Google’s PhotoScan App for IOS

Scanned with Google PhotoScan

On the surface, Google Photos has a simple mission: to store all your pictures. Specifically, Google says it wants the service to be a home for all of your photos, and today that mission expanded to encompass the old photos you took on a point-and-shoot back in the ’90s. The company just released an app called PhotoScan for iOS and Android, and it promises to make preserving the memories in your old printed photos much easier. Additionally, while Google was at it, it also issued several updates to its core Photos app.

PhotoScan is definitely the star of the show, though. According to engineers from Google who showed the app to the press today, PhotoScan improves on the old “photo of a photo” technique that many now use to quickly get a digital copy of old prints. It’s also a lot cheaper than sending pictures out to be scanned by a professional, not to mention faster and more convenient than using a flatbed scanner.

When you open up the PhotoScan app, you’re prompted to line up your picture within a border. Once you have the picture aligned, pressing the scan button will activate your phone’s flash and start the process of getting a high-quality representation of the photo. Four white circles will appear in different quadrants of the image. You’ll be prompted to move your phone over each dot until it turns blue; once all four dots are scanned, the app pulls together the final image.

When moving the phone to scan each dot, the app is taking multiple images of the picture from different angles to effectively eliminate light glare — something Google cited as the biggest culprit in ruining digital pictures of photo prints. In practice, in Google’s tightly controlled demo setup, it worked perfectly. It was easy to see how the lights in the room cast glare on the photo print and equally obvious how the app managed to eliminate it in the final scan. It’s a bit of an abstract process to describe, but it worked as promised. We’ll need to test it further outside of Google’s own testbed, but the early results are definitely encouraging.

The app also lets you adjust the crop to remove any hint of the background surface peeking into the photo, but it’s otherwise a pretty minimal experience. Once you’re done scanning, the app prompts you to save your scans. They’re saved directly to your phone’s storage; you can then upload them to Google Photos or the backup service of your choice. Google specifically said that it wanted this app to exist outside Google Photos so people could scan images and use whatever service they want to back them up.

Beyond PhotoScan are some noteworthy additions to the proper Google Photos app. The biggest change here is that there are a host of new photo-editing options on board. The Google+ app actually used to have a pretty robust set of editing options, but when Photos was liberated as a standalone app, the editing features were significantly culled.

Google Photos for both iOS and Android now has an entirely redesigned set of editing tools and filters. The “auto enhance” feature, which tweaks brightness, contrast, saturation and other characteristics of your photo, has been improved thanks to the machine-learning technology that is at the core of nearly all of Google’s products. It can look at a photo and recognize what a photo editor might do to try and improve the image. Auto Enhance has long been a solid feature, so seeing it continue to get smarter is definitely a good thing.

If you want to make further adjustments, the simple “light,” “colour” and “pop” sliders that were in the previous Google Photos app have been greatly expanded. Now, you can tap a triangle next to “light” or “colour” to see a view with a host of more granular editing tools like exposure, contrast highlights, saturation, warmth and so on. Those tools aren’t right in your face, so people who don’t want to dive in can still make adjustments — but those who really want to go deep on editing their pictures will surely appreciate the option.

Google called out two of those adjustments, in particular, as things that only it can do with its vast store of photographic information. A slider called “deep blue” saturates blues in an image like the sky or water to make them more vibrant, and it knows to specifically target those hues while leaving others unchanged. There’s also a skin-tone filter that can adjust saturation specifically on a subject’s skin without altering the rest of the image. Other editing programs have similar filters, but Google says this one is particularly accurate because of the millions of photos it has analyzed — it just has a better sense of what is skin is, compared with other editors.

Lastly, Google added 12 new filters (of course it did) that take advantage of machine learning to be a little smarter than the standard option. Rather than always slapping a default set of adjustments on a picture, Google Photos will make subtle improvements to the image first; it sounds like a combination of auto enhance as well as a filter. But those enhancements will be optimized to work well with the filter you’re adding.

