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Backing Up MiniDV

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Backing Up Mini DVThe MiniDV tapes are piling up in Murphy’s office. Of course they’re neatly labeled and tucked inside their little boxes. But sometimes Murphy wonders what their shelf life is like. Or how long he’ll have a camera that can play them back.

Instead of loading them onto the G5 and burning disks Murphy opted for a more direct backup. He bought a regular set-top Panasonic DMR-ES15S DVD recorder with a Firewire input. For $120 it was well worth it. When a tape fills up Murphy connects the camera to the recorder which burns a disk in real time. An hour later Murphy has a copy of the tape on DVD. At that point the tape or the DVD can head for the safe deposit box.

Added bonus: Murphy’s Canon Optura 300 records in anamorphic widescreen mode – and the DVD recorder seems to understand. The video doesn’t look warped or stretched during playback.

The benefits are quite apparent:

  • The tape has a backup
  • Instead of an hour to transfer to hard disk and hours to transfer to DVD the whole thing only takes one hour.
  • The computer isn’t tied up with the task.
  • Spending twenty cents to backup a five dollar tape seems sensible.

If those five dollar tapes are starting to add up, this is a way to recycle them. Obviously the DVD version has been compressed, but you can decide what your personal quality requirements are.

Here’s one way to look at it: Once you’ve edited the tape and made your iMovie or FCE masterpiece – which is probably stored in multiple places – how important is it to hold onto that tape? If you know you won’t be revisiting that tape maybe it makes sense to recycle it.

Murphy made the mistake of buying a refurb DVD recorder from Tiger Direct the first time out. It was his first and last purchase from that outfit. Maybe others have had good experiences – but the inconvenient return process isn’t worth the discount. For Murphy.

That machine (Samsung DVD-R120) had more Firewire features than the one Murphy has now, but it doesn’t have good feedback on Amazon. Could be a lemon. For backing up entire tapes the extra features don’t really make a difference.

Murphy is partial to the Samsung and Panasonic recorders that use DVD-RAM disks. For regular television recording the RAM disks are great – they can be recorded and written to over a hundred thousand times according to the specification. The disks cost more, but they last. They’re a great way to free up some room on your TiVo too.

The DVD-RAM disks can even play back and record at the same time, like a TiVo. So you don’t have to wait for a show to stop recording before you can watch it. The RAM disks allow you to edit shows, delete commercials, and split recordings in half so you can delete the part you’ve watched.

There is no guarantee that one DVD-RAM recorder’s disk will play on another machine. But Murphy has found them compatible between two different Samsung models and the Panasonic mentioned above. Samsung and Panasonic are among the few vendors that offer DVD-RAM.

For archiving your tapes Murphy recommends regular DVD-r or DVD+r disks.

If you’re serious about your MiniDV tapes, make sure you lay down time code on them before recording the actual subject matter. That means letting the tape record straight-through without turning the camera off. Then rewind and you’re ready to record proper. If you decide to use your tapes with Final Cut Express some day you won’t get errors about breaks in your time code.

Notes:

Murphy also has a Samsung DVD-R4000 that has never failed in four years of use. But it’s a pretty old model and it doesn’t have a Firewire input. We’re only mentioning it because it seems Samsung and Panasonic know their DVD recorders. The DMR-ES15S mentioned above gets excellent reviews at Amazon.

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