Video: Dads Go Digital
He wears the camera around his neck like a badge of honor, snapping away on vacations and at graduation ceremonies. He captures your family's most embarrassing moments on video forever. And somewhere in the house, he's got a stack of vinyl albums he loves too much to throw away (even though his turntable broke in 1991). That's Dad--family photographer and incurable pack rat. Not to mention a guy stuck in the past. Face it, fading photos, home movies, and aged LP s are so last century.
It's time for a Father's Day intervention. Instead of buying him another ugly tie, try bringing Daddy up to date. A number of new and improved products and services can turn those old films, photos, and 45s into digital delights.
The Projector Ejector
A sure laugh for my nieces and nephews was the old home movie of Uncle David as a toddler with his pajama bottoms that opened in the, uh, rear. Luckily for me, the footage was on 8-mm film, and the old projector was getting pulled out less often at family get-togethers. Now a new generation, as well as my own young kids, gets to laugh at my youthful indiscretion. My dad hired a service to move those flicks to DVD s--an expensive route but the only way to get film onto a disk.
Several Web businesses specialize in analog-to-digital conversion. The biggest and best known is yesvideo.com , with mailers and forms available from its site and at many local photo processors. Homemoviedepot.com , though, now offers a free sample for film transfers--a great way to test the service before committing your library to its care.
If it's just videotapes that you're wrestling with, you can do the conversions at home and get decent copies. The easiest way is through stand-alone DVD recorders, which are now quite affordable, with some capable models at about $100.
A DVD recorder can be focused mostly on turning your tapes into disks, like the Iomega SuperDVD QuikTouch Video Burner . Or you can get one that does double duty, also recording live television--or even triple duty, as in a combo VCR/DVD recorder like the Philips DVDR600VR.
The Iomega device's ease of use is impressive; just plug in your VCR or camcorder, and it can also connect to a PC for editing the video.
With the Philips box, the VCR is built in, so if your old tapes are on VHS, it's simple to copy them to DVD (most commercial tapes, by the way, won't transfer because of copyright protection). The device also has inputs for connecting a video camera, either analog or digital, for recording to disk.
Transferring video is time consuming. But it's a world easier than what Larry Horwitz has been doing since the 1980s, when he first transferred the "open reel" analog video he began shooting in the 1960s to newfangled Betamax cassettes. He has kept copying those tapes--upgrading to the latest technology--fearing footage of his kids would be orphaned when the devices needed to play them could no longer be found. The footage has grown fuzzier, as later transfers were copies of a copy. "Technically, their quality isn't great," says the retiree near Buffalo. "But we cherish them for their content."
Music: Golden Oldies to CD
For music buffs like me, unwilling to part with vinyl collections yet frustrated by the lack of an easy way to convert those old-style disks to digital formats, a gadget that makes that transfer easy would be a guaranteed hit. In the quest for such a user-friendly solution, I tried out two new products designed expressly for this purpose, as well as a professional service that will do the job for you. My chosen LP s: a '60s relic, the Mamas and the Papas' Farewell to the First Golden Era, and a classical gem, Jean-Pierre Rampal's 20th-Century Music for Flute .
I began with the budget-priced ADS Technologies' Instant Music box ($49), a slim device slightly larger than an iPod. I installed the software on my PC and connected the gadget to both the computer and my record player--after lugging the record player from one room to another in order to link it to my desktop. All I had to do now was play disk jockey and follow the directions that popped on my computer screen, and-- voila! --I was promised digital music files I could then burn onto a CD.
It would have been easy if there had been better directions for using the software's overwhelming number of options. I spent two frustrating evenings and wasted half-a-dozen blank CD s before calling tech support. I was told to change one of the settings on my computer control panel (a step not mentioned in the on-screen directions). With that issue resolved, I successfully transferred the LP s.
By contrast, transferring on the large-boom-box-size TEAC GF-350 turntable CD recorder ($449) was a cinch. The all-in-one unit plays vinyl albums and CD s, contains a radio, and comes with a remote control. Push a button on the GF-350, and you can burn a CD directly from the record you're spinning.
But there's a catch. Even though I had used digital audio CD s (the unit won't record on regular computer CD s), my newly minted disks would not play back on any other CD player in my home. The trouble, I learned from tech support (again), was the advanced age of my CD players; only newer models, less than three or four years old, could recognize the newer audio CD technology. In addition, I was told, some digital audio disks work better than others. Sure enough, when I switched disk brands--from Sony to TDK--the disks were playable on other machines and sounded fine.
The easiest option--and the priciest, depending on how many albums you wish to convert--is to delegate the job to a professional. Ferris Mastering transferred my two LP s with courteous efficiency (one to two weeks for most orders, or two days with expedited service). For a few dollars more, they also filtered out three decades' worth of needle scratches, pops, and rumbles. Was it worth the $22.50 per disk ($15 without the filtering service), not counting return shipping? All I can say is that the resulting tracks sounded so clear and crisp that you'd hardly guess the record's--or its owner's--age.
Pictures: Sliding Into Digital
Her father's slide collection contains many great pictures, says Sara Parry, one of nine siblings featured in hundreds of photos that date to 1948. The problem was, nobody could see them anymore. "We had a projector for a long time," says Parry, of Occoquan, Va. "Then the bulb burned out, and we couldn't find a replacement."
So the slides sat in a closet, until Sara and her mom pulled them out to get them scanned. Now they're on a DVD that gets played at family gatherings. "It had been 20 years since we'd seen them," she says.
That's the strength of digital photography: convenience. Once images are computer files, they're easy to print, E-mail, or burn to a disk. It generally has been an expensive hassle to get those old snapshots and slides converted. But it's becoming cheaper and easier to do the switch--or have it done for you.
To copy photo prints, you want a flatbed scanner, which resembles a photocopier in operation and design, though much smaller. Today's devices, like the Epson Perfection 2580 Photo , are less bulky, as well as less balky, than their ancestors and often come with software that automatically and effectively cleans up dirty or faded photos. They can also make decent scans of slides and negatives, all for $100 or less.
If your pop's picture pile is mostly slides or negatives, consider the more-sophisticated film scanners--which look more boxlike than flatbed versions--and are now cheap enough for consumers, starting around $300. Film scanners such as Pacific Image's PrimeFilm 3650u create big, detailed files that can be enlarged or cropped.
Be ready to invest a lot of time if you want to do it yourself, though--at least several minutes per image, after a lot of trial and error figuring it out. There's also time lost reminiscing as you dig through old shots. Or you can turn to a service that scans the images for you. It isn't cheap--a typical price is about 50 cents a frame. Services with consumer-friendly prices are usually small, such as digmypics.com , a company in Mesa, Ariz., or digitalmemoriesonline.net , which is run by a pair of brothers in Orient, Ohio. One of the brothers, Robert Blau, answers the phone number provided on its website. That's crucial because few people would trust family treasures to somebody they haven't talked to.
Converting photos to digital is about more than just convenience, says Lucie Pastoriza of Lamy, N.M., who hired Blau to transfer thousands of snapshots taken by her late father. She and her siblings distributed the disks among their families. Bringing a departed dad's legacy into the hands of a new generation--what better way to celebrate Father's Day?
This story appears in the June 13, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.