I have some old VHS tapes that I would like to digitize. I have seen some expensive converter boxes, that come with proprietary software, that you can buy that will auto-encode and create a DVD for you, but I'd rather be able to import the video directly to iMovie or Final Cut Pro so I can work with it how I want. Quality isn't critical, so I'm looking for an inexpensive, "do-it-yourself" solution, that would ideally allow me to import the video into my software of choice, rather than paying a company to do it for me.
What is the best way to connect a VCR to my Mac, so that I can import these videos into iMovie or Final Cut Pro?
No, "cheap cables" will do you no good, because you require a computer peripheral to accept the analog video signal and convert it into a digital format. There is nothing inside your Mac that can accept analog video and convert it to digital.
Depending on the number of hours of video you need to convert, you may be better served by finding a company that will perform this service for you for a fee, rather that purchasing the equipment and learning to use it yourself.
I'm not up-to-speed on the latest technology, but working from VHS tapes, you would be looking for a conversion device that accepts Composite video or S-Video, along with unbalanced RCA stereo audio, and which performs the analog-to-digital conversion and outputs a digital signal, over FireWire or USB, that Apple iMovie can record.
Here is one such example, the Grass Valley ADVC55, which costs US $180.
If you have an older DV video camera such as a Sony DCR-HC96, you can plug the VCR directly into the camera, which will convert the analog signal to a digital signal. The camera will output the video via Firewire, which will be recognizable by iMovie or FCE. This is my preferred option, because I have this camera and it works great.
I don't know how well it works, since I haven't tried it myself.
Yet another option would be to use a DVD recorder with RCA inputs to play the VHS to a DVD.
Once you've burned a DVD of the VHS tape, then you can use conversion software, such as Handbrake to convert the DVD to a usable format. I would also recommend this, since I've done this before, although I prefer the first method, since it is faster.
The reviews are mixed since a lot of people have had a hard time getting it configured correctly. You will need the right software to record the video. You will need the EasyCapViewer app installed in order to record the video. Make sure you get a genuine DC60 and not a DC60+ since it will determine your software support. There's a list of supported devices on the EasyCapViewer website.
Obviously, you get what you pay for, but if you want a cheap way to convert analog video, then this is worth a try.
Another cheap way to convert VHS to digital is to plug the VHS player into the TV and the audio into your DSLR mic input and record the TV in a dark room with the audio in sync as it plays. This is similar to old "telecine" methods of transferring film to video and it is very low tech provided you have a DSLR that can record video, preferably with a microphone input.