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Analog to Digital: Exploring External Video Converters

You have a computer with a FireWire port, and you want to capture some analog video. What are you going to do? You have many solutions, of course. You can install a video-capture card, but a good one costs a pretty penny and you have to tear apart your computer to install it. If you're lucky, you may be able to connect an analog video source to the analog inputs on your digital camcorder and then connect the camcorder to the FireWire port. This method is clumsy, however, and it simply doesn't work with some camcorders.

A simpler solution may be to use an external video converter — usually a box that connects to your computer's FireWire port. The box includes analog inputs, so you can connect an analog VCR or camcorder to the box. The unit itself converts signals from analog media into DV-format video, which your computer then captures — and now you can easily edit it using your video-editing software.

If you've worked with analog video a lot, you probably know that you lose some quality every time you make a copy of the video (especially if it's a copy-of-a-copy). This quality change is called generational loss. Not to worry: A video converter like those described here doesn't present any more generational loss than a standard video-capture card does; after it converts the signal to digital, you don't have to worry about generational loss until you output the video to an analog tape.

You can also use most converter boxes for exporting video to an analog source. You simply export the DV-format video from your editing program, and the converter box converts it into an analog signal that you can record on your analog tape deck. Among other advantages, this method of export saves a lot of wear and tear on the tape-drive mechanisms in your expensive digital camcorder.

Features to look for in a video converter include

  • Analog output
  • PC or Mac support (depending on your computer)
  • Color-bar output
  • Multiple FireWire and analog inputs/outputs
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