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I work for a small library. We have a collection of VHS tapes that we have recorded to DVD using a Magnavox VHS HQ DVD recorder. They came in as .ogg, They came in a a set of files including some .VOB which I can play by changing the file extension to .mp4. How much quality have I lost in this conversion? Is there a way to convert VHS to digital with higher fidelity?

The collection has historical value, so there is some debate on whether we need to save the original VHS tapes as opposed to just keeping the videos in electronic format (on a server that is backed up nightly).

Edit: A bit of new information:

I used GSpot to determine the codec (I don't have admin/install rights on my computer, so that is the only program I could use), and it says mpeg2. Does any of this information help with the original question?

Edit2: I'm such a dumb dumb. I had all these people trying to figure out why my files were .OGG. They weren't. They were .VOB. What was on the DVDs is exactly what Perter Cordes described below. Now that I've sent people on a wild goose chase...

  • the codec of the video stream in the ogg file is mpeg2? weird. You can install mediainfo in your ~/bin directory. – Peter Cordes Apr 14 '15 at 2:49
  • It's a work Windows 7 workstation ;) – abalter Apr 14 '15 at 21:41
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    IDK if there's a "portable" version of mediainfo. It's pretty simple. BTW, I was assuming Linux since only Free software is going to default to .ogg for anything. – Peter Cordes Apr 15 '15 at 0:01
  • If peter's answer helped you to solve your issue, it's friendly to upvote :) – p2or Apr 15 '15 at 11:02
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The best way to conserve the VHS's would be to scan each frame in at the highest quality possible and export to a video file, this would be a very long process and would require some expensive kit or a professional service. If they are historical value and you want the best it would be worth spending the money and getting it done by a pro but that cost is your choice in the end but it can be expensive as I looked into it myself.

VHS quality is the best it would ever be without spending huge amounts of time and money as above. what your getting on your DVD is going to be as the content going in.

I have done this myself a few times from VHS and no matter what settings I chose and no matter how big the bit rate, file size, up-scaling options etc the quality was always the same, the phrase "rubbish in, rubbish out" comes to mind.

  • I'm not sure what to make of your last comment."Rubbish in, rubbish out" clearly means that the quality isn't going to improve with the digitization. But in your experience, how much and what do you think you lost the most? What sort of detail? Audio or visual? – abalter Apr 9 '15 at 16:01
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    VHS is not a great format to start with, it was made for consumers to use and not professionals, I didn't loose quality but didn't gain any either it looks pretty much the same as the original but it wont get any worse with tape stretching, mold, fungus etc. depending on the quality of your tapes can make a difference in the quality you get out, tapes with stretch, mold etc will not look as good as brand new tape never been used before – Adam Mann Pro Apr 9 '15 at 16:12
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One big loss in converting VHS to DVD arises from going through the composite domain. Both VHS and MPEG2 use a separated chroma paradigm -- on the VHS tape are two signals, essentially luma and bandwidth-limited chroma. MPEG2 (the standard for DVD) also uses separate luma and chroma. But the standard output from a VHS player combines the signals in a way that means the MPEG2 encoder must do a rather imperfect job of unmixing them again.

One solution, such as it is, would be to use a VHS player that has separate luma and chroma outputs, called S-Video, and an encoder that can work directly with S-Video components.

I'm not saying you'll get beautiful results, because nothing about VHS is beautiful to begin with. But you would be sure of getting a conversion that doesn't suffer unnecessary losses.

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They came in as .ogg?? I thought you converted to dvd? Are you talking about then ripping the DVD video with HandBrake or something?

Also, you're doing something wrong, or at least have your file extension -> "open with" settings screwed up if renaming a .ogg to a .mp4 is necessary. Maybe it opens with a different player then, and only the player associated with .mp4 is actually working on your computer? (.ogm is the usual extension for ogg video; Maybe you have .ogg associated with an audio-only player?)

Anyway, you're doing several steps here:

  1. capture a digital version of the video signal from your VCR
  2. encode that to MPEG2 dvd
  3. transcode the lossy MPEG2 to something a video codec that can go in a .ogg container. edit (apparently just remux, not xcode, so no quality loss at this step after all).

The achievable quality of step 1 is fairly limited, since the representation stored on the magnetic VHS tapes is of limited quality.

Because of the limited quality of the source, you're probably not losing much quality from having a lossy intermediate codec. Obviously it would be better to go directly from capture -> final, with only lossless steps in between (e.g. capture card in a computer, capture to a lossless file. Or encode in realtime to the final format.)

EDIT: turns out you're just remuxing the dvd-video into an ogg container, not transcoding. I didn't think ogm could hold mpeg2, but I guess it can, and for some reason you're using some software that defaults to muxing into an ogg container.

You ARE probably losing quality if your final output is going into an ogg container, though. It's probably Theora video, which is obsolete (and has a much worse quality vs. bitrate tradeoff than VP8 or x264).

A player like VLC or mpv will let you see the codec details of your video. Or just use mediainfo.