This is probably the biggest update to Google’s photo products since it launched in mid-2015. There are plenty of other services that offer near-unlimited photo backups, but Google’s machine-learning based on all the data in its systems is second-to-none. Yes, that requires Google to analyze everything you put into it, but that’s been the case for years now. If you’re comfortable giving Google access to your data, these photos updates are definitely worth checking out. And if you want to try PhotoScan but are worried about your privacy, you don’t even need to upload your pictures to Google. The new PhotoScan app and updated Google Photos are available in the App Store and on Google Play now.

How To Convert Video To DVD Or MP4 Digital

How To Convert Video To DVD Or MP4 Digital

vhstapeIf you want to keep old home movies or taped TV shows or movies stored on VHS cassettes, here’s how to convert VHS video to DVD or other digital formats. We also explain how to create digital video files that you can watch on your computer, smartphone and tablet.

Compared to DVD, let alone Blu-ray, VHS tapes are low resolution. If you haven’t viewed one for a while, therefore, it would be a good idea to play one to see if you’re still happy with the quality after becoming spoiled by the much improved quality of more modern video formats. After all, digitising your old tapes won’t improve the quality one bit.

If you decide that you do want to preserve your VHS tapes for posterity, you’ll need something to play them on and if you’ve already got rid of your VHS video recorder you’re going to have to borrow or buy one. 

Despite being obsolete you can still pick them up, both new and second hand. The latter will cost next to nothing but do bear in mind that, like most equipment with mechanical parts, there’s no guarantee that a second-hand recorder will offer acceptable performance.

How to convert video to digital

If you have to buy something, one option to consider is a VHS/DVD combo player (again widely available new and second hand, even though they’re largely obsolete) since most of these will let you record from VHS directly to a DVD (which can then be ‘ripped’ to a digital file on your PC if that’s what you want). A similar solution but in two boxes, is to connect the video output on a VHS player to the video input of a DVD recorder. For this you’ll need an A/V cable – a cable with composite video and RCA (phono) audio connectors. 

samsung-vhs-dvd-recorder

If you don’t have a DVD recorder then your PC will provide the means of digitizing your VHS tapes and, optionally, burning it to a DVD. However, you will need some additional video capture hardware and its associated software.

Since image quality really isn’t an issue with VHS tapes (i.e. it’s inherently poor) issues such as price, ease-of-use, reliability and quality of the support will be the main issues you should consider when choosing software (PC or MAC). Since these aspects aren’t immediately obvious, try to look at some reviews first.

cable

How to convert video to DVD

Step 1. Connect your VHS video player to your PC using the cable or cables supplied with your chosen software. It should look something like the photo above. You may need a special cable which has the red, white and yellow cables, or your video player may already have these outputs. (You won’t be able to use front-mounted white, red and yellow connectors are these are almost always inputs – not outputs.)

Step 2. The process of digitizing your VHS tapes should be straightforward enough. Start the recording software on your computer and play your VHS tape from the point where you want the recording to start.

Step 3. Stop the recording software at the end of the video, and stop the video itself.

Step 4. If you’re burning the captured video to DVD, your software should provide an option for this, but if not, you may be able to use Windows DVD Maker. Insert a blank DVD into your computer’s DVD writer (if it doesn’t have one, you can buy an inexpensive USB DVD writer.

Step 3. If DVD Maker doesn’t support the format of your video file, you can use a video converter utility such as Handbrake or Any Video Converter.

There’s little point in burning the file to Blu-ray as the poor quality of VHS makes it a waste of money. DVDs are cheaper and offer better quality than VHS anyway.

Do take a good look at your old tapes before starting.If they’ve been gathering dust – literally, that is – try to clean as much as you can from the part of the cassette where the tape is exposed to prevent it being drawn inside once you play it. Also, make sure the spindles haven’t seized up. If they have, try to get them moving by hand before trying to play the offending tape.

If you don’t want to buy any expensive gear or can’t afford the time to digitize all your VHS tapes, we provide the service for $25 per tape and no tax. 

Cassette To MP3

ionThe last 50 years has seen monumental advances in audio technology. In the 1960s, the dominant audio media was vinyl LP records. The 70s saw the rise of the 8-track cartridge and by the 1980s, the compact cassette tape had supplanted both as the bestselling audio format.

