Mac: VHS to MP4 – digitizing the oldies

If you have older kids and they are anything like mine, they love watching videos of themselves when they were younger. All three of my kids have been heavily documented throughout their childhood and I have the media to prove it!

The first video camera my wife and I had was a large VHS based camera. It was huge because it was an entire 1980s era VCR that you mounted on your shoulder. We had this behemoth to record the memories of our first two children and as a result have a slew of VHS tapes running around the house, slowly deteriorating.

In order to preserve this footage I recently looked around for a simple way to get these tapes in a digital format, ideally just pushing them to a DVD. I found that there are actually a couple of solutions out there that do this quite easily. I settled on the Samsung VR357, which has a really nice user interface. Pop in a tape and a blank DVD, select the VCR to DVD buttons and hit record.
The UI on the Samsung is pretty good if I want to do a little selective recording from the tape to the DVD, though since I have so many tapes my primary goal was to just get through all of this as quickly as possible.
Enter HandBrake
Now that I had all of these shiny new DVDs there were a couple of them that I wanted to add to my Mac to incorporate into a video I’m working on for my wife (shhhhh – it’s a secret). Several folks told me to check out HandBrake, a free (Open Source, GPL-licensed) utility for grabbing and ripping DVD content.
HandBrake is really easy to use – pop in the DVD and select it as the source for HandBrake, then select the range of chapters on the DVD you want to rip and click Start.
It does take HandBrake a little while to encode the media and my MacBook’s CPU was pegged during the process, but the resulting MP4 file that it created worked great and could be immediately viewed in QuickTime or VLC. The file could also be imported into iMovie, though the creation of the thumbnails in iMovie ‘o8 is a pretty lengthy process. For perspective, a 5 minute long MP4 clip took about 35 minutes to import.
HandBrake has a huge number of options for defining the quality of the video it creates, but I love the fact that within a minute of firing it up HandBrake was ripping my video for me. Powerful and easy to use. I love it.