I have a few old VHS tapes that are in PAL/SECAM format, and I live in Canada. I was wondering what would be the best way to back-up/play these tapes?
Hunt for a PAL/Secam VHS player? (Could be expensive) Or ask for a service that does it for you?
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The answer to this question will depend on your priorities to some extent — what sort of quality are you looking for in the transfer, how important the content of the tapes are to you / the world, what sort of budget you have, how much time you want to spend on the project — as well as other variables such as what condition are the tapes are in, and whether you want to play them in domestic equipment and risk destroying them if something goes wrong (e.g. if they've got sticky-shed they could end up being chewed).
That said, you could probably pick up a VHS player for nothing if you ask and look around enough — ask on social media, or get your friends to ask their parents, there are still plenty out there. You won't have much control over the quality of the machine, and so you probably won't get one with such things as a timebase corrector that you get on professional machines (or later model high quality domestic machines). An old VHS machine from someone's lounge room may also not be in the best condition, so the output may be less than optimal. However, if you aren't concerned with getting the absolute best possible transfer, and are happy if it just plays the tapes so you can see a picture this is probably the way to go.
Once you've got a machine that plays them you should digitise them on the first viewing — if they are fragile they will lose quality every time they are played. You'll need a video capture card and software to run it. There is a huge range from cheap and cheerful USB gadgets that cost less than $20 on ebay to broadcast level cards that cost a couple of thousand. Once again, your priorities and budget determine what you need.
If the tapes are really valuable to you you could investigate getting an agency to transfer them. If you are concerned that the tapes might be in poor condition and they are irreplaceable you might want to find someone who deals with archival transfers. You could talk to the state film archives for your region if they exist, they may have advice for you. The Australian National Film and Sound Archive have a good page of advice here: http://www.nfsa.gov.au/preservation/care/caring-for-video/
You can buy a VHS Player, it will be much cheaper than an agency and there are plenty of PAL/SECAM units on ebay, most if not all will ship to Canada. Some are brand new. Check for the voltage - you might need a 220V to 120V transformer. Any analog TV card should be able to convert the VCR output to USB - AFAIK they all support PAL, NTSC and SECAM. The whole thing should cost less than $100 CAD.