Digital Photography Review

How to Transfer Digital 8 tapes to a Computer (with Pics)

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If you have some Digital8 tapes that you’d like to transfer to your computer and you would like to do it yourself then we can show you step by step how to do it. If these steps aren’t for you then consider searching for a video transfer service to do it for you, just realize this can get costly and there’s always a chance of your tapes getting lost.

Find a Working Digital8 Camcorder

You’ll need a working Digital 8 camcorder to transfer your video tapes. Chances are you are looking for a Sony Digital 8 Handycam as that was by far the most popular Digital8 Camcorder on the market, and the brand that made the Digital8 platform so popular.

If you don’t have working camcorder I suggest reading our complete list of Digital8 camcorders with Hi8 playback capability That article will show you the various camcorder models and where to buy them. If you have any Hi8 tapes that you also want to convert then I strongly suggest you pick a Digital 8 camcorder with Hi8 playback capability, because you can use these same steps outline below to transfer your Hi8 and Video8 tapes as well.

Also don’t be afraid to ask friends or family if they may have a Digital8 camcorder tucked away in their attic that you can borrow, or even help them transfer some of their tapes.

Test Playback on your Camcorder

If you do own a Digital 8 camcorder but haven’t tried using it in awhile the first step would be to make sure your camcorder still works. The batteries may no longer work but you shouldn’t be using those anyways.

Make sure you find the AC adapter and plug it into the camcorder and confirm it powers up. You should never trust a battery during video transfer, so its a must to have a work AC power adapter.

To test playback functionality I recommend either a blank tape (with no valuable memories) or your “least favorite” tape, reason is camcorders can eat tapes just like VCRs do

If the tape plays back ok on the screen, or you can record a quick test video then you are ready to move onto the next step.

Determine if your computer has a firewire port or if you can add one

The ideal way to transfer Digital 8 video is by connecting your camcorder to your computer via firewire. This is the only way to get the pure digital full 720×480 resolution off your digital 8 tapes and onto your computer.

Every Digital 8 and Mini DV camcorder comes with a firewire port, you also need a firewire port on your computer in order transfer video without quality loss.

If you’ve never heard of firewire I discuss in great detail what is a firewire card is for PC desktop and laptops, and if you’re a MAC user there’s some info in there for you too.

If you’re computer doesn’t have firewire ports or they can’t be added then next best option is a USB capture device will connect to the analog outputs of your camcorder, which will capture your video but at a lower resolution.

The USB port pictured above is unfortunately not for video transfer from tape, its only for transferring images off the photo cards inserted into the camcorder.

Add a Firewire Card to your Computer

If you can add a firewire card to your computer desktop or laptop then by all means please do, you’ll get the best results this way because you can transfer pure digital video.

  • laptop firewire port
Desktop and Laptop firewire ports

Not only is your video captured in its pure digital format, each clip that you recorded onto the tape will get save as its own individual clip on your card drive, as well as other meta data like the date and time it was recorded. This is because of the digital info that gets store on the tape like start and stop time.

You can also control your camcorder with your computer when connected via firewire. Want to fast forward, rewind, pause? All possible via a firewire connection.

Desktop computers usually aren’t manufactured with firewire ports, but installing a firewire card is simple if you choose the right card (from the link above) and are very affordable.

Older laptops, generally ones with DVD drives tend to have a 4-pin firewire port built in, if not you maybe be able to add a card to your laptop.

One way to check to see if you have a firewire card already or to check if your new firewire card is properly installed go the Device Manager and look for IEEE-1394 Controllers. If you see something like this then your firewire card (also know as IEEE-1394) is installed correctly.

CONS

The only downside to capturing digital video is that it uses more space as there’s more information to get captured. Each 1 hour tape can use about 11 GB of storage on your hard drive. But you can use editing or conversion software to reduce this storage space used after the video has capture.

USB Video Capture Device

Your other option is to transfer via USB video converter device, which takes an analog video signal from camcorders and vcr and converts it to a digital signal on your computer. This is a lower resolution video vs firewire transfer but it may be good enough for you. My thought is you only want to do this once so if you can use firewire but it not these steps should still be fine.

Most Digital 8 camcorders also have analog audio and video outputs. Sometimes they have all of the ports (svideo, yellow, red, white), or some camcorders have a mini 8mm plug that an adapter cable connects to. Originally these outputs were so you could connect your camcorder directly to your TV, but you can use these to transfer video to your computer with the help of a USB video capture device.