The cassette tape allowed people more versatility and freedom to easily perform tasks that would otherwise have been too difficult or expensive before the technology was widely available. Recordable tapes enabled users to capture songs from the radio, record dictations and even served as early form of computer data storage.

Like so many other analog technologies, the age of digital media rendered these technologies all but obsolete. CDs, MP3s, digital downloads and streaming services revolutionized how we consume audio media. In days gone by you had to go to a music store to buy an album. Today, listening to music only takes a few clicks on your computer or taps on a smartphone.

Even though the cassette tape is essentially dead, there are still untold millions of tapes sitting in cardboard boxes and cabinets all over the world. Many of these tapes contain content you just can’t get in digital format. Unique voice recordings, demo tapes, radio broadcasts and more are trapped on magnetic tape and disappear forever when those cassettes are finally thrown out. But there is a way to bring them into the digital era.

Cassette to MP3 converters allow you to recover the audio on your tapes by transferring them onto your computer and converting them into a digital format. This is great if you still have your old cassette collection that you want to resurrect or if you simply want to archive your tapes so you can finally get rid of them.

How It Works

Most of the products in our review come in form of a Walkman-style cassette player with a USB port that connects to your computer. These devices are usually coupled with a software component that you need to install on your system.

Once you have the cassette you want to convert in the deck and connected to your computer, all you need to do is press “play” on your deck and “record” in the software and it will capture the audio as it plays back. After the converter software has captured the audio, you can export it as an MP3. You then can do pretty much anything with it. You can burn it to a CD, sync it to a smartphone, upload it to the internet or import it into an audio editing application for further work.

Converting the audio found on cassette tapes can be a time-consuming process. That’s because it’s not a simple file transfer that only takes a few seconds. Cassette to MP3 converters must record the audio in real time as it plays in the deck. If you’re converting a whole cassette, this can take up to an hour. Then you have to go into the application to listen to the captured content, edit the audio, separate the tracks and a few other things. These are all pretty simple things to master, but it can be quite involved as well. Just know that if you’re converting a lot of tapes, you’re probably looking at a long-term project.

Key Attributes

There are a couple of ways these converters connect to your computer. Most have an integrated cassette deck that allows you to easily slide in the tape you want to convert. Others require you to connect your own deck to your computer via RCA cables. The former has the advantage of being very convenient while the latter allows you to hook up any analog device, like a record player or 8-track deck, and convert audio from those devices as well.

All of the products on our lineup connect to your computer through a USB port. This is the most convenient way to connect, because all computers have multiple USB outlets. Most of the products can draw their power through the USB connection. But there are also alternate power supplies for these devices; some have DC adapter outlets, some also take AA batteries.

The conversion software that comes with these products is critical to their performance. The best cassette converters applications have the ability to automatically detect and segregate tracks on a music album. They also allow you control the volume of the audio as it is being recorded. Additionally, the best applications work on both Windows and Mac.

We found that the following products are the best cassette to MP3 converters:

Tape 2 PC: The reason this product claimed the top spot on our side-by-side comparison chart is due to its dual cassette design, step-by-step directions on how to use the software, automatic track detection and perfect audio quality. It is the only fully functional cassette deck in our lineup. The rest are merely Walkman-style units that don’t have the high-quality components found in this device.

Tape Express Plus: The Silver Award winner is the little brother of the Gold Award Winner. Made by the same manufacturer, it contains many of the high-quality components as its larger counterpart. Unlike the other Walkman-style products on our lineup, it creates high-fidelity sound files that you would be hard pressed to find imperfections in.

Cassette2USB Converter: This product has some unique features that placed it in the top tier of our review. It comes with two separate programs that can capture the sound on your cassette tapes: Audacity and Cassette2CD Wizard. The former is an audio recording and editing program advanced users will appreciate. The latter is simpler program that offers step-by-step instructions to transfer your cassettes onto your hard drive. However, the sound quality produced by this converter leaves much to be desired.

At the end of the day, cassette to MP3 converters allow you to easily transfer songs and other audio onto your computer. The best products make this process as simple as possible, create high-quality sound files and offer applications that are specifically designed to work with the devices they’re sold with.