Digitizing VHS with the Hauppauge Colossus


So my primary reason for purchasing the Hauppauge Colossus was to digitize a small VCR library.   Some purchased movie titles others non-professional and non-purchasable.    It seems my wife’s Dad bought almost every Disney movie on VCR during the limited release cycle.   Since my 4yr old isn’t going to complain about simulated surround vs TrueHD, I figured capturing the upscaled image after it’s piped through my receiver’s video processor would be good enough for her.    Of course, little did I know I’d end up spending more money than the recently released BDs would cost me through the Disney Movie Club, but that’s beside the point right?! 

I started out with a Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro thinking I was simply going to run the HDMI out from my SC-07 into the capture card and be done.   Blackmagic clearly states that it does not decode HDCP and can only handle an unencrypted video stream.   But I convinced myself: why should that matter for VHS output. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that the SC-07 was indeed encrypting everything coming out so the capture card puked on the HDMI input.     No worries:  The Blackmagic card came with a crazy 11 input/output breakout cable.  But still after much painful testing using component, composite and svideo connections, it simply wouldn’t sync on the output from the SC-O7.   I even purchased a DiMax Grex on the off chance that the whole problem was Macrovision copy protection.  

So I finally when the Colossus was released I sold the Blackmagic card on Amazon and was able to purchase the Colossus with the proceeds!   For digitizing commercial VHS, the Colossus is a much better way to go since the MPEG-4 encoding is pretty much what I want.   That said, I still ran into a number of headaches.

First off, I still wanted to take advantage of the SC-07 Faroudja video processor.   To do that, I needed to capture the HDMI output which is HDCP encrypted.   So I started eyeing the HDFury on Amazon to convert the HDMI back to component video.    Literally, during the week I was trying to decide whether I needed to spend $200 on this device, Amazon pulled it off the site.   It seems there are some legal issues surrounding this device.   But for some reason, you can still purchase this no name version for less than $50.   Well, it doesn’t have all the slick features of the HDFury, but I figured for $43, I could give it a try and return it if it didn’t work.

So I have to say, I’m quite happy with the purchase.   Not only does it convert the video to component, but it also splits the HDMI audio off into optical S/PDIF, which feeds right into the Colossus.   I have yet to test if the SC-07 audio enhancements will be passed through as well, but that seems kinda of silly, since I’d rather choose those at playback time and keep the original stereo track in the digitized recording.  Note this device does have some quirks.   The video is shifted to the left by about 16 pixels.   Clipping this off during post processing is pretty trivial and it doesn’t appear to happen in all cases.    For HD quality, it’s probably worth investing in the HDFury.

My other score during this process was finding a barely used JVC HR-S9500U on Craigslist for $100.    (Currently going for $399 on EBay with NO remote)  This old maid actually has an internal 4MB framebuffer on to which the video is digitized before being sent out the S-Video port, futher reducing jitter and interlace artifacts.    Once it’s sent through the Faroudja, you have a pretty decent 720p picture when you consider the original source is 333×480.

So the connection sequence is s-video and stereo outputs from the VCR into the receiver, HDMI (zone 2) output from the receiver to the HDMI converter and then component + optical S/PDIF from the converter to the Colossus. 

Unfortunately, even with the latest Colossus driver version 29263 I’m still seeing audio synchronization problems if I attempt to record in the mp4 container, but the TS and M2TS containers don’t experience this problem, so I ended up using M2TS via a recommendation on AVSForum.   Unfortunately, I found the ShowBiz software itself unusable for editing purposes and all the containers created by the ArcSoft ShowBiz/Colossus combination were unreadable in Avidemux and Handbrake.   One solution I found to this was WinFF, which is simply a GUI wrapper around a stable version ffmpeg.   But the pain here was I had to decode and re-encode the entire video stream, just so I could edit it.   Not only is that time consuming, but it defeats the whole purpose of having a hardware MP4 encoder.

Finally, after some more digging around AVS and Avidemux forums, I found that there was a known problem in the h.264 (mpeg 4) processing in the 2.5 version of Avidemux and that 2.6 beta builds were available.   Your mileage may vary with the latest 32 vs 64 bit builds.  I ended up using a 32 bit build from 9/22 since the 64 bit version was crashing on me, but much newer builds are available now.  This solved the problem allowing me to edit the M2TS output created by the ancient version of ShowBiz that comes with the Colossus.

