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Restoration hardware: Saving tapes, records

Worried about your favorite tapes deteriorating? TODAY Tech editor Paul Hochman explains how to transfer your old CDs, VHS tapes & vinyl records to DVDs and lots of other new formats.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Revenge is sweet. Even if it takes a long time.

When the VCR (and the VHS tape that plays on it) was introduced in 1976 by the JVC company, the VCR almost immediately eclipsed sales of Sony’s admittedly higher-quality BetaMax machine.

And the VCR tidal wave hit the beach. Within a couple of years, the BetaMax was a consumer afterthought and the VCR had taken over. Millions of Sony’s research dollars were down the drain.

Flash-forward to 2007: What goes around is finally coming around — the DVD, which was co-invented by Sony and Philips Electronics, is crushing the VHS tape. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, DVD player sales surpassed VHS player sales in 2003, and this year, only about 2 million VHS players will be sold, while more than 5 million DVD players were sold in the first quarter of 2007 alone. The DVD is here to stay. At least for a while.

But here’s the kicker: All of your VHS tapes — and Hi8 tapes and MiniDV tapes and everything else tapes — are still around. Pretty soon, your tapes will start to deteriorate. Or there won’t be a player in your house to play them. And admit it: You store some of your most important moments in the attic. 

And the same goes for CDs and your old vinyl records — not only does vinyl warp if you leave it in a hot place or under pressure for any time (making it impossible to play), there’s almost no way to hear your old music — some of it out of print — on your car stereo or in your iPod.

We’ve found two amazing solutions.

One-touch tape rescue
First, let’s consider your VHS, S-VHS, Hi8, SVHS-C,  8mm, MiniDV and Beta tapes: They’re all in danger. 

Yes, if you leave them in an inhospitable environment (trunks, attics, basements, anywhere within 100 yards of a toddler), they won’t be playable, and all of those important memories will be lost.

To save them, Sony has created the DVDirect, pronounced “DVD Direct.” And the thing does what the name implies: Without using a PC, you can transfer all of your tapes to a DVD, in real time. It’s as simple as pressing a single button.

Just plug the cables that came with your old camcorder or VHS player into the DVDirect, and the DVDirect will record onto a DVD.

One great benefit: You can immediately watch the movies you just transferred onto a DVD, on your TV — just put your newly-minted DVD on your home DVD player and hit “Play.” No crazy cables, and no messing with the TV’s inscrutable menu.

And Sony also made it possible to get those movies off lots of other formats, too. The DVDirect has slots for SD cards, Compact Flash cards (you see those in tapeless camcorders and some digital still cameras), a USB slot and (of course) Sony’s memory stick format. Again, just slide the card in, press a button, and the DVDirect records the contents of the card onto a DVD.

Pricey? Not really. It’s $229. You’ll be able to find it at in August.

And one last bonus for an admittedly small (but lucky) group: if you happen to have one of Sony's most recent ultra-high-def camcorders, which records in Sony's own high-def format (called AVCHD, for you wonks out there), the DVDirect will make you a present: a DVD disc that you can play back in your Blu-ray player. Assuming you have a Blu-Ray player. OK, so we're talking about 10 people, but how cool is appearing on your own television in high def!

Speaking from experience, some professional advice: Have everybody wear lots of makeup.

One-touch vinyl/cassette rescue
Since we’re in the mood to make things incredibly easy, let’s talk about rescuing all of your old records and cassettes. They’re in danger, too. Heat, dust, moisture, and toddlers can all contribute to their destruction. And some records were recorded many years ago and were never converted by the record company into CD format.

The Crosley company, which has been around for decades, makes two record player/recorders that easily and quickly record all of your old discs and tapes directly to a CD. Or, if you prefer, directly to your computer. Voilá! You are your own record publisher.

The Songwriter CR248 ($399) records directly to the CD — just put your old record or tape in the player, press the “CD Record” button, and the Songwriter will burn you a CD, in real time. If you want to record the CD with separate tracks (so you can fast-forward or rewind, just like on a standard CD), press the “Split Track” button in between songs.

The Songwriter CR249 is less expensive ($149) than the 248 above, because there is no CD player in it. Instead, Crosley put a USB cable on the back of the 249 player which, with the included software, lets you record your records and tapes directly to the computer.

And both record players work with all standard vinyl formats — 33 1/3, 45 and 78 rpm records, as well as 7”, 10” and 12” discs.

Time to pull out that old “Jerry and the Coconuts” album and rock out.