The problem of FireWire

FireWire is a near-obsolete connection and data-transfer standard. Unfortunately, it is also the best way to capture digital video data from MiniDV camcorders, and many perfectly adequate audio interfaces also rely on it. Normally we would hope for adapters to an up-to-date connection standard like USB, but in FireWire’s case we’re out of luck.

For desktop machines running Windows, the solution is relatively simple: a PCI or PCIe card with FireWire ports such as the one StarTech sells. These are readily available used and new, and not difficult to install.

For relatively current Macs, desktop or laptop, the easiest solution is Apple’s FireWire to Thunderbolt adapter (plus a cheap adapter or cable that allows plugging into the 4-wire port in most camcorders and the 9-wire port in the Apple dongle). We have successfully used this setup with a previous-generation MacBook Pro; what we do not presently know is whether it can be adapted to the current-generation USB-C-only laptop line.

For Windows laptops, such as we are planning to use for video capture in PRAVDA, we have no solution for most current-generation machines. Roughly one or two generations back, however, two potential solutions exist:

  • Laptops with an actual FireWire port. These were generally “business-class” laptops; they are not easy to find, but they do exist.
  • Laptops with an “ExpressCard” slot, plus a FireWire ExpressCard (again, StarTech sells these). Such laptops are fairly easy to find refurbished; their specs will not be the latest-greatest, but fortunately they don’t need to be for PRAVDA’s purposes.

Audio-gear manufacturer Presonus has a useful list of Windows laptop models that meet one or the other of the above requirements. For any A/V capture laptop intended for a portable rig like PRAVDA, we also recommend checking that it has an optical drive capable of writing as well as reading CDs and DVDs; nearly all on Presonus’s list should qualify. If such a drive is not built into the laptop, the rig would need to include an external optical drive—possible, but a waste of precious packing space.

Good luck!

PROUD and PRAVDA funded!

We are tremendously excited to announce that the Institute for Museum and Library Services has awarded RADD a Sparks! Ignition grant to build and document two kits, one for audiovisual digitization (“PRAVDA,” for “Portably Reformat A/V to Digital from Analog”), one for digital-data rescue (“PROUD,” for “Portable Recovery of Unique Data”).

Our hope is that proving the feasibility of constructing such kits will spark kit construction at centers of cultural heritage such as state libraries and archives, DPLA Service Hubs, library consortia, and LIS schools. In turn, the kits will enable small cultural-heritage institutions to rescue and share at least some of their most at-risk collections, and to help patrons rescue their own personal and family history.

We are glad to share with the community the abstract and (slightly redacted) narrative from our grant application. We make no pretense of perfection—indeed, if we were to write this grant today we would change a few things!—but we hope sharing these helps others write successful applications.

Our thanks to John Ryan

RADD couldn’t exist without the generosity of the campus and Madison communities. Another example of this generosity was just added into the technology array.

RADD uses the Device Side Data controller card to be able to read 5.25-inch floppy disks. Device Side Data used to sell an enclosure for the card, but no longer does. We always felt nervous about just leaving RADD’s two cards out on the table; they are fairly sturdy (we admit we have dropped them a few times), but no electronics enjoy rough treatment.

Luckily, John Ryan, a Student Shop Technician at the College of Engineering Student Shop came to RADD’s rescue. He drilled and cut a small plastic equipment box to hold the card safely with the ribbon cable and USB cable plugged into it.

We are very grateful for Mr. Ryan’s work!

RADD nominated for Digital Library Federation Community/Capacity Award

RADD coordinator Dorothea Salo has been nominated for a 2016 Community/Capacity Award from the Digital Library Federation for her work with RADD.

This is a tremendous honor, and Dorothea and RADD are in phenomenal company! Many thanks to the anonymous nominator(s), and congratulations to fellow nominees.

RADD has been a community effort from its beginnings. This and other honors rightly belong to all RADD’s planners, donors, builders, and supporters. Our thanks to everyone who has supported RADD!

Summer 2016: Baldwin grant to digitize A/V

We are pleased and proud to announce that the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment has chosen to fund RADD to do proof-of-concept audiovisual digitization work this summer.

RADD will digitize unique audiovisual materials on a variety of physical carriers from:

  • the Cedarburg Public Library, Cedarburg WI
  • the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, Delavan WI
  • Mineral Point Library and Archives, Mineral Point WI
  • WYOU community television station, Madison WI

The Baldwin Endowment mini-grant will also fund repair of some of RADD’s equipment.

SLIS students Courtney Becks and Logan Rains have been hired to work on this project alongside RADD builder Dorothea Salo.

RADD price list

Interested in contracting with RADD to do some digitization or digital-rescue work for you? Starting this summer, that’s a possibility!

You can download RADD’s current price list for perusal. Because of university rules, RADD offers two prices: one for university or state business, and one for everyone else.

Contact Dorothea Salo (salo at with potential projects. RADD cannot accept every project—our capacity is limited, and some of it is spoken for—but we are happy to help when we can!

Thank you for making ‘Save our Stuff’ a success!

Last Wednesday, RADD helped several Madison community members digitize and recover content from audio cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and floppy disks, to name a few. Home movies, journal articles, and datasets were recovered and migrated to more accessible digital formats. Dorothea Salo and SLIS Laboratory Library staff were available to assist in the process and answer questions about long-term storage solutions.

