VHS

#905: Growing Up With Video

“Live videos > fake live videos any day of the week.” Harrison the Mad Metal Man

RECORD STORE TALES #905:  Growing Up With Video

Music videos of the 80s could, in theory, be broken down into three major categories:

  1. Conceptual videos.  Sometimes with a storyline intercut.  Occasionally the musicians got to act.  Other examples have no musicians at all.  (Iron Maiden’s “Can I Play With Madness”.)  Conceptual were majority of music videos — usually combining the conceptual part with the band performing on some kind of stage.  Not to be confused with…
  2. Stage videos.  Or, as Harrison calls then, “fake live videos”. Lipsynching the hits, on a stage, sometimes in front of a crowd, with no conceptual content.  Sometimes these were simply live concert videos dubbed over with the album tracks.  “Thrills in the Night” by Kiss, for example.
  3. True live videos.  Many Van Halen videos we grew up with, from “Unchained” to “Best of Both Worlds”, were live in concert — audio and video both.  In some cases you could not buy these live tracks on any kind of release.

Of course there are more categories and sub-categories, just less significant.  Some videos are entirely animated, which is more common today.  We also have something new — the lyric video.

I can remember the sixth grade.  Mrs. Peterson’s class.  Van Halen’s 1984 was out and Quiet Riot were burning up the charts.  These were pretty much the only bands I heard of.  I hadn’t seen the music videos and I didn’t even know what Quiet Riot looked like.  The only pictures I had ever seen of Quiet Riot were the buttons that the masked guy is wearing on his vest on the front cover of the cassette version of Metal Health.  I squinted hard, but the Kevin DuBrow I imagined on that button looked nothing like the real deal.

The teacher was getting us started on simple surveys.  To make it fun, she took a survey of all the most popular music in the class.  Each kid got to name one favourite artist.  I named Quiet Riot, and Kevin Kirby named Van Halen.  Michael Jackson and Duran Duran were the top two.

As the discussion proceeded, many of the kids mentioned that they liked the music videos.  Michael Jackson was at his peak, and he was the pioneer of the modern music video.  Other artists like Culture Club made an impact with their image, which came across best on video.  The teacher was curious about all this, so the class explained what a music video was.  Something dawned on the teacher, and she exclaimed, “So to be a music star today, you not only have to be able to sing, but you also have to be able to act!

No, and yes.  You didn’t have to “act” per se, but you did have to be able to present yourself and play to a camera.  David Lee Roth was not an according-to-Hoyle actor.  Some would say he’s also not a singer, but he is a master at playing for the camera.  Staring deep into the lens, gazing with the come-hither look, just so.  Doing easily what other rock stars couldn’t, or didn’t want to.

So yes Mrs. Peterson, in a sense, to be a star in 1984, you had to be able to “act”.  Video didn’t kill the radio star but it sure took a bite out of them.

Kids used to catch the videos on various cable shows.  There was one called The Great Record Album Collection on WUTV that I sometimes caught before dinner.  The Canadian movie channels (Superchannel, First Choice) would run music videos in the dead minutes after the credits rolled, to the top off the hour.  Until MuchMusic came along, we Canadian kids didn’t have a one-stop-shop to watch all our music videos.  Fortunately, having MuchMusic coincided with getting our first VCR.

Once we became seasoned in the way of the music video, we developed clear favourites.  12 and 13 year olds didn’t have a lot of money.  We also had never attended a concert.  Therefore, live videos with music that wasn’t what we were getting on the album were rarely favourites.  We preferred the “fake live”, as Harrison the Mad Metal Man calls them.  Then our immature ears could hear the songs clearly, and that would help us decide if were going to spend our nickles on a new tape.

Best of all though were the conceptual videos.  Some were not good (just ask Billy Squier), but some really captured our imaginations.  In Record Store Tales Part 206:  Rock Video Night, we discussed some of my favourite clips to show to younger folks who weren’t there in the 80s.  They were all conceptual clips.  Many of them involved a band on a mission of some kind.  There were so many of that kind.  Thor had “Knock ‘Em Down”, Queensryche had “Queen of the Reich”, and Armored Saint had “Can U Deliver”.  These videos featured, at least partially, a band on a quest.  They also featured scantily clad women, and lots of “fake live” footage.

