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This is the "Transfer VHS" page of the "Memory Lab" guide.
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Memory Lab   Tags: digital preservation, personal archiving  

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Last Updated: Sep 11, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Transfer VHS Print Page

Step 1: Open Blackmagic Media Express

Step 1 Open BlackMagic Media Express

Once you've logged in to the Mac computer, double click on the Media Express icon in the desktop tray.

The Playback tab below the viewing window will be selected in green. Select the Log and Capture tab to the left of Playback. When selected, it will appear red as shown below.


Step 2: Preview Your Video

Step 2 Preview Your Video

Make sure the VCR, DV player, and Sony Tinitron monitor are powered on. Confirm that the monitor is set to C/SDI and knobs are set to the middle. 


Load your VHS tape into the VHS Player and press Play on the control tray.


You should now be able to view your home movie on the monitor and within the Blackmagic Log and Capture window on the computer.
To listen to the audio, put on the headphones.
To manipulate the appearance of your home movie, use the + - controls for color, contrast, brightness, and tint on the datavideo time-base corrector.
Use the Joggle/Shuttle button on the VHS player to rewind, fast forward, or pause. Select the button so that the green light is on. Slowly turn the dial to the left to rewind and to the right to fast forward.


Step 3: Capture Video

Step 3 Capture Video 

When you are ready to record, press the Capture button at the bottom of the Black Magic window. 

When you want to stop recording, select the Capture button again. Press Stop on the VCR.

Your movie will automatically save on the desktop.


Tip#1: If you make any adjustments to to the image or fast forward your movie while it is being captured, those actions will be recorded as well! When in doubt just stop the capture by de-selecting the capture button, make your adjustments, and select capture again. All of your files will save in the "My Archiving Project" folder on the desktop.


Tip#2: Media Express automatically names your recordings "Untitled 1", "Untitled 2", etc. If a warning window pops up asking if you wish to overwrite a file, the previous capture will be erased with that name. When in doubt, select no.


Step 4: Encode your file in Handbrake.

Step 4 Encode Your File In Handbrake

What you now have is a very large MOV file. To compress it to a more manageable MP4 file, follow these instructions.

If you are saving to a flash drive or external hard drive, plug it into the back of the computer.

Open the Handbrake icon  in the desktop tray. 


Select Source and choose the .mov file from the "My Archiving Project" folder that you just created and select Open. The first capture will be labeled "".

Next you will see this window. You can choose to adjust the Constant Quality from its default of RF 20 (for a standard definition DVD) by moving the slider between 0 [highest quality] and 51 [lowest quality]. We recommend between 17-20. See the tip box on the right for more information.



Under Destination, click the Browse button. Rename the file with a consistent and obvious file name, and select where you would like to save the file, such as your USB drive. Include the .mp4 on the end of the file name or file will not save properly.



If you see a combing effect in your movie (white, horizantal lines running through the screen), you can get rid of them in Picture Settings at the top of the Handbrake window. Select the Filter tab, then select Deinterlace and Decomb to "Default" and exit.


Press the Start button to begin encoding. When progress is complete, you will see this message.


Step 6: Describe your saved file in MetaZ.

Step 5 Describe Your File in MetaZ

Don't let all this hard work go to waste! Adding metadata to your home movie will ensure that you have it for years to come! Open MetaZ and select your home movie.


Select "Home Movie" as the Video Type. Enter the "Artist" name, title, and the approximate date it was filmed.

Use the Short Description box to provide other important contextual information and technical information such as

-Names, Places

-Description of event(s)

-Rights information

-How it was originally captured (VHS, MiniDV, etc.)


To save your information, select the Write icon  in the top left corner of the window.


Step 7: You're done!

Step 6 You're Done!

Check your storage device to make sure that your movie is saved. Safely eject your device from the computer by dragging its icon to the eject button on the right-hand side of the desktop tray.
Eject your tape from the VCR.
Notify a staff member that you are finished using the lab.



Read about the VHS-cassette on Wikipedia.

By Groink (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


How much time will this take?

For every 1 minute of video, it will take 1.5x to digitize it. Capture happens in real time, and then the file must be encoded, described, and saved to ensure it will last.

We recommend digitizing no more than 2 hours of video in a lab session.


How much storage space will I need?

1 hour of video = 4  GB when saved with our instructions as an mp4.



What if I don't have an external hard drive or USB?

Go to the Saving Options tab at the top of this page for other ways to save.


What equipment will I use today?

 Tinitron PVM-14M2U Monitor

Panasonic AG-1980 Desktop Editor

datavideo time-base corrector 

Blackmagic UltraStudio Express converter


What software will I use today?

Blackmagic Media Express




Why do I have to encode the file (step 4)?

1. It deinterlaces the movie, which prevents the "combing" effect that occurs in digitized video. File size will double with this action.

2. It encodes the movie, which does make your file smaller, but the H.264 codec is very versatile and widely supported.

For more information about video file formats, read ASMP's Video File Format Overview.

For more information about Handbrake encoding settings, read this post on Tweaking4All.


Can I improve the the video quality?

You can adjust the Constant Quality by adjusting the RF meter between 0 [highest quality] - 51 [lowest quality]. We recommend a setting between 17-20 RF. 

The lower your RF, the larger the file size.

You must adjust this setting before naming or choosing where to save your file.

Read here for more information.


"Too Large for Volume Format" Message

If you are saving a file larger than 4GB on your flash drive, this message may appear. 

Helpful tips:

- If you are a Mac user, you can re-format your drive to Extended so that it can save larger files.

- You can use QuickTime Player to split your clips into smaller chunks.

- You can reduce file size by encoding in Handbrake at a higher quality (RF) rating, or choose not to deinterlace the file.


Audio but no video playback

  • Confirm that there is no image on both the monitor and within Blackmagic
  • Make sure your tape is NTSC and not PAL
  • Confirm with a staff member that the wiring is correct

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