How To Bring VHS-C Footage into Your HD Production Using Adobe Premiere and Neatvideo

Almost inevitably there will come a time when you would like to use video footage you shot on those small VHS-C tapes, in your current HD production.  Currently we are working on a production called KRONOBOT CHRONICLES, and this takes place over 30 years using actual footage filmed over 30 years, which is why we needed to do this, aiming for imported footage of an agreeable quality.

The challenges faced here are:

*  The screen ratio from video of as little as 15 years ago is basically without deviation, 4:3.  Today, we work in widescreen, 16:9.

*  The picture resolution.  VHS-C resolution may be quite low, especially if your camera wasn’t very high band.  And if you shot in NTSC, it’s even worse than if you shot in PAL, for NTSC’s resolution is even lower.  If you blow up the picture to fit into a modern 16:9 wide screen, the picture may look sickening.

Yet, necessity is the mother of invention.  For our production, KRONOBOT CHRONICLES, we simply HAD to make do with the footage we had, and combine it with modern HD footage.

So, how to do this on affordable equipment?  Well, the challenge is easier overcome than may be at first thought.  Let’s have a look at how we’re doing it:

We are using the following software:

1.  Adobe Premiere Pro

2.  Neatvideo (click here for more info if you don’t have Neatvideo)

And the following hardware:

1.  MiniDV player/recorder deck.  You can probably use your camera here too, or if you can capture an S-VHS signal with your computer directly, even better.

2.  Computer with Adobe Premiere Pro and Neatvideo installed.

3.  S-VHS or VHS VCR, that can play back at decent quality.  The cleaner the VCR’s heads, the better the quality and the less scratchy your VHS-C footage will be.  A 6-heads machine of course is better, so you can get a stereo signal out and probably a better picture too.  If it has an S-VHS output, it’s also better than just an RCA output.

4.  Your footage and one of those VHS adapters, so you can load your small VHS-C tapes into that and play it back with your VCR.  If you don’t have a VHS-C to VHS adapter, perhaps your VHS-C camera can play back your tapes.  Your VHS-C camera is still working, right?  Good, cuz mine hasn’t worked for decades.

Allright, now that you have all the ingredients, let’s get the process started:

1.  Connect your VHS-C playback player to your MiniDV device, and record all your VHS-C footage onto a MiniDV or DVCAM tape.  Be alert and look at the transfer while it is going on.  If you see scratches appear and disappear, and they usually do appear on the parts of footage that you would like to use, sometimes it helps to just rewind and try again.  It could be just dust on your VHS-C tapes, that move during playback and may not always appear in the same place if you just try again, or perhaps 3 times.

2.  Once you have a quality transfer on a MiniDV or DVCAM tape, some of the stress is off, thankfully.  Just make very sure that it is as good a quality as you can get, because we are now going to work off of this digitized footage, and your final picture’s quality depends a lot on this original transfer from VHS-C to Digital.

3.  Capture the digital footage to your computer, using Adobe Premiere Pro. Now you have the video files on your computer.

4.  Using these video files, edit your movie in Adobe Premiere Pro.

VHS-C video imported into HD project. The small resolution causes a small picture. It needs to be scaled up at least 253%

It probably depends on your resolution, whether PAL or NTSC (we worked in PAL), but I find that you need to scale your picture to 253 %, then move it slightly to the right or the left, depending on where the black side stripes are that are always present on VHS material when you can see the entire picture on computer.  On a TV screen, these black sides were of course always hidden by the physical black border on your TV’s tube.  On a computer screen, they are visible and need to be scaled away and hidden through moving the picture.

Remember also that since you are using a 4×3 picture, you can scroll the picture up or down when blown up to 16:9, to make sure heads aren’t cut off or that you get the best angle for the current shot.

VHS-C image scaled up to 253% and moved so black sides aren’t visible.

Close-ups will look much better than wide angle shots with lots of small little details in it.  The small details will be lost, and will only remind of the quality differences between your VHS-C footage and your HD footage, if you’re combining them. So you may want to select your shots carefully.

5.  When done editing your scene, right click on each and every clip, and select “Field Options”.  YOU MUST TURN “FLICKER REMOVAL” ON FOR EACH AND EVERY SHOT, otherwise your final video will come out ghastly and horrible!

6.  The picture may look very blurred, so select the Sharpen filter and add it to every clip.  Set it as much as 96.  Don’t worry about all the video noise that is suddenly visible now that you have turned on Sharpening.  We’ll fix that in a bit.

7.  Now select Neatvideo under your filters, and put it onto every clip one by one and adjust the settings.  DO NOT COPY AND PASTE THE SAME NEATVIDEO SETTINGS ONTO EVERY CLIP.  This may cause the first frame of every clip to look darkened or black.  Every shot needs its own Neatvideo settings especially for that clip.

Things to note when adjusting your neatvideo settings:

Neatvideo truly is a mind-boggling technology, and you will get a different result from everything you do subtley different.

For what we’re doing here, I would say the smaller area you select the better, and your Chrominance slider need not be much more than 35 – 45 %, otherwise things start looking waxy.  But do play around with the selection area;  select small, big, this part of the image, that part of the image, and you’ll find out that every time you get a completely different resultant picture.

Here is the same picture, but with different areas and different sized areas selected for the Neatvideo “profile”:

Allrighty, that’s it really.  Now you can export your movie and import it into your grading software to get your final look.  And your VHS-C footage shouldn’t look too bad, now being part of a 16×9 HD movie.  Good enough to broadcast online anyway.

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