But the “fake live” footage often featured cool angles and close-ups.  That meant we could examine the finer details of the outfits and guitars.  You couldn’t just look up pictures of your favourite stars on the internet back in 1986.  “I want hair like that!” Bob said about Eric Brittingham from Cinderalla.  “That would look cool in red!”  Meanwhile, I wanted Rob Halford’s leather jacket from the “Turbo” video.  Of all these videos, we liked the Iron Maiden clip for “Wasted Years” best, which we watched in slow motion, pausing to identify every single Eddie.  There were many we had never seen before.

We just weren’t as interested in purely live videos back then.  For example, MuchMusic had two versions of Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”:  the original and the live one from Priest! Live.  After the live video came out, that’s the one they primarily played.  It was disappointing because if I was going to only hear Priest on TV once that week, I preferred the original.  Frankly, we didn’t buy a lot of live albums as kids.  When we collected bands, we would try to get all the albums including the live ones.  But when we wanted to buy one tape from a band, we didn’t go for live ones.  Some live albums we heard scared us off from the format.  The Song Remains the Same wasn’t the kind of thing we had patience for.

That all changed for me in highschool.  I wanted to buy a Triumph album.  It would be my first.  On recommendation from a kid in my history class, I picked Stages.  And it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.  Virtually every song was awesome!  In fact the only track that wasn’t was a studio track!  And then I had the joy of making those live versions my first Triumph loves.  When I got the studio renditions, they seems thinner and colder by comparison.  I never had that experience before.

I wonder if any of this will be interesting to anyone at all.  Videos are irrelevant today as far as heavy metal goes.  Today, we are not interested in the same things we were in our youths.  We don’t care what the singer is wearing or what the drummer did to his hair.  We care more about how the band is sounding, and how the crowd is responding.  A new music video by a metal band is not as interesting as pro-shot live footage from Wacken.  We want to listen carefully for backing tapes, we want to see the band gel on stage, and we want to cheer along when it’s good.

It is incredibly fortunate to have grown up in the 80s, when videos were in their prime, and still be rocking today when all that stuff is available at our fingertips any time we need a blast of nostalgia.  Younger readers will never know the tense excitement of hitting “record-pause” on a VCR and waiting for the premier of the newest video by Maiden, Priest, or Def Leppard.  Seeing the carefully edited stage moves paired with salon-fresh hair.  It was a glorious time even if was completely ridiculous.

#885: Mono (II)

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 215:  Mono

RECORD STORE TALES #885: Mono (II)

I don’t know how I got mono, but it happened it the 8th grade.  Everybody was getting ready to graduate and move on to highschool, which was something I could not wait for.  I also can’t remember how long I was sick for.  I was home from school for a long time.  Weeks?  Felt like months.  I almost missed graduation.  I made it back to school for the last few days of the year.  I remember everybody was nice to me when I came back.  That was a first.  I only managed half a day upon my return, but felt well enough to do a full day the next time.  Then it was all over.

I didn’t mind having to stay home from school.  It kept me away from the bullies.  There wasn’t much to do except watch music videos on the Pepsi Power Hour.  That’s how my “music collection” grew, song by song.  One of the defining songs from that period in my life is “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top.  MuchMusic played that video a lot, and I captured a really good recording of it that I played incessantly.  I didn’t own any albums by the artists I was recording.  Anvil, Dio, Hear N’ Aid, Loudness — but I added the songs to my life.  “Metal On Metal” was what I craved.

The limitation here was that I could, in theory, only listen to these songs on the TV in the basement.  Like most people, we had an ordinary mono VCR and a TV with only one speaker.  It was a strange JVC machine, with a dockable remote.  I can’t find any pictures online of the exact model.  It looked cool but it had a potentially fatal flaw.  It was that dockable remote.  It was the only set of controls.  If you lost the remote, you were in trouble!

