Digitalizing our Video Library…Oh, the Ordeal

Like magic!

For project #1 zillion at the museum, I’ve decided to digitalize our entire VHS collection, which includes roughly 200 tapes. Everything in our little “research library”–books, tapes, magazines, newspapers–was donated over the past 20 years or so, and what a hodge-podge it is! Somewhere in there, we’ve actually acquired quite a valuable collection of instructional crafting tapes and almost every documentary, pirated Oprah episode and PBS special, and U.S. Parks Service propaganda tape that relates in any way to our interest group. They’re taking up so much room on our shelves that we can’t actually fit a small-screen TV in there to play any of them. And, oh yeah, Evil Industry People are forcing yet another format change upon us, and VCRs are going the way of the Big Three broadcast networks.

(If you’re thinking VCRs have been out for quite awhile, you’re right. Like many small non-profits, our technology “upgrades” are actually about two generations behind the real world’s current standards.)

To remedy this situation, the executive director bought the worst product in the history of electronic products, one that you should never, never buy: A Magnavox VHS-to-DVD recorder. If you have this product, calmly take it to your roof and throw it off. You’ll get a brief thrill out of seeing it shatter all over your driveway. Trust me, that’s the only pleasure you’ll ever get out of it anyway.

Remember back in the ’80s, when you famously needed a Ph.D. to program a VCR recorder? Well, they don’t give out degrees for what you need to use this sucker. You’d think in this 21st century technology paradise that it would be so simple: You just stick the VHS in , stick a DVD in, press one button, and the thing records at the best possible quality. Techies, this is your fault AGAIN. I’d like to hunt down the one of you that wrote the manual to this thing and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

No, it’s not that easy. There are about 800 steps, many of which are unnecessary and explained badly in the completely counter-intuitive 85-page “manual.” After 15–yes, 15–trials, screw-ups, and re-dos, I think I have the process down. Many of the steps have more of the trappings of magic than technological process. Make sure to put the VHS tape in FIRST, BEFORE you open the DVD drive, and then before the screen turns black again, quickly change the source back to DVD while pressing “play” on the VCR part, and then press “rec. mode” to change it to HQ. Oh, and in between jab the “D.Dubbing” button. If the gods are pleased with you, perhaps it will record. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Oh, you thought you were done? No, no. Once the recording is done, you have to change the title, but you have to press the “down” arrow FIRST, THEN, press the “return button.” And then my favorite part: You have to press “play” on the DVD player, then quickly press “stop” before pressing “setup” so you can finalize the disc under the “disc edit” menu.

Simple, right?

The upside is that once it’s all said and done, we’ll have a concise collection of DVDs that fit into one binder instead of shelves full of bulky tapes. Yes, everyone else in the universe did this three years ago. We’re understaffed. Sue us. I apologize to the world on behalf of the techie community for the hell you all went through three years ago.

And, yes, I am aware that open-source Internet technology exists that will do this. But I’ve chronicled my adventures with open-source programs on this blog before. I don’t want to relive it, but needless to say I don’t think it would have worked much better for me than the Magnavox Hell.

Beyond the negativity, I’m glad we’re doing this. It will make it much easier to upgrade to Internet storage and streaming, a process well underway in in the real world today which should hit the museum about ten years from now. So, stressed-out volunteer of the future, you’re welcome.

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