What The Tech?: Family Memories as Gifts

CHARLOTTE N.C. – Now that the holidays are officially underway, you may already be thinking about what to give family members who may or may not like something from Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart. How many gifts have you given them that still sit in the boxes they came in?

A few years ago I decided to give my mom and dad a different type of Christmas gift. Memories. I think it’s safe to say most people have family memories stored on VHS tapes, in photo albums, and maybe some decades-old film strips. The priceless memories haven’t been seen by anyone in years. With a little time and help from a few tech gadgets, you can surprise your family this Christmas with a fresh look at the past.

To convert old videotapes, the Pinnacle Dazzle gadget (around $70) will re-record those memories to store on a computer. The Dazzle is an oddly-shaped gadget that connects a VCR  to any computer. The included software captures the video as it plays and saves it as a computer file. It even has a simple-to-use editor to add music, and graphics or cut out some of the boring parts. You can capture other tape formats but you’ll need something to play them on such as an old camera. That could be the most difficult thing about this project if you have tapes in Hi-8 or Beta formats.

For old films, I recommend the Wolverine Film Converter ($300). This gadget looks like a throwback film projector from the 1970s and it plays the films the same way but without projection. You thread the original film to an empty film spool and slide it through a capture slot. As the film plays, the Wolverine Converter captures each frame and stitches them together to create a video that’s saved on an SD card that can be transferred to a computer.

I dug out a small box of family films that no one in my family had seen in decades. I’d suggest uploading any video you capture from VHS tapes or film strips to YouTube where you can add music. Then, share the links with your family members.

Visiting my parents a few years ago I snuck off to a closet where mom stored all of her old photo albums. I took snapshots of each photo with my phone and surprised her with them on Christmas morning. There are a few ways to do this. You can take pictures of pictures with your camera, but I suggest using the Google PhotoScan app. The free app for iPhones and Android devices detects the corners of each photo and removes any glare. The photos are saved in Google Photos that you can either print, create a photo album to be printed by Google, or create a slide show you can share in a digital picture frame.

If you plan to use these devices for the DIY project, I suggest getting started now. The tapes and film strips are captured in real-time. So a 2-hour videotape will take 2 hours to capture. It’s a fun trip down memory lane.