Like all kids, I wasn’t allowed to spend all day in front of the TV, even when I was sick.  But I wanted my tunes.  Songs like “Let It Go” by Loudness.  “Shake It Up” by Lee Aaron.  “Lay It On the Line” by Triumph.  I was just a kid; I didn’t have money to buy all the records.  I had enough to start collecting the core bands I loved, like Maiden and Kiss.  Not outliers like Loudness or Dio.

My buddy Bob taught me how to improvise.  I had a box of primitive wires and connectors.  At a very early stage, I realized I could connect the single “audio out” port on the VCR to one of the two “stereo in” jacks on my Panasonic dual tape deck.  This meant that the mono signal from the VCR was really going to be in mono on my tape deck.  One speaker only.  Left or right, it was my choice.  Neither was ideal.  But I could put my music from the Pepsi Power Hour onto a cassette, which could then be enjoyed in my bedroom.

I saved my allowance and my parents took me to Steve’s TV so I could buy a Y-connector.  It was a cheap, grey cable with one RCA connector on one end, and two on the other.  It split a mono signal into a fake stereo, which is exactly what I needed.

I recorded all my MuchMusic videos (the ones I didn’t own on album) to cassette in this way.  When I got around to buying an album, I wouldn’t need the recorded songs anymore.  I didn’t like to waste valuable cassette space, so I would record over any redundant songs.  I still have all these tapes, but the tracks today are a mish-mash of different years of recording and re-recording.  When we got a stereo VCR in early 1991, I was able to put the Y-connector back in the box for good.  No more need for fake stereo.  Now I had the real thing for every music video I recorded going forward.

Having so many great songs recorded in mono (often with truncated beginnings and endings) gave me a real appreciation for buying the albums later on.  Listening to my tapes made me want the really good songs that much more.  When I finally got them, in full stereo cassette glory, and I heard the songs come to life, it was like going from black and white to full colour.  Or 2D to 3D.  Albums versions were often longer than the edited video versions as well.  Buying the album was always rewarding.  But there were so many songs, and only so many dollars.  I had to pick and choose what to buy.  Sometimes I wouldn’t get around to them for years.  Or decades.

You just read a story about a kid with mono, listening to music in mono.  You can say you’ve done that now.

 

REVIEW: Van Halen – Live Without a Net (1987 VHS)

VAN HALEN – Live Without a Net (1987 Warner Reprise VHS/DVD)

I set the VCR to record.  MuchMusic were showing the full concert:  Van Halen, Live Without a Net!  Though they beeped the naughty words, I had to make sure I didn’t miss this special.  I’d never heard Van Halen doing Roth tunes with Hagar before!  Folks, there was a lot of beeping.

Live Without a Net is undoubtedly goofy, and that is part of its charm.  It’s kind of annoying every time Sammy proclaims that they are in “New Halen” instead of New Haven, but I guess he had to.  I still don’t understand why Sammy painted that lady’s shoes red.  The fact that a roadie had red spray paint on standby was kind of cool though.  The band were obviously wasted, but put on a completely epic show nonetheless.  It was light on the Roth stuff that Sammy didn’t want to do, like “Jump”, but they also played virtually all of their new album 5150.

The new stuff was heavier on keyboards and for many of the songs, Eddie was playing the keys while Sammy actually played the solos.  Unusual for this band; absolutely.  Sammy’s solo in “Love Walks In” ain’t half bad.  While I enjoyed this change of pace, Bob Schipper did not.  “A guy like Eddie Van Halen shouldn’t be stuck on keyboards,” he said.  I’ll be honest here.  I prefer Eddie playing keyboards live, even if it means Sammy’s on lead guitar.

The friendship between Sammy and Eddie here is obvious.  The chemistry is clear.  The tension that used to fuel Van Halen is gone here, and in it’s place is simple male comradery.  It’s audible in the music, and Eddie can’t stop grinning…except when he’s busy dragging on that cigarette!

