video encoding&cleaning

New camcorder tape procedures

Here are the latest hints on saving your analog gems with maximum efficiency. The procedures are intended to make the results look good on a HD flatscreen.  They are therefore different from the old ones featured earlier on this site. Moreover, they are designed to work as quick as possible, and to utilize the latest developments in video compressing.
Note that in my opinion, formats like DVD and BluRay have become entirely obsolete for personal use. They serve as a crutchet for ancient commercial distribution schemes. I am fed up with filling my shelves with tons of plastic junk and spending my time serving as a disk jockey. Media stuff has to go to a harddisk or a NAS server, nice and compact quickly accessible. 
As almost any devices now can play AVC (h.264) at ease, and the free encoders produce perfect quality files twice as compact as mpeg2, the examples here feature AVC file encoding only.

Capturing analog sources
There is a wide selection of product promising to capture analog video.the quality of the results, however, is questionable most of the time. Cheap solutions have minimal hardware and rely on the computing power of modern CPUs. The problem here is the quality of the codecs used. Generally, good quality capturing needs some dedicated hardware support. Again one can't be sure about the quality of hardware encoders as well. High quality capturing, and this is the general conclusion if you follow discussion on this, doesn't come cheap.
You can save that money with a digital camcorder that has an analog-to-DV function built in (most better Digital8 models have this). The camcorder has a basic image stabilizer, not exactly like professional solutions, but quite sufficient. If you combine this with the now free ScenalyzerLive capturing software, you can be sure to get very close to the best capturing quality possible.
The camcorder may directly play standard as well as Hi8 tapes, and also digitize external signals from a VHS recorder.
The digital output comes by Firewire, so you may need to add a cheap interface card to your computer, if it does not have this already. 
The captured files are easily processed with VirtualDub. This freeware application has a host of built-in and third-party filters, especially for cleaning, that aren't even remotely matched by any commercial software.

Format considerations
Both camcorder and VHS source are interlaced. With devices now easily  capable of playing progressive video. this is obsolete and you may want to get rid of it. Especially for valuable camcorder tapes, converting to progressive (with doubling the frame rate, of course, to retain the motion resolution) is the way to go. Old VHS TV recordings may not be demanding such effort. 
The original 720x576 (0r 720x480) format will profit from upscaling (after deinterlacing), if a good filter such as Lanczos is used. Lanczos delivers about the crispest results. There are apps pretending to generate extra resolution from a comparison of subsequent images. My tests with several camcorder sources, however, revealed no benefit whatsoever, in spite of the very long processing time. So the methos presented here rely on classical rescaling.
An appropriate target format is 1280x720, as there is no further benefit for resolution if we go to 1920x1080. The source material however is 4:3 in most cases (recording 16:9 back then meant just clipping the format at top and bottom, sacrificing resolution, which hardly anybody would reasonably want to do).
This means we would rather have to use 960x720, which is not a standard. Or, we do what TV stations do, adding black borders to the left and right. The black areas require almost no bandwidth, so the file sizes do not increase; so this appears reasonable.
4:3 on a current 16:9 screen, however, looks quite slim, more like 5:4. This is an optical illusion caused by the wide screen frame, and it makes old material look ugly. I suggest to stretch the format a bit. up to 10% stretching goes almost unnoticed, and in my opinion makes the video look a lot better on a wide screen. I suggest scaling to 1040x720 plus black sides. This is of course a matter of personal preferences.
Encoding to progressive HD results in a perfect source for further processing, such as cutting, editing, or de-shaking. Contrary to former recommendations, here we do the cleaning, scaling and deinterlacing first, on the raw sources. Encoding with high bit rates delivers new master quality sources.

Really specific for analog tape recordings are jitter (timing errors from scan line to scan line, resulting on jagged vertical edges), chroma noise (color flicker)and chroma shift (vertical shift by 2 lines is inherent to all analog color systems, and horizontal color displacements can be caused by bad signal processing.
Other characteristics are lower horizontal than vertical resolution, luma noise, and deviations of color, brightness and contrast.
For more options on cleaning Hi8 or SVHS sources, you may  the high quality filter page.
But in most cases, the following setting are more than OK. And, these are optimized for viewing on HD screens.

