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Save those memories before the tapes rot.
Like a lot of people, I have dozens of old videotapes stored in boxes and on shelves in my house. Video of my children being born, their first Christmas, first time on a bike, first soccer game, and hours of dance recitals and school programs.
We can’t watch them. The technology from the 90s and 2000s is obsolete. We haven’t had a VCR connected to a TV in more than 10 years and many of those videotapes were shot with Hi-8 and mini-DV cameras.
In the past few months, I’ve had several people ask if it’s possible to take old videotapes and put them on a computer so they can be enjoyed again. You can send them to a company and have them converted to a video file but those companies often charge $50-$100 per tape. I purchased a device that is supposed to make the process easy and it sounded like a cool weekend DIY project.
Dazzle is a device by Pinnacle Studios, a company that has made non-linear editing tools for years. It comes in an odd-shaped box and the device itself is sort-of teardrop shape. On one end is a USB to plug into a computer and the box itself has inputs for RCA cables, the cables that we connected to a VCR, yellow for video and red/white for audio.
I connected the cables to an old VCR to convert VHS tapes. The included software, which I installed on the computer before connecting the VCR, automatically ‘saw’ the device and I was prompted to “Start Capture”. I hit play on the VCR and the video began to record on the computer. Once it was finished I could do some basic editing using the software. I was then able to export the video to an MP2 file with video and audio. The quality of the footage was about what you’d expect from a 25-year-old VHS tape, but it was good.
Converting videotapes shot on Hi8 or mini-DV tapes is a bit trickier. In order to play the videos, you must have a player, which will almost always be a camera. Fortunately, I kept my old Hi8 and mini-DV cameras.
Neither camera has RCA outputs so I had to dig up those old cables that allowed me to watch the videos 20 years ago. Once I connected the camera to the Dazzle device, capturing them to my computer was easy.
MP2 files can be viewed on a computer or you can sometimes export them to an SD card or thumb drive to watch on a larger screen. I uploaded the videos to YouTube so we have even more choices to watch them using a Roku, Firestick or Chromecast player.
It is a long process. Converting an hour-long videotape takes an hour to capture and then more time to do the actual converting. Pinnacle included easy-to-follow directions and the software prompts you at nearly every step.
The Dazzle device works well, the problem I ran into was connecting it to old camcorders. The VCR that had been gathering dust in a storage room ate one of the videotapes. All in all, I found the actual process of converting the videos simple and it’s a lot better than spending hundreds of dollars converting them all.
Now my family will be able to sit and watch those old tapes and remember the good old days of Halloweens and Christmas’ past.
My daughter is off to college this week and while she’s making a long list of things she needs (or wants) for her apartment, I thought I should look at some gadgets that parents need for a little peace of mind.
If your child or student doesn’t know much about car maintenance, or even if they do, an on-board diagnostic tool will send mom or dad information about how their car is performing and why a check engine light turns on.
There are several scanners and code readers available but I prefer one that plugs into the OBD2 port and can stay plugged in at all times. The FIXD code reader is one of the more popular models along with the OBD LinkMX+, they’ll both read and diagnose the light on multiple family vehicles. It connects to an app which mom or dad can have on their phone. If something goes wrong with the car or if it’s time for an oil change, the app sends a notification.
These tools can pay for themselves with just one clearing of a check engine light.
The idea of my daughter driving back and forth to school is a bit unnerving and I wonder what she’d do if her car battery dies in the middle of nowhere or even at a convenience store. She can keep jumper cables in the trunk but she’ll still have to flag down a stranger asking for help. So I picked up a portable battery jump starter. These devices are about the size of a smartphone and will keep a charge for months. If there’s a dead battery, just attach the clips the same as you would do with a pair of cables, and turn the key. They’ll also charge a phone with the USB ports.
Not all students will need to lock something up for protection but a combination or padlock might come in handy for gym lockers or valuables in their apartment. The Tapplock one+ lock uses a fingerprint to unlock. Simply use the free app with the lock and set up your fingerprint. When it’s time to unlock it, just place your finger on the face of the Tapplock and it releases the lock.
Students can use their smartphones for a flashlight but I strongly recommend everyone have a real flashlight for walks across campus or just to keep in the glovebox. Anker’s Bolder flashlight is rechargeable so the batteries are always fresh (if they remember to charge it from time to time). It’s the brightest flashlight I’ve ever used and it has emergency flashers too.
The Bolder flashlight is small enough to toss in a backpack or a purse or even a jacket pocket.
These are not the type of gadgets students will think about before leaving for school but they can give mom and dad a little peace of mind.
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