Part 1: Pre-digisub (~1997 to early 2001)
Before digisubbing, I was involved in video capture of VHS tapes. I worked
with many people to this end, in order to get our files out for free. There
were few P2P sharing programs back then, and none that were reliable for
large video files. So the main channel for free distribution was anon
FTP sites like www.animedownload.net
. Another free channel was a weekly
site called Lunaarts run by Shulace. But bandwidth was highly limited. If
you wanted something back then, you generally had to be willing to trade or
get in some of the 'private groups' with their own private FTP servers.
My own motives in doing this were quite simple. I was in a VHS fansubbing
group myself and even participated in an occasional project (mainly providing
or transcribing scripts, timing, etc.) We didn't like the distros out there
who were making money by distributing fansubs back then. We figured out that
even 'reputable' distros were making profit on the side, often to the tune of
around $10K every 3 months or more. Wanting to put a stop to this, I took
up free internet distribution with pleanty of other folks.
This started around 1999 to 2000. Digisubbing was in its infancy back then, I
remember adding subs to a few episodes of Minky Momo digitally. It wasn't
distributed too far, though, I think an episode might have made it onto
Lunaarts but that's all I remember.
When I first started doing encoding everything I did was MPEG-1 (encoded
using LSX-MPEG or TMPGEnc) 352x240. The files were designed to fit 4 per
CD-R. For its time, the quality was top-notch (better than VCD since it was
variable-bitrate). Filtering was done in VirtualDub only (no avisynth).
When divx311alpha became avaliable, I switched over to that since it offered
somewhat comparable quality with significantly reduced filesize. Most of the
public FTPs were pretty limited in terms of bandwidth. Occasionally I would
find someone with an EDU account and pleanty of bandwidth to spare, but these
types of setups were temporary and rarely lasted more than a few months.
Either way, my stuff was getting out there. I would monitor the trading
site noated.com and others, checking 'for trade' lists to make sure it was
being spread around.
Since I was creating high-quality video captures of shows that were otherwise
hard to acquire, I had an 'in' among traders and I could work myself into
private groups as necessary.
One of these groups was a hotline site known as "animefactory", run by paQ.
I remember it is little more than a trading ground and a place where encoders
could exchange information and techniques. These were the early days of
"DivX" (divx311alpha, a hack of MS-MPEG3) and encoding was something of a
'secret art' back then. The only other person I remember from this site
As far as equipment, I started out using a Pinnacle MP10 which captured
straight to MPEG-1. While it was limited to 352x240 resolution, it could
capture realtime to 3mbit/sec MPEG-1 (DVD is about 9mbit/sec max) which meant
few detectable artifacts yet filesizes were manageable. Eventually I wanted
more resolution so I got an ATI All-in-Wonder 128 capture card that could
capture 720x480 realtime uncompressed. While space limited it to one or two
encodes at a time (each encode took up 20-30 gigs for a 23 minute video clip)
the quality was noticeably better. VHS capture needs a lot of noise processing,
so in the case of the latter, I could do all the filtering on uncompressed
source which meant quality was about as good as you could expect from a VHS
At the time, the freely avaliable video out there was mostly pirated stuff
from local DVD releases, mostly in formats like .rm (40mb for an episode)
or .vivo. These provided fair graphics quality, at least good enough to
read the subtitles, but very poor framerate (3-5fps if that) and a poor
perceptual resolution (160x120 was typical for a 320x240 resolution file).
Most of these formats required a propietary player that was, at minimum,
very annoying to use.