Digitize those dusty keepsakes

Digitize those dusty keepsakes
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First Published: Tue, Jun 03 2008. 09 55 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Jun 03 2008. 09 55 PM IST
Millions of baby boomers today live in fear of being diagnosed with AFLS. AFLS (Analog Format Loss Syndrome) is the depressing realization that all your old photo prints, cassette tapes and vinyl records risk being lost to the dustbin of obsolete analogue equipment. But with just a few changes to your lifestyle, you can avoid becoming another AFLS statistic.
(OK, OK, spare me the indignant email—I realize that record players aren’t yet obsolete. But there’s still value in digitizing your records; otherwise, you can’t listen to them in the car, while you jog or any other place you don’t have a turntable handy.)
Where there’s a problem, there’s an entrepreneur to exploit it. Three new AFLS remedies have just hit the market: a photo converter from Hammacher Schlemmer, a cassette-tape converter from Ion and an LP-converting turntable, also from Ion. All three purport to simplify turning the relics of your analogue life into shiny new digital files. But not all of them improve on existing conversion technology.
Take the Hammacher Schlemmer Photograph-to-Digital-Picture Converter ($150), for example. It wins the award for the longest product name ever reviewed in this column. It’s also in the running for most pointless. The idea is clever enough: It’s basically a digital camera inside a light box. You insert a photo print into a frame, slip that into the end of the plastic box (about 7x10x9 inches), press the button, and poof! The box takes a 5-megapixel picture of your photo and deposits a JPEG file on your PC. The box comes with three trays, each engineered to hold a common photograph size: 3.5x5 inches, 4x6 inches or 5x7 inches. Unfortunately, if your photos are any other size or shape, the box is totally useless. Worse, this box is a typical Windows-product hotchpotch: The hardware comes with unrelated, jerry-built software from a totally different company. Installation is a headache, made worse by an incoherent and inaccurate user guide. Once you’re running ArcSoft, the photo-editing program, you open a confusing plug-in dialogue box to begin importing photos.
The final insult is the horrible picture quality: Any hue lighter than, say, sky-blue, gets bleached into pure white, making your “scans” look like colour Xeroxes with the settings wrong.
The bottom line: Just get a scanner. For the same money or less, you get a machine that accommodates photos of any shape or size, is easier to figure out and doesn’t take any more time than inserting and extracting each photo from the Hammacher’s tray.
Ion’s new LP Dock ($212 online) is far more successful. It’s a full-blown turntable that converts record albums into MP3 files that play on, for example, an iPod. In fact, the iPod is the key to distinguishing the LP Dock from its predecessor, the iTTUSB turntable (which costs $100 less): The LP Dock can pump the vinyl records directly into your iPod. You can slip a recent model, full-size iPod right into a socket at the corner, where it gets recharged when it’s not recording from the turntable.
Once the songs are on the iPod, they sit in a weird little menu called Voice Memos, named by date and time rather than song. Now you’re supposed to sync the iPod with your Mac or PC. Only then can you name the songs, put them into playlists and so on.
The advantage of the iPod feature is that the LP Dock can spend most of its time as a regular record player, connected to your stereo system rather than tethered to your computer. However, the process is fussy, requires a lot of steps and is mightily time-consuming. The iPod doesn't know when one song has ended and the next has begun so, after each track, you’re supposed to pause the turntable, choose a command called Stop and Save on the iPod and then restart the turntable for the next song. It’s easier if you connect the LP Dock directly to your Mac or PC with its USB cable (as you do with the less expensive iTTUSB turntable).
But what about tapes? Meet the Tape2PC, a full-fledged dual-cassette player/recorder, also from Ion, with a USB jack in the back. Overall, it works. There are three obstacles between you and digitizing nirvana, however.
First, although you can dub one tape to another at double speed, converting tape to a digital file on your computer must be done in real time. Second, the only way to adjust the recording level is to use a tiny knob on the back of the tape deck.
Finally—and this is a big one—why do you need a special tape deck at all? Why not just run the audio output from a regular tape deck into your computer’s line input, and use some free or shareware recording program to record the signal? (You could make this argument for Ion’s USB turntables, too, although recording from them to a computer generally requires buying another component—a preamplifier.) Ion argues that for the non-geek, finding the proper audio cable and audio software is too complicated. And sure enough, the EZ Converter software is the high point of Ion’s tape deck and turntables. It doesn’t get much easier than clicking Record, then clicking New Track after each song.
©2008/The New York Times
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First Published: Tue, Jun 03 2008. 09 55 PM IST
More Topics: Gadgets | LP Dock | Mac | Computer | Business of Life |