How to Convert Existing Non-Digital Content to Digital

4 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Accessing Digital Content for Home Theaters

You can convert non-digital content (like LPs and videotapes) into computer-friendly digital content. Changing stuff from non-digital to digital means you can enjoy your collections of movies, songs, and photographs in your home theater.

There’s nothing wrong with using analog source devices (such as VCRs, cassette decks, and turntables) to get this content into your home theater, but many like to go all digital. Here's why:

  • Digital media is typically more durable than analog media. LP records scratch and tapes break and wear out, but digital files can be played over and over without degradation.

  • Digital media is physically space efficient. You can cram a lot of video, music, and photos onto a small computer hard drive and then put the bulky tapes, records, and cassettes away.

  • Digital media is more convenient. Instead of pulling out a tape, you can simply browse for that video on a computer interface and instantly start playing it (and pause, rewind, and skip around more easily, too!).

If your content is not yet digitized — it’s still on VHS tapes, paper photographs, photo negatives, cassette tapes, and so on — you might want to digitize it. Here are some options to consider:

  • Photos: Although you can use any scanner to scan your photos into an electronic file, you might want to use a scanner designed to scan old photos and negatives. Check out Nikon’s CoolScan family of slide and film scanners. You feed your negatives and slides into the scanner, and the system converts them into digital files. You can get cheaper scanners, but you get what you pay for. Spend the money and get the best you can get — there’s a reason you are scanning all these pictures to begin with, so do it right.

  • Movies: If you have shelves of VHS home movies you need to convert to DVD, you can usually get by with a PC, a VCR, a device that converts the VCR’s analog signals into digital, and some editing software to make sure everything is just right. Pinnacle Systems offers an easy-to-use range of products just for transferring tapes. Its top-of-the-line Digital Video Creator 150 comes with the hardware and software to do the conversion. If you don’t have a DVD burner in your home theater, you can get an add-on burner that will connect to your PC.

    Mac users might consider Elgato’s EyeTV system, which does most of the same things that Digital Video Creator 150 does, only on the Apple Mac OS. Check it out at Elgato.

  • Music: If you have shoeboxes full of old cassettes and peach crates full of vinyl LPs, these too can be converted to digital. You don’t need any special hardware — just your old turntable or tape player. Grab a cable with two RCA plugs at one end and a mini 1/8-inch stereo plug at the other, which you can get at RadioShack. Connect the RCA plugs to the Tape Out jacks on your preamplifier or receiver and connect the other end to the Line In jack on your PC sound card. Then you load equalization/sound processing software, such as Nero 9, turn on your source player, and the software will clean up your vinyl and cassette recordings, lifting out any annoying scratches and pops along the way. If you want, it will break the long taped recording into smaller music files so you can have each song isolated on the CD. When it’s ready, it will help you burn the results to CD.

    An option for folks with tons of old LPs is to invest in the ION TTUSB. This is an actual turntable (with all of the equalization/processing software built in) that plugs in to your PCs USB port and converts vinyl to MP3.

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The Essentials of Accessing Digital Content for Home Theaters

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