Monday, September 18, 2006

Conversion Ethics

I'm preparing to launch a project that's been in the making for several years: converting all my VHS tapes to DVD.

I've been wanting to do it ever since the DVR technology came out, but for ages the recorders and the media were just too expensive to justify scrapping my considerable investment in VHS. I mean, I've got four VCRs and 1,200 video tapes. That's a lot of converting. Plus, so long as I could buy a video tape for less than a dollar, it didn't make sense to spend $5 a pop for a recordable DVD disc (which, admittedly, was a drastic drop from the $20 they used to cost).

But now, the time has come. DVR machines are becoming reasonably priced, the CD media seem to be settling into a more or less consistent group of video formats, and said CDs are pretty darn cheap. I am poised to enter the Age of DVD.

Well, except for one thing.

I've got a lot of video tapes. A lot of video tapes. I have, in fact, one thousand and two hundred self-recorded video tapes. If I buy two DVRs and consistently copy two tapes morning and evening, it will take me something approaching a year just to copy them all.

That, however, is not the big problem.

The problem is the catalog system. Or, as I should probably say, The Catalog System.

See, I used to tape a lot of television programs. During any given television season, I would be taping ten or more shows at once. With that much taping going on, organization is essential, and there are two ways to go about it. (Well, three ways if you count not organizing at all, but never mind.)

The first way is the way that most reasonable humans do it. They use one (1) tape for each show. They tape nothing but that show on that tape. This is an excellent system, and leads to efficient, easily grouped sets of tapes that contain the entirety of a single show, usually more or less in order.

That's not the system I used. I tried it, but it just didn't work for me. I found that, while I am perfectly capable of cataloging, organizing, and detailing, I was simply taping too many shows to afford the luxury of one tape for one show. For one thing, it meant that I would have to be on the spot to swap tapes on nights when I was taping multiple shows (this was back in my primitive phase, when I only had two VCRs), and that just wasn't going to happen. One of the reasons I have four VCRs is so I can *not* have to sit at home every night. Also, every time I went out of town, I could be taping 12 or more hours of different shows, and asking Albert to swap through ten different tapes in careful sequence (assuming that he was even home and not with me), was a bit much.

So, I came up with The Catalog. And it worked. I did keep each show more or less segregated on its own set of tapes using a system of color-coded dots, but if I couldn't manage it, no big deal. Each tape is eventually numbered and labeled, and I maintain a (huge) catalog that lists each tape and its contents by number, and is cross-referenced to an episode guide catalog that lists the number of the tape on which each episode of each show appears. The Catalog is currently about a hundred pages. It's a bit inefficient in terms of having episodes of a series scattered over multiple multi-purpose tapes, but by golly I can lay my hands on any episode in a matter of moments.

But now I have a dilemma. Some of those shows I taped I now have on DVD. And there are even a few I don't have on DVD that I doubt I'll ever have the desire to see again. There are, in short, quite a few tapes that are now redundant. If I re-compiled and re-numbered, I could probably eliminate close to two hundred tapes. That's nearly two months of copying, and a hundred dollars in media. This is not an insignificant amount of time or money.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If I decided to eliminate redundant episodes, I would pretty much have to start the whole hundred-page Catalog over from scratch. I would have to track down the episodes I needed on a tape and isolate them from the episodes I didn't need, and figure out how to compile the former in their own DVDs without losing track of them. I could do it, and it would really be the best way, but it would also take buckets of time. Not only time spent re-configuring the numbers and re-typing and re-printing, but in hovering over the DVRs to swap out tapes.

On the other hand, if I just slavishly copied the entire collection, I could slap a tape and a disc in, hit Record, and forget about it. The Catalog is already done, and the only work required would be to write a number on the disc.

So. Spend hours slaving over a hot DVR, losing reading, viewing, and (most important) knitting time in order re-organize the enire collection, or keep the old Catalog and scribble a number.

Dude, even I'm not that anal.

Vive le Catalogue!


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