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Belmont 04-04-2012 08:23 PM

Taking My First Crack at Restoring Video Quality
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Like many, I've wandered into the strange world of video, and video restoration by chance. My main hobby is comical TV show mashups, and I'd gotten fed up with less than legal or high quality methods of obtaining source material, so I've decided to use my own copies of various TV shows that had accumulated in my VHS collection.

Basically, my equipment, well, let's just say it isn't that good. My VCR is a '98-ish Sony SLV-679HF. While it's a fairly nice machine, it's definitely far from suitable for conversion purposes. And then there's my capture device, a MyGica "iGrabber" (AKA "EZgrabber"). Oh my lordy, what a POS. The only good things that I can say about it is that it's cheap ($60), can competently capture video in decent quality (H.264, 640x480 .mov @ 10mb/s, and ignores the Copy Protection signals on VHS. That's about it (it's slim-pickins for Mac-compatible capture devices, it seems). Fwiw, it at least gets the job done. That, combined with my desperate need for an external HD, plus my high-school freshman budget, and...well, yeah. Luckily, I've got Wine and X11 installed on my computer, so I can run Virtualdub and TMPGenc just fine :cool:

So, as a test, I captured some video from an EP speed VHS recorded a few years ago. There wasn't really anything fancy or rare, just a few old CN/Boomerang shows like SWAT Kats and Scooby Doo. I specifically chose a scene where there was a lot of chroma noise, just so I could see if I was getting any results. In addition, I applied a very slight EQ curve and applying about 8 dB of noise reduction in Audacity, although the audio was quite clean for an EP speed VHS (most of my tapes were recorded in HiFi, but a few, such as this tape, were made on an older VCR with the linear audio system). The videos were filtered via Virtualdub, and converted to .mp4 with Handbrake (settings, IIRC, were Dynamic Noise Reduction MMX, Static Noise Reduction, MSU Deblocker, Chroma Noise Reduction, and null transform+resize), and I also masked out the satellite noise on top and the VHS head-switching noise at the bottom, as I've heard that it can save bitrate, as well as neaten up the video.

I've included the original video (converted to MP4, and some of the original noise was lost in the transfer), and the filtered copy, as well as the original audio and the restored audio. To make comparison easier, I've also included a video which shows the two side by side. To me, it appears that some of the contrast was lost via filtering, and a strange framerate problem causes the filtered copy to run just ever so slightly behind the original.

kpmedia 04-05-2012 05:08 AM

For some reason filt.mp4 is at 39.97fps -- 10fps too fast. ;)

There's a number of VirtualDub filters that don't work properly in Wine. Watch for those. :(

In terms of what possible for video, on a scale of 1 to 5:
  1. = Make it unwatchable. This is what many nth generation analog copies-of-copies look like.
  2. = Make it worse. This is what most VHS-to-DVD methods do.
  3. = Average with-flaws quality, with quality remaining true to the original tape played on a consumer VCR.
  4. = Filtered better than average in hardware or software, quite watchable and enjoyable, lots/most noise removed or suppressed.
  5. = All possible noise and flaws removed or suppressed, though it may not be perfection given the source.
... you're at a 4. That's good. :)

To move to a 5, you'd need to use a better chroma NR method (Avisynth), and realign the chroma onto the luma (Avisynth) as it's blurring/offset.
And use the proper framerate, of course -- as well as respect proper interlacing, which I didn't check, but looks fine from a cursory glance.


The audio is still very hissy. You need to take a noiseprint from a "silent" section (noise only), and then use it to cancel out, using the Audacity NR function. Noting that we have near-reference grade speakers here -- so any imperfections are immediately noticeable. Noise can be hidden on cheap computer/TV speakers, because the frequency response is so weak and uneven.

It did get better, but only mildly so.


For your first attempt, that was quite decent work. I'd also suggest that some things were luck in your favor -- the cheap hardware that actually functions without major issues. Is it also safe to assume that this was the original recording VCR being used? That sometimes helps. (In fact, sometimes it's required if the original VCR was misaligned are recorded out-of-spec videotapes.)


As an FYI, Swat Kats was released officially by the Warner Archives. A lot of people are still unaware of the WB releases being burned to DVD (not pressed), available only by mail/online. Several cartoon DVD sets that I had, from dubious low-quality sources, were replaced by the high quality WB official release discs in recent years. I reviewed The Dukes cartoon for SRU about two years ago.

I know you're using these old toons simply as tests, but I wanted to point out the releases. Sometimes it's long-term cheaper and better quality to simply acquire official releases when the show you want is actually available. Save the elbow grease for the rarities not available on DVD or in any official (or even quality unofficial) capacity.

