Bring Your Old Home Movies Into the Digital Age – A Review of Pixorial

Are your most precious moments rotting away?  Mine are dangerously close.

My father was a television director, so there are very few moments of my life that have gone undocumented.  However, those memories were captured on various media: Super 8 (that’s FILM for you young ‘uns), Betamax, VHS, Hi-8, and so on.  And NONE of those home movies have been transferred to digital.  Until recently, most of them resided at my mother’s house in hot and humid Miami.  Heat and humidity are the two worst enemies of media, and those memories captured on film and tape are at risk of being lost if I don’t convert them to safer media soon.

So when I got the chance to review Pixorial‘s conversion and archiving services, I’ll admit I greedily jumped at it, knowing that I had tons of stuff that needed converting.  But I also knew that I’d be pretty tough on them as well, because I have logged a lot of time in the edit bays myself in my reporter days.   In the interests of full disclosure, Pixorial provided me with a $50 credit so I would be able to upload content to play with, and a Pro membership.

What Pixorial Does

Pixorial provides multiple services, allowing you to:

  • Digitize – They convert media from analog (film or tape) to digital (web, DVD).
  • Produce – They provide editing software right on their site to edit scenes and add simple titles and transitions such as dissolves, fades, etc.  Some effects are planned for the future.  Even if your original video was in digital form, you can upload your digital media and take advantage of their editing software.  The final product is called a “show” in Pixorial-speak.
  • Share – You can share your edited “show” via low-res versions on Facebook or a web link (free), download a hi-res copy to your hard-drive ($1.99), or via hi-res, non-encrypted, DVDs which have customized labels with images you choose and a message you write (prices vary based on the number of DVDs you order and whether you order a box – from $5.99 – $14.99).
  • Preserve – Pixorial archives your videos – 60 days for the free membership or for as long as you are a member in good standing if you have a Pro membership.
  • Create – You can make a really cool photo mosaic poster, using images from your video clips (printed posters from $19.99 – $79.99, low-res downloads free).

Pixorial currently converts the following media formats:  VHS, VHS-C, Digital8, Hi8, Betamax, miniDV, and 8mm, Super 8 and Super 8 film with sound.

The Process

If you are working with analog (film or tape) media that needs to be digitized, first you need to select your mailing kit — basically a box, bubble wrap and envelope with their UPS information.  They will send this to you via regular mail.  You wrap your media with the bubble wrap, put it into the box, put the box into the envelope and drop it off at UPS.  For $19.99 you have the option to include a GPS tracker (I didn’t.)  The default is to have your media shipped back to you — which means you are paying for three-way shipping (mailing kit sent to you, media shipped to Pixorial, media shipped back to you.)  However, there is what they call the “green” option, which is also the less expensive option of letting them recycle your media.  I did not choose this option because if I wasn’t satisfied with the results, I wanted the option to send my film out to another place to be digitized, plus there is some sentimental attachment to the film itself.  One minor nit I have with Pixorial’s web site is that they describe the sizes of the mailing boxes in terms of how many VHS tapes they will hold, but not in terms of how many film reels, which are round.  Since they don’t give the dimensions of the boxes, I didn’t know if the boxes were square or rectangular, so I had to call to find out what size kit I needed for my 7″ reel (a small box, it turns out).  This could be easily fixed by giving the box dimensions.  Three-way shipping is where you can rack up a lot of costs — it was about $28 for me to ship one reel of film.  If you know you are going to do a lot of media it definitely is more cost-effective to ship it at one time.

Once Pixorial receives your media, they will “process” it, in other words, digitize it.  They do not process damaged media nor do they clean the films.  They also do not adjust color or do any post-processing of the media once it has been digitized.  Pixorial was very good at customer communication and emailed me to let me know when they received my video and then again when it was processed and uploaded to my account.  Process time varies by the length and type of the media and of course the number of people in the queue ahead of you, but turnaround is pretty quick.  Once your video is available online, you can then view it online and use their editor to create scenes (edit) and then create a show. 

