I have a commercial 2-part tape of a movie I really enjoyed. This tape was purchased in 1996-97 and is a professional/consumer quality SP recording. From what I remember the last time I viewed it, the sound and tape quality are still good. But I don't use my VCR anymore as the last time I did that it seemed to want to chew the tape and get jammed.
This movie is not available in DVD format, as I have learned through my extensive searches.
A couple of years back I bought a machine that had a USB connection to my computer and you would simply run capture software while the machine played the tape and fed it to the computer. Trouble is, the quality wasn't very good and there was a lot of static etc that wasn't normally visible while watching on my normal VCR. I had the same results with other tapes so I gave up on that method.
A friend suggested getting a computer video card with the proper inputs and then simply plug in the existing VCR and then play the tape and record with windows movie maker.
I also have some older home videos I recorded that would be kind of nice to preserve and watch on my DVD player as well.
Anyone have any ideas about the best way to do this and ensure I get the best quality transfer the tape can offer?
Don't put them on DVD, it's already an obsolete format, and consumer grade discs decay over time because of the manufacturing process. Just keep the digitized files on a hard drive, and if you're worried about losing that make a copy or two.
Your friend was right, you need an analog capture card. Hauppage generally has a good reputation for making those. A USB tuner should work for your needs and are much easier to install. Make sure you're using quality shielded cables to connect your stuff, noise leaks and signal degradation are pretty common in the analog world. If the signal is clean you should get exactly what the VCR outputs to your TV.