With the new tunes dominating the set, there were only two Roth-era numbers.  “Panama” was the only big Roth hit, with “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” representing the first LP.  Balancing the Roth songs are two Hagar solo tunes, “There’s Only One Way to Rock” and “I Can’t Drive 55”.  These are great and you won’t find too many live versions that are better.  There were also the usual guitar, drum and bass solos, but Michael Anthony’s is mostly tuneless.  A Zeppelin cover, “Rock and Roll”, closes the set.

As kids, Bob and I didn’t care about the Zeppelin song.  What we watched the video for was Eddie himself.  When it was time for his solo, we studied it.  There was no way we could have understood what he was doing on a musical level, but we watched his actual technique.  We wondered if he ever burned his hand on that cigarette dangling from the headstock.  Eddie’s solo was like opening a science textbook for the first time.  Except this was a textbook that looked and sounded absolutely badass!

This always should have been a live album.  Edited, of course.  You don’t need the shoe painting episode to fully enjoy Van Halen Live Without a Net.*

4/5 stars

 

* The painting of the shoes happened during “Best of Both Worlds” and was edited out when released as a single B-side.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Adventures in Customer Courtesy

I found this old VHS tape in the stockroom at work a long time ago, and forgot about it.  Fortunately, Facebook remembers!  You gotta admit, the cover is hilarious.

 

REVIEW: Feel – “I Become You” video (1994)

FEEL – “I Become You” (1994 independent VHS tape)

Not all great bands make it, and Feel was a great band.  Formerly Russian Blue, Feel were active on the Toronto rock scene in the early 90s.  When things went grunge, they adapted their melodic rock to the times.  The result was dark, not-quite-mainstream hard rock that could appeal to both sides of the aisle.  Their album This (get it? Feel This?) had a number of memorable tracks.  They also released a home video for lead song “I Become You”.

The video arrived personally autographed by all four band members; a nice touch.   In addition to being a top quality song, “I Become You” is also a slick looking, well-edited music video.  It utilises tricks like slow and fast motion, still photos, and plenty of camera movement.  The result is a briskly paced video with a band always in motion.  The guitar solo segment is particularly good.  Feel were television ready, if only the chips had fallen differently.  Frontman Joe Donner had the chops and certainly appeared ready to be the next rock sensation.

4/5 stars

Make sure you watch the video to the end, as I added some bonus content!  In 1993 Feel released a sampler cassette called A Taste Of….  I included the “Introduction” track at the end of the video, as it has a sampling of the album and even an unreleased riff that didn’t make it.  Check it out and let me know what you think of Feel!

 

#745: Lost Things, Found Again

GETTING MORE TALE #745: Lost Things, Found Again

When you accumulate as much stuff as I have over the years, it’s no wonder things get tucked away in a box and eventually forgotten.  I’ve been doing a massive purge/reorganisation.  A huge undertaking.  Many hours logged, and many many things ejected from the house.

I accidentally donated our cable remote to the Goodwill store.  Whoops.  New remote should be here by Wednesday.  Sorry, Jen.

Some things were put into storage, but a lot was flat-out given away because I ain’t got time to sell all this stuff.

My personal goal through this is to completely re-file all my music.  Right now, the many thousands of CDs I own are in a weird sort of limbo.  Some are filed alphabetically (by band; and then chronologically by album), but many have spilled into my computer room.  They sit in huge unsorted piles; stacks of newer purchases and recently reviewed albums.  When I’m done I want them all organised and accessible again.  Something to show off, and something to use as a properly filed library.

But I’ll tell ya, it ain’t easy.  I have doner’s regret over a lot of the movies I ditched a couple weeks ago.  Some of the items I boxed up for storage are notable by their absences too.  I miss having my Star Wars guys hanging around me.

Emptying out some boxes, however, revealed numerous treasures that I had forgotten I owned.  A sealed tin of Star Trek Uno cards.  Three sealed sets of “The Making of Star Trek: The Next Generation” cards — two “gold”, one “platinum” edition.  My rubber Spock ears that came right from Vulcan, Alberta!  I’m going to open some of the cards.  May as well enjoy them, after all these years.

