but that’s because pro res typically is not quite lossless but a close to lossless kind of compression and the bit rates are much much higher with prores but again better for editing one other thing to note is that the native resolution of this dv video should be 720 by 480 and i was reading up on this a bit and this 704 by 480 is still compliant and it shouldn’t make any difference for editing purposes but just make note of that if you happen to see that when you bring things in i haven’t seen any difference between video brought in this way and a

video brought in in another method which we’re going to take a look at now using imovie alright so here is imovie and of course imovie is free and comes with your mac if we go over here to the file menu and select import media our dv cam will show up right here and what i can do is click on import and bring in the video of the truck again now i’m going to let this run past this scene because i want to show you what imovie will do when you’re bringing in video that has multiple scenes like this so here you saw we went from the truck to the coffee maker in the break room i’m going to hit stop here and also stop on the player and if i jump out of this window here you can see that it brought in actually two different clips because it treats every start and stop of the camcorder that you did 20 years ago as a separate video file much in the same way our cell phones work today you record a video clip that sits in its own space and then the next clip that you record is in its own space as well it’s not just one long continuous thing so if you want the one long continuous thing quicktime is the way to do it if you use imovie or final cut pro both will bring in each start and stop of the camcorder as its own clip now if i were to go and start editing something here in imovie what you’re going to notice is that it stretches the video out so the original file here as you can see is a square 4×3 aspect ratio but the edit project that we’re doing is 16 by nine and this of course is not ideal because the video was not shot in this aspect ratio and you’ll probably lose some information and things will get all spread out so if you really want to edit this you’re probably going to have to go to final cut pro or some other

editing software that you might have to pay for because it doesn’t look like imovie will let you edit in 4×3 mode to keep things simple unfortunately but there is a reason to consider imovie as your capture software because it really does preserve a one-to-one image of what is on the tape it’ll be the same codec the same aspect ratio it’ll be an interlaced video file and it will have the very same resolution too and if we go over to my hard drive here i’ll show you where imovie stores those files so we’re going to load up my finder here and click on my home directory and we’re going to go to movies and this imovie library is where imovie stores all of my data for that application and if i use two fingers and click essentially a right click on the mac i’m going to have an option here to show package contents and the project file i was working on was called my movie just the default here and i’m going to dive into that folder and inside of that folder is another folder here called original media and inside of it look here’s the two files that we captured and if i load one of these up and we go over to the information panel here on quicktime by hitting command i you’ll see that it captured in the dv codec we’ve got the original aspect ratio of course the original resolution this for all intents and purposes is a one-to-one of what was stored on the tape and if you were looking to archive that exactly as it was recorded this is going to be the best way to do it if you don’t want to buy any additional software now you can copy the files out of the directory just like any other file just note though that if your imovie library exists on your internal hard drive here and you drag the files for example to your desktop it’s going to move them out of the imovie directory and screw up your project if you were intending to edit in imovie with it so what you can do

instead is hold down the option key and that will make a copy of the files instead of moving them and if you’re using final cut it’s a very similar process here you can click on the library file go to show package contents and then you can dive into your event and into your original media folder to find those two captured videos so i really like this idea of bringing in the original file format from the tape and archiving it because you know you’ve got the best unaltered copy you can get short of the tape itself the only risk you have is that at some point apple on the mac side and microsoft on the windows side might decide to drop dv and if they do drop dv you won’t be able to work with those files again but hopefully if they decide to do that you’d have enough notice to transfer them to something else and i think it’s good to again have that original format because as video upscaling technology improves in the future starting with the original file is always the best way to go as they say in the video business garbage in garbage out and you want the best quality to start with now i did find an application that’s not free that was rather interesting to me this is called life flicks and what this does is it will grab your dv camcorder rewind the tape and bring in the entire thing it does separate things out into individual clips but you have the option to combine them so for example if i wanted to combine these two here i can hold down shift and select the other clip here and then click combine and what i like about this is that it preserves the original file format and you can choose where it stores the data so if we go over here to my finder window you can see those two clips i just combined are here now as one file and it preserved the dv codec here as the codex so it really just brought those two files together as opposed to actually re-encoding them now they also have a feature that will up convert the video to hd but that’s kind of problematic because when you do this it destroys the original file