Simple Editing System

pixorial-editor2This is one of the key differentiators of Pixorial versus other film and video conversion services.  Pixorial allows you to turn those frankly often lengthy and poorly shot videos into something more enjoyable to watch.  The film and video consumer of yester-year was not nearly as savvy as today’s home movie directors.  They often didn’t have the benefit of seeing their footage instantly, didn’t have as many tutorial type magazines, books and now websites and blogs to learn from, and certainly didn’t have as sophisticated equipment.  Pixorial’s editing software allows you to quickly and easily create scenes by marking beginning and end points — without damaging your raw footage — and then labeling those scenes so you can later easily drop them into a “show.”  This is not sophisticated editing software, nor is it meant to be.  The hard-core videophile will be disappointed because there are no bells and whistles.  This software is meant to be simple so that anyone can grasp it quickly and produce something in a matter of minutes (it will take longer for the final show to “render” but creating a show does not take long.)  However, if you are a diehard who wants to use a more sophisticated editing system, you can take your raw footage, move it over from Media to Show, and then download it in high-resolution, which will give you an MP4 version of your video to edit elsewhere.  Prior to being put into a show, the digitized video is in a proprietary format that implements H.264 video.

Once you have edited a few scenes, you are ready to create a show.  I’ve put a little sample below of a silly piece I created from some Christmas footage (it is running continuosly, you may have to hit “Play” if it has ended).   Because what is the point in spending money converting hours of your old home movies no one has watched in decades into hours of digitized home movies no one will WANT to watch for decades?


 Once you’ve created your shows, you can share them as low-res creations via Facebook and online, such as the above piece.  Or you can download a high-res version (for $1.99) or you can create DVDs, which of course is what Pixorial hopes you will do as this is one of the main products in their store.  They have many customization options for the DVD label, the message you put on the label, and then if you want to include a hard case box, for that as well.  If you are buying bulk copies of the DVD (think Christmas, milestone birthdays, mother’s day gifts, etc.), there are special price breaks for buying multiple copies.  DVDs are DVD-R format and are meant to be playable in most DVD players.  They are not copy-protected and the masters belong to you, in other words, yes, if you have a DVD burner, you can make copies yourself.  I have shared a video on Facebook, via a link and embedded it above, downloaded a hi-res version which I burned myself to play on a computer, but have not yet burned anything to play on a TV screen.  I have not yet ordered a DVD from Pixorial as I am not done playing with my converted film.

The Final Analysis

First of all, terror struck my heart when I received the email, “We have received your film and have diagnosed it with the onset of vinegar syndrome.”  I had never even heard of this and quickly researched it, and basically it is a form of film deterioration that, believe it or not, is contagious as it is sort of an off-gassing syndrome!  So I feared that my childhood memories captured on film may be lost forever.  So if you’ve been stuck in the “thinking about it” stage of converting your old home movies for a while like I have, you may want to move on to the “doing something about it” stage — quickly!

I cannot claim to have thoroughly researched the entire market on conversion, but I can say I have been casually researching it over the years and Pixorial does seem to be cost-effective.  Every conversion house bundles their prices differently.  Now I was specifically looking at Super 8 prices.  There are many different methods of conversion out there and I cannot compare one method to another having only converted the one reel, but I cannot tell you the utter THRILL of seeing my first trip to Disney World (1973) appear on my computer screen.  Or the  joy of reliving Christmases from 1972, 1973 and 1974 again.  I saw my first house again and relived opening some of my favorite toys of childhood.  So did Pixorial achieve what I wanted?  Absolutely — they brought my memories back to life!

I could quickly separate out the best parts of the footage using the editing software.  Yes, it could use a little tweaking — the titles editor needs a little more WYSIWYG help so titles don’t run off the edge (I was able to go back and re-edit those titles and re-run my show), but it worked.  I could quickly create a bite-sized show to share with relatives.  The customer service team was friendly and responsive on the phone and in email.  The tutorials on the site are helpful and thorough.  I love that some of their “products” are actually free.  And I always love when a web site offers gift cards.

There is a free membership, so I highly recommend going to their site  and checking it out.  If you are ready to dip your toe in the water to convert your old videos and films (a project that is going to cost most people several hundred dollars), it is worth sending Pixorial at least one tape or film to try them out.


The fine print: This review is based on my experience alone.  It does not imply or warrant that your experience will be similar or identical.   I received store credit and membership to the site for the purposes of being able to review the product.

Super Why! Activities Day 4: Whyatt and Post-Assessment

This is the final Super Why!  post and the last chance to enter the giveaway for a DVD from PBS by posting a comment in any of the posts in this series!2009-05-22_super-why_0008

For today’s activities you will need:

For the final assessment you will need the post-assessment questions and your worksheets from throughout the week. 

My observations:   JavaBoy once again whizzed through the worksheets.  However, the extension exercise reminded me of a pad of paper I had bought him earlier in the year that allows you to draw a picture and write a sentence under it (apparently they are called “picture story pads.”)  This ended up leading into a lesson on punctuation rather than word switching as he had recently learned about commas and had gotten mixed up about how they were used so we… “looked in a book!” to see how commas and periods were used (he didn’t believe me that periods were used at the end of sentences, so I showed him in some of his favorite books).