IMG_1659IMG_1658We got some great ideas for how to increase RADD’s capabilities during the event, and hope that we can continue to serve the Madison community with their long-term preservation goals.


Thank you to all who attended and participated! Hope to see you again soon at RADD!

RADD is free and available to use anytime that the SLIS Laboratory Library is open. All SLIS Library staff have been trained to use RADD, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need help with your project!

Save our stuff! Preservation event Wednesday, April 27

Event: Save Our Stuff: Preserve Memories at the Library
Time: Wednesday, April 27 at 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM in CDT
Locations: SLIS Library – 4191 Helen C. White Hall, 600 N. Park St., Madison WI

Pinney Library – 204 Cottage Grove Road., Madison, WI

RADD is pleased to announce that we will be participating in Preservation Week this year by helping community members ‘rescue’ born-digital data from Zip disks, 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks, Jaz disks, and hard drives. Come to the SLIS Library on Wednesday, April 27 from 4 – 7 PM to receive expert help and advice for recovering files from these material types! Don’t forget to bring a USB stick!

“As technology changes, not everyone has the capacity to update to the latest, greatest device,” said Dorothea Salo, Faculty Associate.  “Whether you have a decade of photos on an old floppy disk or an unfinished novel stored away on an old hard drive in the closet – we can help you get that data off of those devices,” she said.

This is a CONCURRENT EVENT. Staff from the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research will also be helping patrons recover content from A/V formats, such as VHS, mini-DV (camcorder) tapes, and audio cassettes; and provide assistance for home movie film formats such as 8mm, super8, and 16mm. This event will be held at Pinney Library, located on Madison’s East Side.


How to digitize a Betamax videocassette

About Betamax


Before you start

  • Make sure the MT-VIKI video switch is switched to the “BETAMAX” option. The video switch should be located close to the video stack.betamax-video-switch
  • Turn the Sony Betamax player on. Make sure your tape is rewound – if not, use the player controls to rewind it.


  • Open the computer application Machina. machina-icon
  • In Machina, navigate to the “Setup” tab and check that the application options are appropriate for your projects. If you’re not sure, the following settings should work for most projects (and should be the default settings in Machina).machina-setup
  • Note the Video and Audio directory in the right-most column – if you want to save to a folder that’s not the default, make sure to change these settings. Do NOT save files to the desktop – you will max out computer space very quickly.

Digitizing in Machina

  1. Navigate to the “Capture” tab in Machina. Edit the clip name and reel name fields to match the title of the video or project you’re digitizing.machina-capture
  2. At the bottom of the screen, click the red button to begin capture. The screen will be blank until you begin playback of the tape in the Sony Betamax player.
    • You may have to start playing the tape first before recording in Machina if you get the error message “No video input is detected.”
  3. When your tape begins to play back, note that the quality of the video will look terrible in Machina—it will look normal in the video file created when you’re finished. Click the button at the bottom again to stop recording.

Combining audio and video

If your video is very long (one hour or more), Machina may not save your audio correctly. Double-click the .wav file to check its playback! If it is silent:

  1. Open the software program Audacity.
  2. From the File menu, choose Import… and then Raw Data (at the bottom). Change the following settings:
    • Stereo (not mono)
    • 48000 sampling rate
  3. Audacity may take up to a full minute to comply.

  4. Now choose Export… to save the repaired audio file. Make sure Audacity is saving as a 32-bit PCM file (usually it’s fine).


  1. Check the folder you selected to save Machina outputs. You should find two file types for your project – an .avi (video) file and a .wav (sound) file.
  2. Right-click the .avi file to open the file in VirtualDub.VirtualDub1
  3. Before editing the video, go to Audio ? “Audio from other file…” and find the .wav file associated with your project. If you edit the video before this step, your image and sound will not sync properly and you’ll have to start over. Save the file and rename the file as something that distinguishes it from the Machina files (i.e. “living-the-story-001-picture-and-sound-FINAL”).
  4. To remove a blue screen or empty space at the beginning and end of your project, go to Edit ? “Set selection start” when you have found the beginning of your video by dragging the bar at the bottom through the keyframes. You can eliminate dead space at the end using the same process – Edit ? “Set selection end.” Save your file.VirtualDub2
  5. Your final file (video and audio) will be an .avi file. To convert it to something else more standard for burning a DVD copy, use the HandBrake application (instructions on this tool coming soon).


Do NOT save files to the C:\ or the computer desktop. RADD has a 2TB spinning hard drive (E:\) for temporary file storage. Saving large files anywhere else will max out the computer space very quickly. There is a shortcut on the Desktop to the E:\ drive called “SaveWorkHere.”

If possible, always save your work to your own external hard drive or USB thumb drive, or cloud storage if you have enough space. If you forgot to bring a storage device with you, SLIS Library offers portable hard drives for check-out.

When you’re done


Machina displays the error message “No video input is detected.”
  • Are the cables for the Betamax player and video switch plugged in? Is the video switch toggled to the BETAMAX input?
The video quality is still terrible after digitization!
  • This is harder to fix, because the issues may be the quality of the tape itself. Turn the TBC on when playing the tape in the Sony Betamax player to correct for some of the poor sound and visual quality.