VHS to DVD Transfer

by Ron Plachno


VHS to DVD Transfer 

VHS Video to DVD Recording Issues

If recording VHS video of family movies to DVD, it might go smoothly for you without any thought. But here are some possible issues.


As I understand it, the first VHS recorders used a totally separate wide video strip and a single thin strip for monaural (single sound) audio. Since the two were quite separate a good professional VHS unit could record the video and audio at separate times. The audio track was quite thin though and ran along the tape in a linear manner. Without much tape to get good sound, it was not high fidelity, but lacking in high notes (frequencies above about 10,000 Hz) and also could have background noise.

The next VHS recorder versions took the desire for stereo into account. They took the single narrow audio strip and made it even thinner, now into two thinner audio strips, one for left channel and one for right channel audio. This of course did nothing to improve the real audio quality but still did allow stereo and also did allow expensive units to be able to record any of those three tracks separately - since they were in fact separate.

About 1984, I believe, someone at JVC succeeded on getting high fidelity audio into VHS recorders. What they did was to use far more of the tape area for audio than the thin strip. The audio would now wind around the fatter area of the tape giving it more space. I think the audio technically was in the same place as the video occupied, but that the audio was deeper down in the tape at a different modulation frequency and the higher frequency video above it. But the real technical issue is - that with more tape available to record more sound the audio quality went from bad to great. Now the audio had not only stereo, but high frequency response and far better freedom from background noise. In fact the audio was so good that some audiophiles now preferred using VHS videotape for their music instead of audio cassette tape since the VHS had better frequency response and less noise. While this was said to have been done in VHS about 1984 (Betamax earlier), this high fidelity audio option did not appear on most VHS units till perhaps about 1990.


(1) The first type, actually two types, were the ones with linear thin audio strips down the tape that were quite independent from the video. The first was single track monaural audio and the later ones were two track so they could do left and right channel stereo.
(2) The second type was the hi-fi stereo VHS Recorder which used the fatter part of the tape to bury a much higher quality stereo audio sound. Since more tape was available to record on, the quality was far higher than the first choice.
(3) Some VHS recorders now offered both. This was more expensive and required more "tape heads" since the heads had to look in two places for audio. How did it work? When it would record it would record audio in two places on purpose - the large hi-fi area and then also both on the thin linear audio strips that were originally used. In this manner the VHS tape could be played back by both the old and the new type VHS recorders. For Playback, these units were even more clever. They would first look for the high quality hi-fi audio and if they found that on the VHS tape they would play that. If they did not find the audio there, they would then look for the less good thin audio strips for audio to playback. These units were smart but had additional heads, and could be more expensive. But they eliminate "much thought".


One VHS studio recorded my Mother in Law's films for us on two videotapes. What that person used clearly was the more original version of VHS recorder using two thin strips for stereo audio - but it was not the hi-fi version. But the person must have had a more expensive recorder since he could record video and either audio channel separately as the first version VHS recorders allowed. And so likely he first converted the films onto the VHS video. Then watching the films, he added in one audio track for background music which he tried to match up to the video showing at the time. Let us say that he put that on the left channel, although I am not certain which of the two he used. He then would leave the right audio channel open for recording later for someone to say whom the people were. And of course that was never used.


In first trying to go VHS to DVD, I found that my recent model Magnavox recorder only would do hi-fi stereo. Perhaps hard to blame it since VHS had been hi-fi for over 20 years now and had left the earlier system behind. Another VHS recorder we had in the house was also Magnavox and had the same issue. I began to call VHS to DVD recording studios but I found only 1 in 4 knew what I was talking about - that VHS audio had changed the way it does things. One made the mistake of telling me that even though they had no idea what I was saying that "one must use good stuff!". And that means what? ha ha. Well, we looked around and found a $6 old VHS recorder at a Church resale store. Not only did it do the old system, but whoever had it took great care of it. While I did clean the tape heads, there was not much dirt to clean. This unit had a fine previous owner.

It likely was best we did the VHS to DVD transfer ourselves since we know how it was recorded and that only one channel was recorded in audio leaving the other open. And so what I did was to use a "splitter" to route the same audio signal from the single channel now to BOTH the right and left channels of the DVD giving the illusion of stereo - even though of course the sounds in both speakers would be the same. But at least, it would put music in both speakers.


I would first of all not suggest going backwards to 1982 thinking. Once the movie is in DVD format it is digital and future recordings and copying of it will no longer degrade the video quality. But going back and forth between digital and analog would degrade the quality. Also there are better tools today.

In doing a DVD or Blu Ray Composition (you could put both DVDs on one Blu Ray disc) it is a two step process. The first step is called "authoring" or "composing" - getting the video and audio into the correct format and the second step is the "burning" or "recording" of the DVD or Blu Ray disc itself. Right now I have only limited authoring software - enough to do short MP4 type items for music video or short 7 minute films like one I did for a family member. But better software exists that can let you combine audio and video together and choose how to combine that audio and video.

At least for my music videos, I have the choice of using the audio (also) from the short video films I am adding or just the music track I am adding. Of course I shut off the audio from the video films since I just want the music audio playing. But if someone wanted to redo this video with saying "whom is whom" I would think authoring software that allowed new audio to be combined with the digital DVD music audio would be the way to go. One would either have to work to synchronize the two a bit, just as I had to do in my music videos. Or perhaps one could simply connect a microphone to their computer and do it while playing back the video portions. It depends on the software used. And of course one could get more complex and record the audio separately into a multi track recorder of several voices and then mix down and choose what voices for the final item to synchronize with the video. If this all sounds complex, it can be. However, there is I believe a way to add audio now if one has the right software. ..and the other equipment... and the patience for it. But no, I in no way suggest going back to 1982 technology. The new stuff is far better quality - even if it takes thought - and in fact, is even new to me.

Hope this helps

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