Conversion Experience

After spending more time than I care to admit searching for software for my old Ion Video to PC converter hardware, I caved and bought a new Roxio VHS to DVD 3 conversion kit. It was $40 at Best Buy. So far it is worth the purchase – the software is more intuitive, the resolution is superior, and the setup is streamlined.

Like many children of the 80s, I grew up watching movies taped onto dozens upon dozens of VHS cassettes. Some were recorded from HBO and basic cable, but the really interesting ones in my opinion were the ones we taped from the broadcast stations. These movies contain commercial breaks, which provide a fascinating snapshot into the 90s and not a small amount of nostalgia. In addition to these films we have several home movies, including this gem from 1988 . . .

I am in this one, of course – I was seven at the time – and so is the rest of my family. I digitized this and the rest of of our home movies a few years ago, and if you are a member of the Smith Family you can check out a few others I’ve uploaded. Just go to the Smith Family Videos YouTube channel.

Anyway, I’ve recently started converting some of the movies as well. Obviously the vast majority of these films are better viewed on DVD, Blu Ray, Amazon Prime, or virtually any other platform created during the last twenty years. But I have selected a handful of tapes to convert that meet one of the following criteria: 1) they’re sufficiently rare or unavailable to stream, 2) the movies were filmed during a specific period of time (e.g. the Flood of 93, Desert Storm) and thus have commercials or evening news updates of historical value, or 3) I have seen the movie enough times to be able to play and ignore it as I write.

Right now I am copying Stephen King’s The Langoliers, which is a solid Made-for-TV miniseries from 1995. Most of the films I choose, however, are in the third category – movies like The Wizard and Major League. So it is easy enough now to open the VHS-conversion movie in QuickTime on my iMac, place a shrunk-down window in the corner of my screen, and then work on whatever it is I have been trying to avoid (like writing this Monday blog post . . .). It’s weirdly comforting to have movies like this on while I work. I will maybe look at the screen only once or twice while getting things done, whereas if the movies are not playing I am more liable to be distracted by Facebook and other things. Soon I will have a nice little rotation of movies ready to go for those late nights.

This tool has one more benefit: it helps me covert tapes containing movies, interviews, news reports, and other videos relating to Dr. Iben Browning’s ill-fated 1990 New Madrid earthquake prediction. As many of you know, I am working on a documentary, entitled Earthshaking, that explores the prediction and the mass hysteria surrounding it. Given the time period, much of the material we are seeking is only available on VHS. Check out this earthquake preparedness video below, which was produced by Southeast Missouri State University in order to raise awareness among its students about the possibility of a major quake striking the region:

This is the Reefer Madness of earthquake disaster videos . . . enjoy!

My parents are planning on getting rid of their VHS tapes. I cannot say I blame them. It’s so easy nowadays to stream films on demand, or to order 4K Blu Rays on Amazon. That’s probably why my folks let me take their VHS player to California with me, which is the first one I have owned since I sold my last one in 2005.

But I wonder how many VHS tapes out there contain videos that cannot be replaced or that have not yet been digitized. Many of these are still sitting in libraries, Goodwill stores, landfills . . . or perhaps you own a few yourself. If so, then what are you waiting for? They are not getting younger, and every year that passes, the tapes continue to degrade further. Digitize the ones you want to keep, or that might otherwise be irreplaceable. If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are plenty of services that will do it for you, including Legacy Box. But if you’re like me and you’d rather do it yourself, well . . . you cannot go wrong with the Roxio kit at Best Buy.