JavaGirl knows the story of the Three Little Pigsquite well, but upon seeing one of her favorite animals, decided she wanted to have a big bad TURTLE instead.  Then she wanted to draw the turtle.  Then she wanted to know the turtle’s name.  And so on.  On the second page worksheet we ran into an issue because of her seeing the multiple pigs and to her, a large quantity of anything is “10.”  So we got into a debate about that.  Not that she’s stubborn or anything. She clearly delineated between the three pigs of the story and the ones on the lefthand side of the page, but she wanted to debate about how many were on the lefthand side of the page.

As for the assessment, I can’t say that I felt like there was much change between the pre- and post-assessments.  HOWEVER, I feel like that didn’t measure the changes we saw/experienced during the week.  We were all more engaged as a family in the total process by having the activities and the kids and I have been singing the songs together in the car and other places (yes, you tend to lose an inhibitions as a parent) since we’ve embarked on this journey.  I have come to learn that although I tend to like worksheets, that my daughter doesn’t.  And that we all enjoy the more full-experience type of activities like the games, dances, etc.

But best of all was when my daughter picked up JavaDad’s copy of  Bruce Catton’s Civil War and flipping through it after dinner tonight.  After listening closely, I realized that she was retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs while thumbing through the book, as if she were reading it from Daddy’s big hardcover book.  Look in a book, indeed!

Don’t forget to post a comment after this post or any in the series to put your name in the running for the giveaway!

Super WHY! Activities: Day 3 Princess Presto!

I apologize for careening back and forth between the PBS track and the recession track — I’ve had certain deadlines to meet with the recession stories — however, both discussion threads are germane to raising children, so hopefully it hasn’t been too jarring.

Back to the wonders of Super Why!  For today’s activities, you will need:

If your child does not want to watch the same episode again, that’s fine, just watch another episode of Super WHY! and pay special attention to Princess Presto’s role.  Frankly, at this point my kids were pretty fed up with the masks as well.  They were, however, quite interested in having wands, pretend or prop.

My observations: JavaBoy once again whizzed through the first worksheet, matching the correct letter to name of the object.  JavaGirl wanted to color the objects first, then do the letters.  In her artist’s mind, I guess, it was important that things looked “pretty” before they were appropriately labeled.  Then she was fine with picking out the letters of them — much more compliant than in the previous day’s exercise.

But the real fun was when we were able to put the letters on objects in the room.  The kids had so much fun with this (although I’ll admit that “G” stumped even Mom and Dad for a while).  Both kids thoroughly enjoyed this activity and we still have letters up now, some of which keep getting relocated.  They did a very good job of finding homes for the letters.

The “wands up” game was not really a hit because my son knows how to spell his name, and it is really long and hard to spell on paper much less in the air, and my daughter does not yet know how to spell her name.  But we changed it around to just spelling random letters and short words and that was more fun for them at this point.  JavaBoy is already an accomplished reader for someone not yet in K and JavaGirl is just barely 3 so there’s a bit of a gap between their abilities.

I think this might have been their favorite day!

Super WHY! Activities Day 2: Wonder Red

2009-05-15_0001Ready to roll with Word Power?  Today’s Super WHY! activities are focused on using auditory or visual discrimination to create and decipher between all words.

For today’s activities, you will need:

If you want to do the additional activities, you may want to have a music CD handy.

My observations:  JavaGirl had a harder time with these worksheets.  It’s not so much that she didn’t understand the concepts overall, as she found the worksheets themselves limiting.  I pointed to the ball and said, “what’s that?”  And she would say, “A soccer ball.”  So I’d say, “well, yes, but let’s try just ball, what letter does BALL start with?  Find the letter that BALL starts with.”  And she got mad and said, “No, Mommy, not BALL, that’s a SOCCER BALL, S, SOCCER ball.”  I went through the same thing with the “BRICK wall” and so on.  Does this mean something about JavaGirl?  I have no idea.  Teachers, can you tell me?

JavaBoy whizzed through his sheets.

I couldn’t find my Super Why! music CD, but JavaBoy knew WonderRed’s rhyming word’s tune so we sang along to that for a while.  Then we just put on some music while I called out various -ALL words (for which they would FREEZE) and the episode-specific non-ALL words (red, pig, wolf), for which they’d keep dancing.  They had a great time!

Overall I’d say JavaBoy likes the worksheets and either JavaGirl is just not a worksheets kind of a girl, or these worksheets in particular aren’t for her.  I really haven’t done a lot of worksheets with her, partially because she seems more interested in coloring them than doing them, whereas JavaBoy has ALWAYS loved doing them even from a younger age.