Belmont 04-05-2012 12:23 PM

Well, I'm glad to be at a 4. That's a good start for me. As for the framerate issue, I have no clue what caused it. The original .mov (unfiltered) runs at 29.96 (dropped just a couple frames because I was stupid and let some other programs run in the background), but virtualdub apparently interpreted it as being ~40fps. I'll hazard a guess and say that the restored audio ran just ever so slightly faster and vdub tried to make the video match up by upping the framerate. Either that, or it's just a wacky bug with that exact framerate. I tried to convert it back to 29.97 in virtualdub, but it only made the video slightly jerkier.

As for the audio, I was trying not to go too overboard on the NR. I used the little silent spots where absolutely nothing happens (like bits between the intro and title card). I'm also using the standard speakers on my Mac, so I'll have to make up for that. When I listen to it via headphones, the hiss is audible, but hard to hear. My brother is a big audiophile, and while in theory I could just hook my stuff up to his surround system, he's one of those people who go nuckin' futz if you so much as lay a finger on it. :( I do notice that there does seem to be some noise registering on the VU meters in audacity, so should I adjust the NR filter to completely make those spots go to 0 dB? I just think that'd be overkill, but I'm not the one with near-reference grade speakers here :P

As for VCR's, the Sony was a VCR I bought at a thrift store for $10. We went through a bunch of VCR's back in the day. I'll try and list 'em out:

*'85-'91-Sony SL-HF400 Super Beta Hifi deck (which we still have)
*'86-'01- 1986 model JVC with linear audio (I don't know the model number. It began eating tapes in 2001 so we junked it).
*'94-'10- JVC HR-J610U with hifi (probably one of my favorite decks). Gave it away to a cousin. IDK if they still have it.
*'94-'11- JVC HR-VP41U w/ linear audio (this is the deck that the SWAT Kats set was made on). Eject system failed, and my older brother ruined it by forcing a tape out :eek:
*'98-'07- JVC HR-VP48U w/ linear audio (the audio quality on this was poor, and some EP tapes sounded like they were being smothered with a pillow, but the picture was nice). Sold it
*'99-'08- Panasonic Hifi. Began eating tapes, and we junked it.
*'99 Panasonic PV-4540 w/ Hifi. Bought it in late January to begin converting my VHS's, but the godawful Hifi tracking and the fact that it nearly ate tapes was too much, so I sold it back to the thrift shop in March, and bought the Sony I'm using now.

Yeah, I know about the DVD release. I'm using my set of SWAT Kats tapes (about 2/3 of the series) to test out filtering techniques. I don't have that many "rarities" on tape, mainly since we junked a bunch in '06. I've got some of the DiC Nintendo-licensed game cartoons (like Captain N & The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, etc.) with their original cover songs intact, some art shows that my late grandmother recorded that'll never see the light of day on DVD simply because of the nature of the program, the original cut of "Jonny's Global Impact", 2001 Kids Choice Awards, and so on. Everything else is just nostalgic, or it's just one or two episodes of a series, not enough to warrant buying the complete series or the season set.

kpmedia 04-05-2012 04:00 PM

Dropped frames isn't the same thing as framerate. If your captured video is 29.96, you have problems. The capture software is bad, and should not be used. You can't fix this when the video is interlaced, which is why your videos were jerky.

Audio sync loss is a direct result of video frames being dropped while corresponding audio samples are kept -- also a sign of junky capture hardware and software, and it should not be used.

There's no way to fix those kinds of errors. The capture tools are essentially butchering your video beyond repair.

Macs actually make for horrible capturing workflows, even with DV hardware. Almost all capturing is based around Windows XP, with earlier/later support falling off. Windows 98-2000 isn't much better to use than Windows Vista-7. A majority of hardware and software is locked to XP, with only marginal support in Vista or 7 (or 98, ME and 2000). Understand that I'm not anti-Mac, as I'm using one right now to dev a website. Great tools for certain workflows, no doubt, but capturing video is unfortunately not one of them. You may have better luck with Bootcamp and a true Windows XP install -- and some new capture hardware (ATI 600 USB cards are suggested).

You've probably seen the VCR suggestions guide:

It sounds like you have a nice mix of videos. What always interests me are the old commercials from the 80s -- especially the toy commercials. Lots of people put old commercials on Youtube, I know, but it's almost always horrible quality.

Belmont 04-05-2012 06:37 PM

I did a little investigation as to how many frames are being dropped, so I used Premiere to capture the same episode again, as Premiere has a counter to show how many frames have been dropped. Apparently, even with the added burden of Premiere running, there weren't any dropped frames for the first act of the episode. However, the commercials were cut out, and as usual, there was a small, 1-2 second blank spot where nothing was recorded. This caused the capture program to display its default lime-green screen (which is used when there is no input), and then the frames began to drop like flies. Then the audio/video came back, and there wasn't any more dropped frames. When there was another commercial cut, I hit the menu button while the bumper was running, and that fixed the problem just fine (well, there weren't any dropped frames).

