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.
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
This 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.