I also found the last of my missing video tapes…and the key to unlocking them all.

Stuffed into my box of treasured comic books, I found my meticulously kept, nearly completely intact VHS directory.

The original was hand-written, in pencil.  The last was typed out in IBM Writing Assistant 1.0.  It looks like I noted every single thing I recorded, with some additional details like the year.  All my video tapes were numbered, and these pages use the same numbering system.  At least one page is torn out, but this is a huge discovery.  I should be able to locate with ease anything I remember having on tape!

I obviously want to keep many of these things as surprises for you.  I don’t want to spoil everything that’s coming.  Here are a few pages to whet the appetite.  Everything that’s allowed will eventually be uploaded and posted right here.

Among the missing video tapes was the very first one, with that sticker of #1 still on the spine.

This tape has a funny history, much of which was deleted when I wrote up my video directory.  Tape #1 wasn’t my tape — it was the “family tape”, until I hijacked it about a year later for myself.  As such, it has a lot of weird stuff taped on it.   The tape began in 1984, with my sister’s Madonna and Glenn Frey videos.  “Material Girl” is the very first thing on Tape #1.  My mom’s 20 Minute Workout.  Boy, I used to get teased by my friends for that being on tape.  “Sure, it’s your mom’s!  Then why is Iron Maiden on the same tape!”  There’s a Transformers episode (“A Plague of Insecticons”) and all my earliest music videos.  My mom and dad also taped a movie on here called Nate and Hayes, however after many years of them not watching it, I decided to erase it.  Over that, I taped two longer MuchMusic specials:  “Rock and Roll all Nite” (Kiss) and “Capitol Punishment” (Iron Maiden) some time in 1988.

There’s not much on Tape #1 that I will be able to show you.  “Thor popping hot water bottle” is good, but the Maiden and Kiss specials will probably be blocked by Youtube copyrights unless I heavily edit them.

The special thing about Tape #1, to me, is that it shows all the earliest heavy metal songs and bands that I heard, almost in the order I heard them.  With very few exceptions like Quiet Riot, recording these videos happened before I owned any of the albums.

Among my first true loves:  Triumph, Kiss, Helix, W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Queensryche.  Originally the last song on this tape was “Queen of the Reich”, but a couple years later I wanted to make sure I used up all the tape, and squeezed on three more videos.

So sad to let old things go, but so glad to have hung up to the important stuff.

 

#743: A Shout-Out to Sean Kelly

GETTING MORE TALE #743: A Shout-Out to Sean Kelly

When it’s warranted, I like to use the Getting More Tale banner to include tributes to helpful individuals.  This goes as far back as Record Store Tales.  These chapters are mini-stories wrapped in a thank-you…or vice-versa.

So let’s go back to the beginning for a moment.  Ever since I first launched this site in 2012, I’ve been talking about my insanely cool VHS library and how badly I wanted to show it to you.  Now I’m doing that (as you’re all painfully aware by the lack of review content), and it has been enjoyable, rewarding work!  Long hours, but well spent.  Reliving old memories, hearing forgotten songs, and seeing those MuchMusic VJ faces from ages past…watching these old tapes is something I try to do a little bit every day.

But I’m not doing this just for me.  If I was just looking for “hits” or “views” I would just make endless lists of things.  That seems to be the kind of content people click these days.  I’m doing this for history, both personal and general.  I think these old rock star interviews and clips are historically interesting.  For you, and for posterity, I think it’s important to get the details as right as possible.  I can usually nail down a rough date of recording, and the names of all the people involved.

Usually.  This is where Sean Kelly comes in.

Sean Kelly is the Canadian axeman behind Metal On Ice (the book and album).  He’s currently playing with Lee Aaron, Trapper, and I can’t keep track of them all!  I have his #1 Classical Guitar Album.  He has been a regular on Helix CDs over the past decade.  He’s played with Nelly Furtado, and of course his own band Crash Kelly!  Superdekes interviewed him last year, and there’s no question:  the guy knows his rock!  (According to the Superdekes interview, Sean and I have something in common:  the first rock album we bought was Metal Health by Quiet Riot.)