As for getting a new computer, that's probably out of the question. Boot Camp and an XP install seems more reasonable for me. The possibility of me finding and/or getting any sort of prosumer SVHS deck for converting are laughably thin, especially considering how my parents (my father in particular) are incredibly biased against outdated technologies (which is why half of those VCR's were junked despite only having minor issues), and my low, high-school freshman budget :o However, I do live in a rather wealthy part of the country, so the chances of at least finding some sort of SVHS deck locally for a cheap price is not entirely out of the question ;) I will try and find a decent TBC, to at least slightly improve my setup.

And yeah, for pretty much everything save for certain applications, Mac is pretty useless (when was the last time you ever saw a game released for OS X? :D I'll give you a ring if I find any '80s/'90s commercials. I've got some torrents of a few bootleg cartoon DVD's (6 hours of NBC cartoons from 1989, 10 episodes of Video Power, 8 eps. of Denver the Last Dinosaur, etc.), many of which have old commercials on 'em. As expected, the quality is below poor on many of them (esp. for the NBC cartoons, which appear to come from a 3rd/4th gen. EP tape with mono audio. Yeck!), but once I have my tape conversion stuff done and this filtering stuff down solid, I'll give filtering them a try. As for my own stuff, there isn't much from before the mid-90s, and sadly, the DiC cartoons don't have any commercials :(

kpmedia 04-05-2012 06:52 PM

Yeah, Macs are outstanding computers for high-end video editing (and ONLY the editing -- nothing before/after), photo editing, print/web design, and overall DAM (digital asset management). But Mac lives in a bubble, a universe all to itself. The world is flat. If you try to use a workflow that's not specifically blessed, endorsed or optimized by Apple, you fall off the edge.

Macs do better with photography, because OS X handles RAM and thumbnails better than Windows. That's the main reason I have Mac hardware. But when it comes to video workflows, having a Mac is like running a race with your shoelaces tied together. You might get there, but it'll be rough, and you might fall on your face a few times.

It's unlikely you'll find a high-end S-VHS VCR, even in wealthy areas. Those are niche pro/hobby tools, and most owners will know enough to sell them on video sites or eBay. The only time I've seen a quality S-VHS go for less is when the owner died, and his/her next of kin was an idiot. "Well, shucks, that there's just a VCR. It's only worth $25, hyuck, I tell you what." The best price I've ever gotten was around $75 for a SR-V10U on eBay about 18 months ago. That was an insane situation that's unlikely to ever repeat itself. Some studio was having a fire sale on their gear, $75 BIN.

Bootcamp + XP SP2 would be a good next move. Then you can run Avisynth, in addition to getting better capturing options.

Belmont 04-08-2012 09:58 PM

The Mac bubble is especially apparent when it comes to games :D

I've seen SVHS decks pop up occasionally at yard sales (considering that I don't really go to yard sales that often, the odds are even lower), but they're the normal kind that likely don't have any built-in goodies like DNR and TBC. I do know that picture control options are fairly standard across JVC VCR's (the low-end HR-VP48U had several picture modes that I've seen on high-end machines. "Normal", "Auto", "Edit", "Sharp", etc.). However, as 99% of my tapes are in very good condition (no major timebase errors like flagging or wiggling, and dropouts are on tapes that were crap to begin with) and thusly track pretty well (only two or three tapes out of about sixty have any major tracking errors), I'd guess that really, the main benefit I'd get from a normal SVHS would be the S-Video dot-crawl removal and the better tape handling.

I'll try to save the money for a nice SVHS deck like one of the ones on that list (I see that there's a Panasonic AG-1980 on Amazon going for $250, only missing the remote, which I heard is only useful for resetting the timecode for VCR-VCR editing projects), and a copy of XP SP2. Of course, convincing my parents that these are necessary is yet another matter.

lordsmurf 04-08-2012 10:10 PM


Originally Posted by Belmont (Post 20332)
only missing the remote, which I heard is only useful for resetting the timecode for VCR-VCR editing projects

There's also a reset button on the front of the deck, though it's not as obvious as the one on the remote. The remote is completely unnecessary. I keep mine in a drawer, and pretty much never use it.

Here's an HR-S9900U for $67 on eBay, with just under 2 days left on the bidding:
It's easily worth $250+, but there's always a chance to snag it for less.

In fact, here's another auction where it's $277 with 4 days left:
And the BIN price is $400. Same model: JVC HR-S9900

This person must be huffing paint:
$600 BIN on JVC HR-S9911U. It didn't even cost that much when new from B&H. (Street price about $475+ shipping.)

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