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The Mossberg Solution

From VHS to DVD, Without the Hassle Of Do-It-Yourself
YesVideo Service Converts Old Tapes for Technophobes; Where to End the 'Scene'


By Walter S. Mossberg

01.28.04
You (and everyone else) never got around to putting the family's ancient Super 8 films on VHS, but now you can transfer videos, films, slides and prints to CDs or DVDs using the YesVideo service, available at Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other large retailers. Transferring videotape to a two-hour DVD costs $25; other prices may vary.

In past columns, I've reviewed do-it-yourself products that convert videotape into DVD on a home computer, or that scan slides or prints into computer files that can then be burned onto DVD. These methods are fine if you're tech-savvy enough to use them, or if you want to make multiple copies cheaply. But for the average person, doing it yourself can be a complicated, labor-intensive and arduous process.

So my assistant Katie Boehret and I have been testing a service that does these conversions for you. For about $25, a company called YesVideo will convert a videotape of up to two hours to DVD in two to three weeks. To use YesVideo, you can buy a mail-in kit online from sites listed at www.yesvideo.com for $24.99 to $34.99. Or, you can get the same mailer for around $24.99 at Fry's Electronics, Circuit City or CompUSA. The service can convert a variety of tapes, from full-size VHS to small camcorder cassettes; each kit holds one tape. Or, you can pay around $24.99 to send your videotape out from a Kodak or Fuji counter at participating stores, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart.

YesVideo also offers to transfer old movie footage, 35 millimeter slides and even prints to DVD if you send your media from participating Walgreens stores. In February, CVS and Rite Aid will also offer this film, slide and print service, in addition to the existing videotape conversions. Converting your movies and slides into DVDs is more expensive than converting videotape. Movie film costs $49.99 for the first 250 feet and each additional foot costs 10 cents. Eighty slides or prints can be converted for $49.99 and each additional slide or print costs 40 cents. Additional DVD copies of your converted videotape cost $14.99.

Obviously, if you have a lot of old media, this can run into money. But it's hard to put a value on preserving family memories. And what you get for your money is pretty impressive.

For our test, Katie dug up two old VHS tapes -- each contained 10-year-old footage -- and sent them off to YesVideo. Both had sentimental value for her family. One tape had footage from a family vacation in the Caribbean; the other was a tape of a Christmas pageant in which Katie performed.

Each newly created DVD came back in a plastic case covered with numbered thumbnail photos of each scene. If you'd like, you can choose one of seven types of music to play in the background, but since Katie's tapes both included talking, we opted not to add music.

When I last reviewed YesVideo, in 2001, I wasn't crazy about the automated choices of scene breaks. But the company's scene technology has improved. The scene breaks that YesVideo created on both of Katie's DVDs seemed to be placed at suitable moments in the footage, for the most part. We easily skimmed through each scene to watch specific parts, just like you can do with a professional DVD.

In the vacation video, one scene ended when the camera stopped filming Katie's family swimming at the beach and another scene began as the camera started panning across the hotel lobby. In the Christmas pageant video, new scenes began and ended as the stage lights turned on and off and sometimes when the onstage action changed.

The footage from both recordings had degraded on the VHS tapes and it looked almost exactly the same on the DVDs, only very slightly degraded by the transfer process. YesVideo doesn't yet have the technology to edit your videos, though movie reels can be spliced to cut out spaces where blank scenes exist for no extra charge.

At the end of each DVD, YesVideo inserts three 60-second music videos created from what the company's computers determine to be the "best" scenes. Classical, jazz and rock music play along with each clip as a compilation of scenes flashes across the screen. At one point in Katie's Christmas pageant video, rock music seemed inappropriate, but the other clips were fun to watch. If you had a somber video of something like a funeral, you'd probably find this added music offensive.

Since we had no movie film to test, YesVideo also sent us a DVD containing footage from a 23-year-old Super8 millimeter movie reel. The images still looked slightly sped up and a bit choppy, like they would if watched on an old projector, but watching them on a TV screen instead of a projector was much more convenient. Plus, skipping through the organized scenes was a cinch.

In addition to ordering a DVD, you can also ask YesVideo to create YesPix, which is a supplemental CD of up to 200 digital photos selected by the computer from your video footage, for $9.99.

If you've considered converting your media onto DVD, YesVideo is a convenient and efficient way to get the job done.

--With reporting by Katherine Boehret

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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