Ah, VHS tapes. Remember them? No? Well, you’re obviously younger than I am.
What fun you missed out on. Taping your favorite TV show only for the recording to cut out a couple of minutes before the dramatic conclusion, waiting an eternity for a cassette to rewind, and pleading innocence to Blockbuster when your video player chewed up your latest rental.
Most families still have a few VHS tapes lying around. You probably have at least one recording of Home Alone and, more importantly, potentially hours of irreplaceable family footage.
Luckily, it’s possible to digitize those old VHS tapes so you can retain (and enjoy) the content for years to come. Keep reading to find out how it’s possible.
What You’ll Need
Every solution requires one very specific device: a video cassette recorder (VCR).
Yes, I know the technology is decades old, but it’s the only readily accessible way for you to read the content of your cassettes.
Thankfully, and somewhat amazingly, you can still buy a VCR on Amazon. Depending on the model you choose, a VCR can set you back anything from $45 to $200. Even $45 seems steep for a technology that debuted in the mid-1960s, but if you’re adamant you want to recover your footage, you’ll just have to swallow the cost.
You’ll also need a way to connect your VCR to your computer. For this, you need to pick up an analog converter. The converters typically have a USB plug on one end and video/RCA cables on the other. Pricier models sometimes include a SCART adapter as well.
Again, check out Amazon to see what’s available. You can pick up some models for as little as $12, but the quality might be unreliable. Instead, aim for a mid-range product such as Elgato Video Capture or Diamond VC500.
Okay, you’ve taken delivery of your orders and you’re blankly looking at a pile of technology that would look more at home in a museum than in your living room. So, what now?
You need to connect the VCR to your computer using the analog converter. Plug the USB end of the converter into your Windows laptop, and connect the other end to your VCR. Make sure you color-coordinate the three ports: red and white are audio, the yellow is for video. Use either the RCA cables or the SCART adapter, not both.
Most analog converters come with their own software. Typically, it’s very basic and does nothing more than record the VCR’s output.
If you’re happy with that, all you need to do is follow the software’s onscreen instructions and let it do its thing. Remember, you’ll have to play the entire video for the software to record the footage.
If you want a more feature-rich experience that will allow you to edit, tweak, and format the captured video, and thus make it look much better than the original footage, keep reading. There’s plenty of third-party software that works with analog converters.
Check out these third-party VHS capture tools.
1. Golden Videos VHS to DVD Converter
Golden Videos VHS to DVD Converter is a standalone app that can either save the VHS tape as a file on your computer or write the footage directly to a DVD. If you want to save the file on your computer, you can either use the AVI or MPEG format.
Its standout feature is the Video Restoration Wizard. It’s designed to add vibrancy and color to videos that are worn out, faded, and generally dated. The wizard guides you through the entire process — you don’t need any specialized knowledge.
The app also has useful extras such as the ability to share your video straight to YouTube or upload it to the cloud.
Download: Golden Videos VHS to DVD Converter ($17.49)
If you would prefer a free option, try VirtualDub. The open source app is available on SourceForge. It doesn’t have the same editing power as a specialist app like Adobe Premiere, but it works quickly and is light on system resources.
Its biggest selling point is the set of third-party filters. There are hundreds to choose from, all of which can work to enhance your video output.
Warning: This app lacks the documentation and support of paid solutions. You’ll have to go through a steep learning curve.
Download: VirtualDub (Free)
3. AVS Video Editor
AVS Video Editor is the most expensive of the three options, but it’s also the easiest to use. The full app will set you back $39 for a year or $59 for a lifetime license.
The app supports several TV standards, including NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, and can save the output as either XviD (MPEG4) or DVD (MPEG2).
AVS Video Editor is also a great general-purpose video editor. You can edit AVI HD, WMV HD, TOD, AVCHD, MOD, and MTS/M2TS files, add more than 300 video effects and transitions, and insert your own menus, audio, text comments, and subtitles.
Download: AVS Video Editor ($39/yr or $59 one-time)
The Lazy (and Cheap) Approach
Does all this sound like too much effort and cost? After all, if you only want to convert a couple of home videos, spending more than $100 on the necessary technology is probably a bit excessive.
Luckily, some companies do all the work for you. Costco and Walmart both provide the service in their larger stores. Just give them the tape and come back a few hours later to pick up a DVD copy. The service normally costs about $25 per tape.
Your local PC supply shop might also be able to help. Make sure you call in advance so you don’t waste your time.
Obviously, using a shop is a more hands-off approach. You won’t be able to control format or quality. And do you really want even more DVDs? With the growth of services like Netflix, it’s easy to argue the end of DVDs is also nigh (though at least you can rip them to your hard drive).
Do You Still Have VHS Tapes?
To summarize, if you want to digitize your old VHS tapes, you have two avenues available to you:
- Buy a VCR and analog converter and import the footage onto your own computer.
- Use professional services in a shop or media outlet.
Do you still have old VHS tapes around you home? Have you taken the time to digitize them for posterity? Which method did you use? Please share this article with your friends on social media.
Image Credit: NcikName/Depositphotos