and it will leave you only with the up converted one it will preserve the aspect ratio and it will bring it up to 1080p but you have no control over exactly how that file is created you can’t adjust the bit rate the interlacing it just kind of has a default setting and that’s it so i think the value for life flicks is that you can bring in all those individual clips you can merge together the clips that you want to have as a single clip and then archive those files when you’re done with it and again i like the fact that it will allow you to store those files anywhere including on external media or even network drives too pretty cool stuff now the lightflix software is not cheap it’s about 100 bucks at the time i’m recording this video but i do think there’s a good value proposition here for people like me with a box full of tapes to convert because you can pop a tape in walk away come back combine the clips you want archive them and move on to the next tape and that to me has some value one thing i noticed as i was poking around on their website was that when i downloaded the free trial that we were running there a second ago when i added it to my cart it made me an offer it said 15 off if you buy right now so i think i might load up another web browser and take them up on that so not perfect but i think it’ll get me the archive that i’m looking for so i think that’s ultimately what i’m going to do to bring in this footage both from my standard definition dv footage and my high definition hdv footage that i’ve got in the box over there let’s take a look at windows now alright so i’ve got my gaming laptop hooked up now and the reason why we’re using this laptop is that this is the only windows machine i own with a thunderbolt connector but it did detect all of these

apple adapters without any drivers necessary it actually was pretty seamless and for standard definition video there’s a free piece of software called wind dv which i just loaded up here i’ll put a link to this down in the video description and the way it works here is you hit play on the camera and just like before it’ll project that image into the computer screen and then i can click capture and begin recording the file in its original codec a lot like what we saw with imovie and lifeflix and it’s going to save this file as an avi on my folder here that i assigned to it you can pretty much choose anywhere you want those files to go and i’m just going to let it switch scenes here real quick and now i’m going to stop the capture process and stop the camcorder and now as you can see here i’ve got two files that it brought in in avi format and just like imovie it separates them based on the scene that it recorded so here’s the truck coming in here again this is native format so that looks pretty good and then i can switch over to the break room file here also and we didn’t have to stop the tape here it detected that shift in the time stamp and knew that we had recorded a separate clip and i just pulled up one of the files in vlc so you can see how it encoded the file and again we’re dealing with native dv video here so this is a good candidate to be archived now for high definition hdv footage there’s another windows app you gotta grab this one is called hdv split and this actually has some camera controls on it too so i can actually hit the play button here and that will get the camera to start playing there is a preview window but it hasn’t been working even though i installed some extra codecs that it needed so that’s a little buggy but if you click on the record

button here what this is going to do is capture the video footage to the hard drive just like we were doing with the other application a minute ago and then as you can see it’s also detecting scene changes as we’re bringing that footage in and you have the option to split that into multiple files with this application or just keep them as one single file i’m going to click stop here and let’s take a look and see what it recorded all right so we’ve got two files here that it captured these m2t files but it all looks pretty good so i think that captured successfully i’m going to jump over to vlc here and let’s take a look at the details of the file so let’s zoom back in here now you’ll notice that the resolution is 1440 by 1080 and that’s because this hdv format is anamorphic so when you drop it into editing software it looks normal at 1920 by 1080 but if you play the file raw on a player that doesn’t know to stretch it out it’ll look a little squished that’s just the nature of the hdv codec and that’s actually a good thing because it captured exactly what it should have which was of course the native file hdv uses the mpeg-2 compression versus the dv codex so that’s why this is an mpeg-2 video here but as far as i can see this is a native capture and that is a good thing and by the way on the mac side if we were to use life flicks or imovie we would see the same results on that platform too now you do have the option to disable scene splitting here if you want so you can turn that off and get one continuous file and it looks like this is a pretty good way of capturing that high definition footage off of dv tape on the windows side so you do have some options with windows to do what we just did on the mac

which is great and the odd thing here is that you do it with apple hardware plugged into your windows computer so it looks like it’s pretty simple and free to grab the native files off of your tapes on both windows and the mac on the mac side everything we demoed with that standard definition video will also work for high definition video too so it’s going to be something that i’m going to start embarking on over the next couple of weeks to get all those tapes archived in their original format and then i’ll figure out what to do with the video after that so i’d love to get some feedback from all of you on upscaling software out there that we should look at i was playing around with handbrake for a little while as well because all of this video both the high def and the low def stuff is going to come in interlaced so i want some options for having it look the best on my 4k tv for example so we’ll probably be coming back to this topic i’ll be interested to see how interested all of you are in it let me know what you thought down in the comments below and until next time this is lon seidman thanks for watching this channel is brought to you by the london tv supporters including gold level supporters chris allegretta tom albrecht jim calliger hot sauce and video games and brian parker if you want to help the channel you can by contributing as little as a dollar a month head over to lawn dot tv support to learn more so and don’t forget to subscribe

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