The Hi8 and standard 8mm settings shown here have been optimized by direct comparison of materials recorded with two according camcorders at the same locations, in order to look a equal as possible (except for the Hi8 still being a bit more crisp, of course).

Hi8 filter set
Hi8 needs fewer filters than standard 8mm, so we show them first. These are the settings files for VirtualDub:

Click here to download this VirtualDub script.

Detail discussion:

The VHS filter corrects the inevitable vertical chroma displacement. The horizontal shift value may vary with the camcorder model used.
We use a moderate chroma noise reduction filter, against the common color flickering known from analog recordings.
The temporal smoother is a strong and effective tool against chroma and luma noise, as well as moiré. At strength 4, I could not detect any unwanted side effects (like ghosting), with whatsoever kinds of sources.
We add 22% color saturation (my perhaps be a matter of taste).
Next we deinterlace to double frame rate (50 or 60 Hz), using the best deinterlacer available.
Resizing is done by Lanczos3, resulting in a crisp 1040x720.
Sharpening a bit more is done with VirtualDub's internal filter. Proved to be best in this case.
Resizing (here simply used to add black borders) to 1280x720.
Temporal smoother is used again, to get rid of possible pixel noise caused by the sharpening.

Standard 8mm filter set

Click here to download this VirtualDub script.

Differences against the Hi8 filters:

Xsharpen filter added, to get sharper object edges.
HSV filter adds a lot more color (necessary here to get the same color saturation as with the Hi8 device).

I cannot present Digital8 settings directly aligned with the above. Yet, you may start from the settings in the old 'cleaning' page, and probably tweak them a bit.

Using the scripts
VirtualDub can directly pass its output ('frame serving') to other applications. We use it to generate input for the x264 encoder.
Select an output file name and an encoding profile.
Profiles can be defined like above. This one is for BluRay compatible high bitrate files (use it for mastering quality).

When done, press "quick encode". A command prompt window appears, showing the encoding progress.

The files we get this way are about 2/3 the size of the original DV. Given the much better compressing ability of h264, this is really huge, indicating this is almost lossless.

We compressed video only, so we have to merge the video file with the audio from the original DV. This audio is uncompressed PCM, but this does not matter as the video is huge anyway. The merging is done with MKVtoolnix and is done according to the procedure described here.

For more compact results, you may recode the files as described here, or you may already use x264 with a Q setting of up to 25 (higher value here means lower quality), and/or use it with a simple profile like
--preset fast --deblock -1:-1 --psy-rd 1.00:0.10

The largest quality issue with older camcorder footage is shaking images. There is a very good deshaker by Gunnar Thalin, that may do magic to old tele shots. I have written a special page on this and the results are excellent so far concerning still and tele shots, the most annoying parts if not stabilized.

I've not yet found a universal setting to use in entire tapes without manual interference (and the settings there are for SD, have to be adapted for HD). The HD delivered with the above procedures should nevertheless be an ideal input for the deshaker, and with a current computer one can afford to deshake entire tapes. With an editing software like Magix Video deluxe, e.g., the original and deshaked files can be treated as two camera channels and the better variety can be selected scene by scene.

VHS tv recordings

Many old tv recordings are not as good or worth the effort as above. There is a simple but very efficient bulk filter set quite adequate for these cases:
Use the VHS filter and then just the temporal smoother, set to 5. Leave the interlacing as is. This results in pretty clean pictures. Note that these 2 filters are the absolutely necessary minimum, and only VirtualDub has them.
Use an x264 profile like this:

--level 4.1 --no-cabac --open-gop --slices 4 --vbv-bufsize 30000 --vbv-maxrate 40000 --tff  --sar 16:15 

This allows the interlacing and has the proper aspect ratio setting for 4:3 PAL format. More about these settings here.

More complicated VHS filter sets here.

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