As I’ve been going through my tapes, I’ve been taking screen shots (like these below) to tease social media.  Sometimes I’ll post a challenge:  “Name all the people in the picture”.  Sean Kelly has a 100% score!

Yeah that’s right.  Sean Kelly has yet to get any wrong, and I’ve posted some challenging ones.  Only Uncle Meat has come close to Mr. Kelly.  (Meat is at about a 99% or so.)

But where Mr. Kelly has helped me out was identifying some of the MuchMusic personalities.  As I said, I want to get the details of these videos right for historical purposes.  Any time I needed help figuring out who the interviewer was, Sean knew it, and usually got it within five minutes!  And it’s funny too.  The names “Ziggy Lorenc” and “Lance Chilton” were on the tip of my tongue, but he just knew them right away.

I guess that’s why he’s the professional!

The guy is a virtual encyclopedia of rock.  He identified some of the artists just by the instruments they were wielding.  He’s also a super talented player and writer, and a helpful friendly chap too!

I really appreciate Sean’s assistance getting the details for the VHS Archives right.  Check out the track I currently cannot get enough of: Trapper’s cover of “Illégal” by Corbeau. Trapper is a supergroup consisting of Emm Gryner, Frank Gryner and Tim Timleck. This song rocks! Enjoy.

 

#740: Things I Wish I Recorded, But Didn’t

GETTING MORE TALE #740: Things I Wish I Recorded, But Didn’t

Regrets? I’ve had a few. I think I have a pretty cool collection of videos, but at the same time, there are tons of things I wish I’d taped.  I remember them all clear as a bell, but have no way of showing you.  Instead, you can only read about these bizarre MuchMusic events.  Fortunately, I have a really good memory.

Here are the things I wished I recorded but didn’t.

1. Randy Bachman on MuchMusic – Canadian Federal Election 1993

Much had a unique idea to get young people engaged with voting. They brought in music stars to interview the politicians that were running for Prime Minister in 1993. Additionally, they didn’t talk to just the “big three” parties, but invited plenty of second and third tier candidates as well. 14 candidates in total.

Neil Peart from Rush interviewed the eventual winner, Jean Chrétien of the Liberal party. I have that on tape. What I don’t have on tape is the schmuck they stuck poor Randy Bachman with!

Bachman did the best he could, but the candidate was really flakey and wouldn’t stop mentioning how his platform was all on a floppy disc.  Get the floppy disc and read the full platform!  He gave one to Randy, which was utterly pointless.  Poor Bachman and the Floppy Disc Guy!

2. Vanilla Ice interviewed by Natalie Richard 1991

Totally out of my wheelhouse.  Turned out to be pretty funny.  Vanilla Ice was on his way out. This interview did not help. Natalie asked him “Where do you fit in the stratosphere of music today?” His answer was to laugh and say, “Wow, that question went right over my head, I don’t even know what that means!”

3. Daniel Richler hosting the Power Hour 1987

Daniel Richler is the adopted son of the famous author Mordecai Richler. I grew up with his dad’s books, so I was thrilled when he got to host the Pepsi Power Hour one time in ’87. I said at the time it was the best episode they ever did. I loved all the songs (not always the case with an hour long show) and recorded five of the videos.

Unfortunately, I didn’t record Daniel’s segments between the songs, which was a shame. The guy was hilarious and I remember he did one entire segment with the camera upside down. I tended to record only music and interviews to save tape.

4. Living Colour with Michael Williams 1988

They had a Living Colour contest. All you had to do was guess the number of braids in Corey Glover’s hair! He shook his hair around for the cameras. It didn’t help with counting, but it was funny and cool!

5. Thelonious Monster 1989

I’m not particularly a fan of the punk rock pioneers, but I was intrigued when they played a song live at the Much studios called “Sammy Hagar Weekend”. “He actually liked the song!” said the Monster. “That’s how dumb he is. He didn’t know we were making fun of him.” One of those moments I wish I had recorded.