Unless you're archiving in a lossless format (50x the filesize of visually-indistinguishable lossy), you might want to apply some filtering to clean up the video from the VHS tapes before encoding. Depending on the condition of the tapes, they might have significant chroma noise that a denoise filter could help with. This will require some playing around.

edit: if you're going to stick with a capture device that doesn't give access to the digital video except after it encodes to MPEG2 (and makes a trivial menu to make a complete DVD-VIDEO), xcoding the MPEG2 to lossless would only be useful if you wanted to apply some filtering. Never xcode a lossy codec to lossless. You'll increase the filesize by a LOT. The lossy encode is the most compact representation of that exact decoded bitstream, so just save it instead of a lossless representation of decoding the lossy encode.

So, if you can get deinterlace/denoise filtering to work well enough "on-the-fly" in realtime, then you can use dvd images straight from the Magnavox as your archival masters. In 10 or 20 years, there might be smarter filters that will do a better job, so it's best to keep the source, as long as it's in a state that's usable in realtime.

If you can't get the necessary filtering to run well on-the-fly on at least your library computers, then you should probably deinterlace and maybe even denoise now, and make either lossless h.264, FFv1, or something lossy. mcdeint is slow, but does a good job. (don't just use yadif for master copies.) You'd need to decide whether to archive at 720x480p60, or throw away half the temporal resolution and deinterlace 720x480i60 -> 720x480p30. The decision is somewhat content-dependent, but if you're using a codec with inter-prediction (P and B frames), like h.264, then higher fps means frames are more similar to each other, so it takes much less than twice as much space to compress twice the FPS at the same quality.

http://linux.goeszen.com/digitising-vhs-tapes-on-linux.html has some stuff to say about it.

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2091899 suggests hqdn3d as a denoise filter. That sounds right; I would have tried that one first over any of ffmpeg's other postprocessing filters, if I was trying to do this myself.

end of edit

You'll want to read up on video codecs to make a decision on which one to use for archival storage. VP8 and VP9 are free from patent royalties. h.264 and h.265 aren't, but patents don't live forever, and h.264 is the current playable-by-everything standard for video. You'll want to check up on the patent royalty situation, but as long as you aren't selling access to h.264 video, you shouldn't owe any fees. The best h.264 encoder in the world is x264, which is free and open source, and very mature and well optimized.

h.265 is next-gen, and x265 is still very slow, but can get better quality at the same bitrates as x264. Google's VP9 encoder is somewhat better than x264 for quality-per-bitrate, but takes at least 10x longer to encode. VP8 is not bad, but I think it's a bit worse quality-per-bitrate (aka rate-distortion) compared to x264. (both with near-maxed CPU-usage settings).

If you want library patrons to play files on their own devices right now, I'd suggest going with h.264 because of the massive compatibility advantage over any other format. If we're only talking about playback on library-owned computers, I might play around with VP9.

For future-proofing, every player for the next 50 years at least will support h.264, I'd guess. I think H.264 for video will be like mp3 for audio: people will still be using it LONG after it's obsolete, because it's the first format that doesn't completely suck, and that has widespread player support for everything from streaming to files to videoconferencing.

edit: keeping the original VHS is of limited value. They will continue to degrade, but digital files won't. If you can afford the space in temp-controlled storage, it won't HURT to keep them, but the sooner you get them capped with high-quality analog equipment the better. I'd keep them for at least a couple years after doing the initial digital conversion, in case you discover a problem or error with the digital setup and need to redo it!

  • Thanks for the detailed response. A lot of great information there. I edited the question with a bit of additional info. It's interesting what you are saying about the ogg files. Someone else did the transfer on a Magnavox ZV427MG9. The manual does not say which codec it uses, but Gspot says mpeg2. I was asked to copy playable files off the DVDs, and what I found when opening them were ogg files that would not play. But if I changed the file extension to mp4, they played. I must have gotten that trick from somewhere on the interwebs. – abalter Apr 13 '15 at 15:57
  • You probably didn't just copy the files from the DVD, then. If you had, you'd have a directory of files like VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_0.VOB, VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB, etc. Or a .iso image containing those files. If the copy went fast, then maybe the software you used remuxed the MPEG2 video stream into a .ogg container. If it was slow, and used 100% CPU, then it transcoded from MPEG2 to something that it stored in a .ogg. – Peter Cordes Apr 14 '15 at 2:36
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    Your Magnavox device almost certainly makes standard DVDs. copy DVDs by mounting them like you would for a data DVD, and copying the VIDEO_TS directory. Many players (like mpv or vlc) can play dvd images from a directory instead of a disk. e.g. mpv dvd:// --dvd-device=/path/to/VIDEO_TS. – Peter Cordes Apr 14 '15 at 2:42
  • ffmpeg itself can't read a "title" from a dvd image, so you have to use tccat or something to dump the main title to a single mpeg2 stream, usually in a .ts container. (or pipe it directly into ffmpeg) Google up how to dvd->mkv or dvd->mp4 with ffmpeg, or GUI frontends for doing what's needed. – Peter Cordes Apr 14 '15 at 2:55
  • Or just archive the DVD images, if they're not too big. MPEG2 is not an efficient codec (quality per bitrate), and hardware encoders usually don't come close to what a good software encoder could do with the same source data. However, since your VHS cap setup only caps in MPEG2, that's the highest quality digital version of your video that you have access to. Anything you transcode the DVD to will have another generation of loss. (It might look better, though, if you use some filters to deinterlace and/or clean up VHS chroma noise.) – Peter Cordes Apr 14 '15 at 2:58

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