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I'm pretty new at this... I captured my analog 8mm video tapes in .avi, planning to edit them with Premier. But I need to make space in my external hard drive. I have the Adobe Encoder, but I'm afraid I will loose quality in my videos if I use it! Also, I see it will change my captured videos from .avi to .mp4. My idea is to keep these external hard drives as a "master".
Should I use the Encoder to save space, or to get extra hard drives and leave it that way? Thanks a lot!!!

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There isn't a perfect answer to this problem. AVI and MP4 are just container's for video streams, so without knowing more about the actual streams in the containers, it is impossible to tell how much quality loss there would be, but as a general rule of thumb, it isn't all that atypical for AVI to use far less efficient video compression algorithms than MP4 on average. That doesn't always hold true, but it often is.

That said, what you plan to do with the files also matters. If these are a master intended for being a high quality copy you can come back and WATCH, then running a high quality h.264 encoding isn't such a bad thing. You should likely be able to find a setting that will make the files quite a bit smaller and still be pretty high quality to watch.

The problem with this, however, is that while the compression may work well for watching the video, it doesn't work so well for editing and re-encoding the video later. If you compress too much, the video will look great to a viewer now, but may look like crap after editing and re-encoding a final video later. If you plan to edit the videos later, you will need to stick to a much higher file size and higher quality encoding. This could still be h.264, or any of a number of other formats, but it would need to be a much larger file (such as all I frame h.264).

Personally, I've always elected to keep my masters at their highest available capture resolution and fairly minimally compressed, but I also am in a financial situation where buying large amounts of external storage is not a problem. (I personally have around 20 TB worth of storage, of which about 14TB is full, though some of that is providing redundancy. That's primarily for video projects, photo projects and Steam downloads.)

Ultimately, however, it is a personal decision about the trade offs between cost and quality. Every option has it's costs and only you can decide which costs are best for you. I'd encourage you to buy more storage if you want to do editing with the videos later, but if you are only worried about playback, I'd recommend encoding it down to a quality that you find high enough by trial and error. (Also, be sure to check the videos as the level of activity in a video will greatly impact the video quality unless you are using a quality based encoder.)

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    I would also encourage you to buy more storage space and encode at the best possible quality. You never know when those videos have a large potential value. What you do know is that storage space will be cheaper in the future. – Jason Conrad Nov 10 '14 at 13:29
  • If it's video you might want to watch in 30 years, don't skimp on quality if you're going to archive in a lossy format. Turn up the settings on your encoder so it spends more CPU time to get better quality for the same filesize. And use higher quality than what just barely looks ok on your current monitor. Presumably displays will be even bigger in the future. e.g. x264 with -preset veryslow -crf 16 might be a good choice for archiving (in the very-widely-used h.264 which you'll probably be able to decode on computers forever, even long after the patents expire.) – Peter Cordes Jan 15 '15 at 9:38
  • Hi, A.J., Jason and Peter! I'm still Transferring my 8 mm videos to .avi I've used A LOT of space (about 10 TB) and still have another 100 hours to transfer!! Today I was wondering if it's worth to spend all that money, because I ran out of hard drives, I have to buy some more!! I googled, and... came back to my 2014 question, and to your answers!! They helped me make my decision then, and now, you help me again!!! I guess I'll wait for Black Friday and get maybe another 10 TB !!!! My 20 years of family videos are worth every penny!! Thanks again guys!!! And again, and again!! – Doris Oct 26 '15 at 16:52
  • @Doris - how many hours did you get in to that 10TB? Using something like the DV codec for SD video should yield about 4.7 minute per GB or roughly 50 to 55 hours per TB if my memory serves. (It's been a while since I did anything in SD resolution.) If you are using much more than that for storage, you may want to transcode to DV which is still perfectly editable. – AJ Henderson Oct 26 '15 at 17:26

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