6. Lemmy and Philthy Phil

Motorhead were too scary for young me! But they were funny. I wish I had this one on tape. “What do you think this is, a holiday?!”

7. The Def Leppard Pepsi jacket

Finally, not just a video I wish I had, but also an article of clothing.

It was the Hysteria era, and MuchMusic were giving away a hell of a prize. I wanted it so badly. All I got on tape was the address to enter the contest, and a very brief grainy view of the Def Leppard jacket.  It was a white jacket, unlike any I’d ever seen before. It came fully equipped with a speaker system built into the jacket! You could walk around, play your music and have it coming right from your body. The jacket also came fully stocked with a Walkman and all the Def Leppard albums on cassette.

I really, really wanted that jacket, but even some video footage of it would be cool today. I pictured myself walking around in my Leppard jacket, with “Pour Some Sugar On Me” coming from somewhere in my chest. How could the ladies possibly resist?

 

 

VHS Archives #41: The Beatles Help! home video TV ad

I found this ad in the commercials as I was fast-forwarding a tape. In 1987, MPI Home Video released The Beatles movie Help! on VHS for the first time. But wait, there’s more! Order now, and get Sixties Headlines for free! Regular price: $74.95? Holy shit! The 80s were expensive!

REVIEW: Video Capture USB 2.0

VIDEO CAPTURE USB 2.0 – Software by honestech

I almost gave this 0 stars.

For only $18, I was willing to take a chance. I needed to get my VHS Archives online before it was too late and the tapes were degraded all to hell.  Fortunately the tapes are in great shape, so all I needed was a way to convert them.  I didn’t even know if my VCR was still working.  It’s not so easy to hook up an old VHS player to a hi-def system anymore.

So I gambled my $18 for a little USB device to connect my VCR to a PC, using a USB-to-RCA device and some special software.  I set up a little work station with my VCR and laptop and began running into problems.

Issue #1 is no big deal for me, but might be for you.  The software you need can’t be downloaded, it’s on a little 3″ CD included, with a 16 digit access code printed on it.  My laptop refused to install the software — something to do with permissions and security.  The manual isn’t super-helpful.  “Any problems, please email the seller,” it says.  I’m sure some lackey at Amazon could tell me how to install it….

I bypassed the error by installing the software in a different folder.  Then I hooked up the VCR to the USB device and plugged everything in.  Unfortunately I could not get the software to detect the video source.  It defaults to capture from a webcam, but it couldn’t access the USB.  “The selected device cannot be used” said the popup window.  “If you get this error message, the USB might not install correctly.  Input win+x or use other ways to open the device manager”.  That was the not-helpful advice in the manual.  However it did tell me that the USB needed to install something on the laptop, and that was the hold up.

I was unable to get the USB to install, so I decided to try a different computer.  I tore down my little work station and hauled the VCR over to my desktop.

Everything installed quickly and easily on my PC.  In the end all I lost was an hour of my time, and my plan to use my laptop for everything.  No big deal.  I can manage.  So how does this device work?

Once you have it running, it works like a charm!  It’s the easiest thing in the world to use.  Rather than burn my tapes to DVD, I set the device to export directly to .WMV video file.  Click “record” on the software, press “play” on your VCR, and you are in business.  As soon as you click “stop”, the file will save itself.  You can make a file up to 24 hours long!  Any tape you have, this baby can handle it.  There is also an editing suite here to trim the excess or add transitions, but I don’t use it.  It is very limited.  You may as well use the default video editor on your computer (Window Movie Maker on mine).  Within minutes of playing my tape, I had videos on Youtube.  So painless!

The quality you get will depend entirely on your tapes and VCR.  Fortunately those things were not an issue for me.  You’ll probably have a harder time finding a VCR that isn’t all beat up, than using this device.  Incidentally you can plug in anything that uses standard RCA plugs or an S-video connector.

Bumpy installation aside, the Video Capture USB 2.0 has done everything I needed it to do, and actually more smoothly than I thought it would be.  For the price, this device is recommended — but be forewarned you may have the same problems installing it as I did.

3/5 stars