Just a note, I also tried to used VirtualDub to capture with the Colossus, but it seems that VirtualDub doesn’t see the mp4 processing done on the card, and doesn’t give you the option to capture in that format.   There seems to be some discussion on who is and isn’t implementing DirectShow drivers correctly, but all I can tell you is it doesn’t work.

For my next post, I’ll explain how I was able to use the same setup to record Flash video via the Colossus and why you would want to do such a thing.

  • Awesome post. Especially

    Awesome post. Especially since I’m getting ready to tackle a similar project (digitize old hi-8 home movies). I’m just curious, why go through the receiver instead of connecting the VCR straight into the Colossus? Do the results differ greatly by processing it through the receiver first?

    • The short answer is for the

      The short answer is for the fun of it.   The receiver has all this realtime video processing power which I never use, so it seemed like a cool application.   If you’re going to capture raw video from the VCR, and you have the CPU and wall clock time, then you can probably achieve a higher quality end product by doing your video processing and filtering after the capture.   But given I don’t have piles of extra time or CPU power, the realtime deinterlace to progressive conversion of the receiver does a good enough job, especially since the results is being immediately compressed to mp4 by the Colossus.   Decoding the mp4, filtering and re-encoding just isn’t worth the trouble at that point.

  • What a timely article. 

    What a timely article.  However, your process seems a bit too involved for the quality you’ll get from a VHS transfer. You could have probably bought used DVDs of every Disney title for what you spent on all of the hardware.

    I’ve spent the past week transferring about 27 years of home movies on 8mm and Hi8 cassettes using my Sony Digital 8 camcorder.  I still have a batch of older S-VHS tapes to transfer using my JVC HR-S9600U (this is probably the model you saw on ebay for $399). I had to buy a new Firewire card because my old one caused the image to pixelate badly and also caused my PC to spit out a blue screen and crash.  The new card has worked flawlessly. Not a bad buy for only $8 with free shipping on ebay.

    I’ve got a Dazzle capture device that I picked up on Woot or one of those deal websites years ago that I’ve never used so I thought I’d give it a go with the VHS transfers.  I had thought about running the audio and video from the VCR through my Digital 8 camcorder, but the A/V cable only handles composite video and not S-video like the Dazzle.

    I’m using Pinnacle Studio 15 to capture the video.  It recognizes the camcorder via Firewire as well as the Dazzle connected via USB.  I just click on the Capture button in the Import window and it operates the camcorder transport remotely from my desktop.  The video and audio are displayed in the monitor window while it’s being captured.  Both interfaces digitize the audio and video and the software is converting it to mpeg2 so I can easily author the clips to DVD.  I can also edit the video in Pinnacle Studio, but I also own a copy of VideoReDo which will likely be used for that task.  I’ve got about 45 tapes transferred so far with a couple dozen left to go.  I’ve got a lot more vacation to take between now and the end of the year so it looks like I’ll be doing a lot of editing and DVD authoring.

  • Raw video capture is the way

    Raw video capture is the way to go for the best quality in the end, especially since you can try numerous filters on the original content to see what works best.    As to your other point, I actually wrote another post explaining how to buy Disney BD’s for $12 each so financial efficiency is definitely not one of the goals here.  🙂

  • Why would you use mp4 instead

    Why would you use mp4 instead of DV capture? DV delivers much better results and mp4 is not editing friendly. Also, video signal needs to be stabilize with dedicated device, unless VCR has already built one. However in most cases VCR’s do poor job (pro equipment is required)

  • AFAIK, the Colossus only does

    AFAIK, the Colossus only does MP4, not raw DV.   Did you see my other responses?   If the final goal is DVD, then MP4 is a complete waste of time, but if the goal is simply have a digital copy in your library, and you’re overly concerned with post processing, then it’s very fast to just clip off the beginning and ends of the recording, and then copy the remaining stream to a new container.   Typically 5-10 minutes for an hour of video rather than having to read the raw data encode the entire stream.