Tell me about your experiences and remember — posting gets your name into the drawing for a DVD from PBS!

Super WHY! Activities – Day 1

A, B, C, D… sing with me!  Yep, it’s time to break out the Super WHY! pre-assessment and Alpha Pig activities today!

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, jump back a post and catch up — we’re going on an interactive journey with the characters of Super WHY! this week. AND… if you comment on the PBS-related posts this week, I will put your name into a drawing for a DVD (I’m awaiting its arrival, so I don’t have the title yet) from PBS.  Yes, if you comment on more than one post, I will put your name in more than once. 

So, let’s get started!

First, you will need the pre-assessment questions.  You will also want to go ahead and save and print all the worksheets— you will need these both for the pre-assessment and for the corresponding days of the week.

The pre-assessment, of course, allows you to see where your child is in his or her literacy journey before you begin this whole process.  Please try to remember that this is not a pass/fail kind of a test — there is no winning or losing, this is just to gauge where your child is in his or her development.  At the end of the week, you will do the same exercises with your child again.

My observations:I did these separately with JavaGirl (turned 3 the week we did this) and JavaBoy (5).  JavaBoy already reads, so he basically whizzed through this pre-assessment.  JavaGirl was familiar with the story of  The Three Little Pigs, could point to the letters W-O-L-F,  couldn’t read “wall” but once I read it, could read “fall” and “ball” because she knows her letters, didn’t know how to spell “big” and “pig,” knew the opposite of the word “big” and knew the opposite of the word “bad” and figured out that “good” was the word that started with the “g.”  The problem for me, as a non-teacher, was that I didn’t really know what this meant in terms of where she was in her literacy skills — I just knew that she knew how to do some things and not others — I wished the pre-assessment had a little more info for a novice like myself!

Who Let The Pigs Out?

alpha-pig-day2I have a really terrific photo of  JavaDad wearing the Alpha Pig mask playing Bingo with JavaBoy, while shirtless, but he has threatened to yank my high-speed Internet connection if I post it, so instead you will only see partially obscured photos of JavaBoy.  Yes, he is wearing Christmas pajamas in May.  That’s how we roll here in the Java household. 

Print out and cut out the Alpha Pig mask (this file prints out all the masks or just select one) — color is ideal.  I made a small hole on each side and ran ribbon through, Teach Mama apparently finally put hers on kiddie sunglasses — do whatever works!  By the way, she is a much better mother than I am because she had her children cut theirs out as a bonus activity and I, always short on time, cut the masks out myself while the children were busy with something else.  You will also need the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet, and the bingo instruction sheet, the bingo cards, and the bingo markers (or if you already have bingo markers, save yourself the trouble, and use those).  Incidentally, the bingo instruction sheet refers to some 17×11 sign — this was never in my kit and I have no idea what they are referring to, but apparently you don’t need it.  I just wrote down the letters I saw on the bingo cards and made my own letters to call out.  Nor do you need 20 bingo cards — just as many cards as you have players.  You will also need the Alpha Pig worksheets, which you have already printed out for the assessment.

Okay — so you’ve printed out a zillion things, now watch the show!  It’s available either in podcast or quicktime format — and today you will pay special attention to Alpha Pig.  After watching the show, follow the instructions on the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet — transform into Alpha Pig, do the worksheets, and if you have time, sing the song and play bingo!

My observations:We’ve seen this episode before, but the kids enjoyed having something interactive to do afterward.  JavaBoy already knows how to spell his name and was more interested in practicing coloring neatly inside the lines (as this is a challenge he’s working on) as he colored in the letters.  JavaGirl does not yet know how to spell her name (it’s a bit complex even for grown-ups) and she’s still learning how to write letters, but she happily circled the letters when I told them which ones they were and was happy to color them in.  Then we ended up having a little bit of a handwriting lesson, which I was actually glad to have because I only recently grasped the fact that one of the reasons she and I have had some challenges in that area is because I’ve been to dim-witted to realize she’s a leftie!  (By the way, if anyone has tips for a right-handed mother with a left-handed kid, I’d love to hear them — I never realized all the challenges that could present.)  They both enjoyed hunting for letters in Storybook Village, although I think I was the only one who noticed the correlation between the letter and the location (i.e. L was on the library, W on the windmill…)  I missed out on playing bingo because I had to take a phone call, but JavaDad said they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oh, and yes, you will be humming the Alpha Pig version of the alphabet song all week.  Seriously.  I find myself singing it under my breath at the oddest moments now.