Video-format converter

Our 15-year-old wedding ceremony VHS tape sits in the bottom drawer of my bedside table. The mini DV tape of our first child's birth and baptism lies in the inner door of my secretary desk. And a handful of nameless tapes lay scattered on top of my bureau. This is not the home of an organized memory recorder. But one of my many resolutions for 2007 was to preserve the family's momentous occasions more securely. Last month, it was the family photos, which were moved from the peel and stick photo albums of the past decade into leather scrapbooks. This month, I want to transfer all the home videos onto a more durable medium. I found just the man for the job in Sal Brunetto, owner of Brunetto's Video Services (858-693-4334) in Scripps Ranch. "It was a hobby of mine that turned into a passion," said Brunetto. "When I was working in Okinawa in 1999, there was a TV station that I started to volunteer at to pass time at night, and I loved it."

In 2005, Brunetto opened his own business. "We do everything from as small as an actual tape repair all the way up to a full-blown production, like weddings and commercials. We do audio to CD conversions. A lot of lawyers come with minicassette tapes, and I put those to CD, or I clean them up because often the audio is not the greatest. We do VHS tapes, 8-millimeter tapes, mini DV tapes, and we can transfer them to DVD or VHS, though usually people want DVDs. One of our biggest conversions right now is from the tape, because a lot of their camcorders have died, and nobody wants to pay for a camcorder that is not a new digital camcorder. And we also do 8-millimeter and 16-millimeter film to DVD and VHS."

Are the 8-millimeter film and the 16-millimeter film the grainy, silent home videos you see from the mid-20th century?

"Yes, most of them were," he answered, "though there are a few out there from the mid- to late '70s that did have sound on them. We do those, too, but they take longer. When we do film without sound, we do a digital capture, frame by frame. If the film has sound, we do an analog capture because it has to play with the sound; you can't stop it frame by frame. The bad thing with film is that it is old and brittle, and it starts to crumble away. The projector we use has pressure rollers: a soft spongy roller that feeds the film in, instead of gear motors that guide the film in. So it won't tear up the film. And we use an LED ray, which is cool to the touch, so in the event that the film does stop in the projector, it will not burn. The old-style projector bulb creates a lot of heat. We have done film from all the way back to the '30s. It's pretty amazing."

With technology constantly changing, what do you recommend for customers saving their special-occasion videos?

"There are a couple different ways that we can do it," answered Brunetto. "We can put it straight onto a hard drive, and at that point the customer can always access it and burn it to whatever the new media is at that time. The other way is to put it to DVD. They last for quite a long time."

Brunetto explained why VHS tapes will wear out. "The difference between a DVD and a tape is that a tape actually runs across a tape head when it is played. There is actual physical contact to the tape every time you play it. A DVD has just a laser light that is hitting it. So the tape will actually wear. After 10 to 15 years, it is recommended to look at your videos. They will actually start to fade away. I have seen 20-year-old tapes that are blurry; all the colors have bled together."

Is there anything you can do about the tape once it gets to that point?

"Well we can capture what is there," he said, "and we can sometimes do some color correction, though it is not 100 percent. We can't put back what time has taken away. That's why it is beneficial to look at your tapes and see if they are starting to degrade to the point where you can't watch them."

Brunetto's also offers a photo keepsake service. "We do a lot of photo montages: slides and pictures from special occasions like birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. We also do memorial videos and tribute videos, and they are tearjerkers, the greatest thing around. I love doing them." Each slide, four-by-six or eight-by-seven, is 95 cents plus a set-up fee.

How long does the transfer process take?

"If it is just one tape, it can be done literally within hours. For a rush job, I can usually do a 24-hour turnaround."

"A simple transfer, a preservation-type DVD where you put it in and it just plays from start to finish, is about $20 . The price goes up depending on editing, covers, and the wrapping. For $30 , you will get a DVD with chapter points. For film transfers, there is a setup fee of $20 , the DVD cost of $30 , and then a per-foot charge of 14 cents . The three-inch, 8-millimeter films are basically 50-foot reels, so the per-foot charge comes to about $7 ."

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