There are several USB capture devices on the marker, essentially they come with a USB port on one end to connect to your computer, and then inputs for your analog video and audio plugs. Most will come with software to run that will display on your computer the video being output from your camcorder and then record it to your computer.

Generally these USB capture devices can range anywhere from $15 for bare-bones device that you may need to find some free software that works with it, to more complete systems costing more.

Amazon is probably the best place to find these USB video capture devices, you tend to not find them in retail stores.

Note #1: if you have some VHS tapes and a working VCR you can also connect the same usb capture device to your VCR and transfer those as well, so this can be quite a handy purpose. These video capture devices also work with other analog video tapes like VHS-C, Video8, and Hi8.

Connect your Digital 8 Camcorder to your computer

Firewire Connection

If you did manage to get a firewire port installed in your computer then you still need the proper firewire cable.

If you are connecting a laptop to your camcorder then you most likely need a 4-pin to 4-pin firewire cable.

If you are connecting to a desktop computer then you either need a 6 or 9 pin to 4 pin firewire cable. You’ll need to look at your firewire card to see what supports. With Windows 10 and my new firewire card I’ve found the 9 pin cable to work best. If you don’t have the proper cable then Amazon most likely will.

Analog Connection (USB Video Capture Device)

Once you’ve purchased a USB capture device you need to connect it to your computer and camcorder. The installation steps will vary per device, but generally you’ll plug the device into an empty USB port on your computer and it will either automatically install hardware drivers or ask you for them which should come provided.

At this point there are cables you still may need or hopefully already have:

  • if your camcorder comes with composite output ports (yellow/red/white ports) then you will need a composite video & audio cable. Also purchase an s-video cable if your camcorder and capture card both support it as you’ll get a better picture
  • if your camcorder has a 8mm mini jack then you need an 8mm to composite cable

Once you have the right cable to connect to your camcorder, you’ll connect the other end to your USB capture device.

Confirm Available Hard Drive Space

Regardless of whether you are transferring via firewire or USB capture you will need plenty of room on your hard drive to store your video tapes.

Assume roughly 10GB per tape (although it will be smaller with USB capture devices that will vary per device), then multiply by how many tapes you have.

Example: if you have 10 Digital 8 tapes to transfer then 10 x 10GB per tape means 100GB of storage needed.

If you are finding your computer is low on space then just buy an external USB hard drive and store the video on that, those drives are cheap, plenty fast, and have tons of storage.

On a Windows 10 computer you can tell your hard drive space by typing “file explorer” in the search box then opening that to see the drives on your computer

Capture Your Digital 8 Video

Capture Video with Firewire Video Capture Software

If you were able to get firewire installed on your computer then you’ll also need some video capture software the works well with firewire video capture.

Since just about every Digital 8 camcorder created was manufactured by Sony you can use free Sony PlayMemories Home software to capture your digital video via firewire from either Digital8 or MiniDV camcorders. Download PlayMemories here then install the software.

Inside PlayMemories is a additional Sony software call Picture Motion Browser that lets you transfer your digital video from video tape via firewire.

From inside Picture Motion Browser you can rewind your video and import the entire tape. At time point you can click Import Tape From Beginning and your camcorder will rewind the tape, then play and store each clip on your hard drive.

Once its done then you can go through the clips and delete the ones you don’t want as they will take up space on your hard drive.

Capture Video video from USB Video Capture Software

If you were unable to get a firewire port installed on your computer then the next best thing is to capture video via USB Video Capture Device. It will be a lower-quality video than the digital video on your tapes, but at least your video will now be transferred to your hard drive and no longer degrading on a tape.

Your USB video capture device most likely came with the capture software that integrates with it. If it did not there is free video capture software out there like VirtualDub, which many of the “techies” prefer due to the number of setup options, but might be a bit difficult for a newbie.

Capture your Video

If all goes well and you power up your camcorder and the capture software you should see some sort of blue screen, and then when you hit [PLAY] on your camcorder you will see your video on your computer screen.

Generally the software tells you if it does not detect a signal, which generally means either some sort if issue with the hardware driver of the USB capture device, or something with the cabling or USB connection to your computer.

At this point if your tape is re-wound then you can simply hit record on your software and it should start recording the video to the designated folder, which you most likely can select somewhere in the capture software.

If you get to a point in the video with either long breaks or video you simply don’t want to capture then simply hit [STOP] on the capture software and you will no longer recording video to your hard drive.

You can fast forward or play till you find a clip you like and then simply hit [RECORD] again and it will create an additional file in your video capture folder.

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