written by: John Garger•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/18/2011
As it becomes more common for us to add computers to our home theater systems, the more we need easy ways to add components such as VCRs to our rigs.
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Rise of Home Theater PCs
The phenomenon of the rise of the home theater in the 1990s has blurred the distinction between media components and computers. We have reached the point where it is a question of whether you have added a computer to your home theater or added home theater capabilities to your computer.
Either way, the need to hook up components that were not originally designed to work together has spawned entire industries dedicated to producing a seamless experience between home media components and the power of a general platform offered by modern computers.
One component that continues to give many home theater owners trouble is the VCR. The VCR is a product of the 1970s, long before everything went digital with DVD players, Blu-Ray, and Laser discs. The good old-fashioned VCR still has a useful application in any home theater system but hooking it up to a home theater’s computer can be confusing to the uninitiated.
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About Hooking Up a VCR to a Home Theater’s Computer
In the days before everything such as DVDs, Blu-Ray, Television, and even phones went digital, we lived in an analog world. VCRs are a product of that era and are somewhat anachronistic tucked in uncomfortably next to your other home theater equipment.
This may sound complicated but it can be easily accomplished with a low-cost video capture device to your computer. Installation of a video capture device accomplishes several goals. First, it allows you to add analog components to your computer for viewing on a monitor. Second, it allows you to capture video from an external signal such as a VCR for editing later. You can even record video and sound from the VCR for later viewing, much like the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) supplied to you as part of your cable television contract.
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Adding a Video Capture Device to a Home Theater’s Computer
Video Capture Devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can connect to your home theater’s computer in several ways. Some Home Theater owners prefer to add a new capture card right inside their computers. These types of Video Capture Devices can connect to your computer using an available PCI or PCIe slot on your motherboard.
Other Video Capture Devices connect externally through an available USB port. However, USB capture devices usually offer fewer choices. For example, if you intend to connect your VCR to your Home Theater’s computer using a Coax Cable, you do not have the option to connect the VCR using RCA cables if your capture device only has a coax connection. Internal Video Capture Cards often come with both types of connections allowing you to change your setup without the need to buy new equipment. In addition, many internal cards come complete with remote controls and better software for viewing, recording, and even editing video and sound.
The choice of which type of Video Capture Device to add to your home theater may depend on your computer’s capability. Many home theater enthusiasts incorporate compact computers in their rigs that leave little room for expansion cards. You may be stuck having to buy a compact USB capture device because your Home Theater’s computer lacks the space for upgrades.
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Choosing a Video Capture Device to Hook up a VCR to Your Home Theater’s PC
The steps outlined below will help you choose a video capture device for your Home Theater’s Computer.
1) Determine how you want to hook up your VCR to your Home Theater’s PC. Will you be using the VCR’s coax cable or RCA cable ports to hook up your VCR? Is the ease of coax cable worth the somewhat degraded signal eliminated by RCA cables? Does your VCR offer an S-video connection?
2) Determine What Features you Need. Here you must decide whether you want to capture video in addition to displaying it on your Home Theater. Do you want to use the remote that comes with your Video Capture Device or will you be using a different remote? Do you need capture software with your video capture device?
3) Determine the Best Video Capture Device Format. Does your computer have a free PCI or PCIe slot to add a capture card? Is space an issue so that a compact USB capture device is preferable to you?
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Some Recommendations for Choosing a Video Capture Device
Like most computer components, video capture cards and devices range in price from the very cheap to the very expensive. By buying a more expensive device, you are paying for better quality, more features, and the extras in which you may or may not be interested.
Sabrent is a company that offers low-cost solutions to your home theater and PC needs. You can buy the Sabrent TV Tuner for less than $25 at most retailers and it comes complete with PCI card format, coax input, S-Video, and both audio-in and audio-out ports. In addition, this card comes with a remote and remote receiver unit. For smaller and simpler Home Theater rigs, this capture device is both simple to setup and cost effective.
Hauppauge’s WinTV-HVR1600 Dual TV Tuner is priced higher at around $90 but offers more features and higher quality output. Like the Sabrent TV Tuner above, this capture device is a PCI format capture card offering coax, audio (in and out), and S-Video input connections. However, it also offers a Digital TV Connector for those devices that support digital output signals. It also features a remote and an Infrared (IR) jack for remote receiver signals.
Avermedia’s AverTV HD Volar USB 2.0 HDTV Tuner is a USB-variety capture device supporting High-Definition Television (HDTV) up to 1080i/720p. It also features widescreen support and ships with both 32-bit and 64-bit drivers depending on which type of operating system you have on your computer. At about $40, it packs many features into a small package. However, being a USB-format capture device, it only supports coax connections. Having to add patch cables or patch boxes (breakout panels) to this device may make it that much more convenient to add a PCI or PCIe card to your system if your computer has a slot available.
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Adding a VCR to your Home Theater’s PC is easy enough once you decide what features you need and what format of capture device to buy. Remember that the capture device’s purpose is not just to give you a compatible port to connect your VCR. It also usually serves to “translate" the signal from analog to digital in most computers. Some video cards in computers come with a video capturing capability built in. However, it is recommended that you use a separate capture device to hook up your VCR. Not only will it be simpler to hookup, it is usually more cost effective.