You’ve spend most of your young adult life recording every single episode of Seinfeld and Sex in the City – now you wish you’d waited until recordable DVDs had come out. Or your grandmother left you boxes of pictures and even old reel-to-reel movies, all crumbling and disintegrating, and you’d love to be able to copy them to a CD or a DVD. Or you want to take those family memories and share a copy with each of your eight daughters. How do you get your information and images from the closets and boxes of life into new electronic media?
First you have to understand the limitations. There’s only so much one can do with crumbling tapes and disintegrating images. A picture that’s faded – is never going to be in its original color. You can only capture what’s there right now. And if your tapes pop and scratch, you’ll have a recording on DVD or CD that pops and scratches too. Also, there’s a difference between analog media, like tapes, and digital media; when you transfer from one to the other, you’re going to see some quality issues.
Second, you have to understand your equipment needs. You will have to have a good computer, first and foremost, and preferably one that has lots of hard drive space so you can store your images, sounds, and moving images until they can be transferred to a more appropriate medium. When you purchase your computer, make sure it’s a multimedia computer. This ensures that it will have the right hookups for tape transferal. It will need a video hookup (that’s the three plugs in red, yellow, and white) to transfer VCR data, and you’ll need to purchase a scanner for those pictures. A DVD burner will be of the utmost necessity, preferably one that also burns standard CDs. Remote backup of your data is a good idea as well; for that, you should have a good high-speed hookup for your computer.
Now go out and study copyright law. You need to understand that some of what you’re doing may be construed as illegal one day, judging by the way court cases are going. The FBI warning that comes up at the beginning of every recorded movie warning against public showings or illegal copying is a very serious thing these days. When you copy copyright-protected materials, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are making them for your personal use only. Don’t do what some are doing, and copy the game, CD, or DVD before selling it secondhand; this is blatantly illegal and at some point it’s going to catch up with them.
Another piece of hardware may be necessary if you’re copying video games for your kids. It’s a good idea to make these copies for pre-teen children because of the damage they can do to CDs and DVDs; but you will need a special plug-in adapter for your video game console. In addition, you should be ready for a steep learning curve. It’s much harder to copy disk-based games than it is to copy movies or music. Remember, games are designed by programmers; the best copyblock programs are going to be found here, not on a movie. You will have to purchase special software and learn it in order to circumvent the copy blocks.
When you do have all the necessary equipment and knowledge, it should not be hard to copy anything you want into any medium, provided that medium has enough room. And you can do some really neat things as you copy them. For instance, you can edit out all the commercials in that 7-year run of Seinfeld. It may take you months, but ultimately you’ll have a perfect copy of all the episodes. Or maybe you want to turn your old pictures into a slide show, with sound, text, and voiceovers. With a good presentation program, you can do that. Disks like this make excellent anniversary presents, Christmas greetings, or engagement gifts to welcome new members of the family.
You can take old family movies and give them soundtracks if you like; or you can print all your grandma’s old pictures onto T-shirts to give away at the holidays. Really, once you have digitized your data and images, you have no limitations to what you can do to it except for your own imagination.
In the last decade, electronic media, computing advances, and the Internet have transformed our lives. They will continue transforming them for the foreseeable future. And media will also continue changing. If you make digitized copies of your memories, your media, and your information, you can ensure that they are preserved for the future. And by learning about the advances coming down the pike, you can prepare for future developments; for instance, smell technology is available for web designers these days. Wouldn’t it be neat to be able to record the smell of Mom’s apple pie, or of your favorite perfume, and play it back someday in the future? Smell, after all, is the sense most closely related to memory.
But for now, use your skills with electronic media copying to enhance your current media collection, preserve memories for the future, and show people how much they mean to you by giving them gifts of memories and love. Technology is just another tool that you can use to make your life and the lives of those you love better. Use it.
Phil Edwards is a writer and author living in London and writer for copy and Backup Discs and Home Improvement and DIY .