Jan-Lukas Else

Thoughts of an IT expert

Preserving Memories: My Adventure with Digital8 Tapes and FireWire

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Short link: https://b.jlel.se/s/72c
AI generated summary: I delved into archiving old Digital8 and Hi8 videotapes onto my PC using a FireWire connection. I faced issues with modern PC compatibility and video transfer, but resolved them using an old desktop PC and dvgrab. Now, I'm considering storage and video format options for the gigabytes of footage I've saved. It's been a nostalgic journey, reminiscent of both my childhood and outdated technology.

The last few days, I dived into a new topic in my spare time: Archiving videos from old Hi8 and Digital8 videotapes onto my hard drive.

My dad used to shoot plenty of videos, mostly of me or of steam trains (which might explain my love for train rides) with his Sony DCR-TRV320E when I was a small kid.

Now there are a lot of those tapes, but given that it’s now already hard to preserve them for the future, I had to find a solution to get the videos from the tapes to my PC.

After some research (Sony actually still hosts the manual on their website) and getting familiar with the camcorder, I found out that it has a FireWire (or i.LINK) port. But because FireWire is an old and obsolete protocol, no modern PC has FireWire support out of the box anymore.

That’s the reason I grabbed my old desktop PC (with its sluggish dual-core Intel Pentium), which I’ve already attempted to sell before (unsuccessfully), which is the only device in my household that supports adding PCIe cards. I bought a cheap FireWire PCIe card, plugged it into the computer, installed an SSD and Ubuntu 23.04 (I already had that ISO downloaded). With that, I was able to connect to the camcorder and use dvgrab to transfer the videos.

dvgrab -showstatus -rewind -autosplit -size 0 -format raw

One of the problems I encountered during this process was that while dvgrab detected the camera, the capturing somehow didn’t transfer any frames and also on the camcorder display I saw two big gray bars. I managed to solve this by going to an unwritten space on one of the tapes and recording for a few seconds. After that, the transfer worked mostly flawlessly also with the other tapes.

Now, after copying just six tapes, I already have many gigabytes of videos. One tape seems to sometimes be 17 gigs, but it’s only one and a half hours of video.

I have to think about a solution where to store all these videos. Normally, I would upload them to OneDrive and save a copy on Scaleway cold storage. But given that there are also some videos showing me as a small kid naked on the beach, I fear that the account might get blocked by some algorithms. Should I just buy two or three external storage drives and keep the files physical? Or should I use Rclone and upload encrypted files?

And what about the format? Should I keep the DV files or transcode them into something else? I tried Handbrake and FFmpeg, but lossless transcoding is even slower than the transfer at 1x speed from the camera to my PC. And the file size is also not smaller. Does anyone have any tips to share?

In general, it feels like time traveling, seeing small Jan-Lukas exploring the world. Things far before my memory. But also the hardware and the whole process of transferring the videos are like traveling to the past. Many forum entries or posts I found about this topic are already more than twenty years old, and the latest dvgrab version is from 2009.

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