How to Digitize Old VHS Tapes
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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.

Sony SLV-779HF Hi-Fi VHS VCR Sony SLV-779HF Hi-Fi VHS VCR Buy Now At Amazon

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 Video Cable Types: Differences Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports Video Cable Types: Differences Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports There are so many video cables out there and it can get confusing. VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort -- what's the difference and why do they even matter? Read More 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.

Elgato Video Capture - Digitise Video for Mac, PC or iPad (USB 2.0) Elgato Video Capture - Digitise Video for Mac, PC or iPad (USB 2.0) Buy Now At Amazon $87.99

Getting Ready

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.

rca cable ends to micro usb
Image Credit:

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.

Third-Party Software

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.

golden video vhs-to-dvd converter

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 Everything You Need To Know About Uploading Videos To YouTube Everything You Need To Know About Uploading Videos To YouTube Currently, there are three ways to upload videos to YouTube. Here's an in-depth look at how to use your computer, phone, or games console. Read More or upload it to the cloud.

Download: Golden Videos VHS to DVD Converter ($17.49)

2. VirtualDub

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.

virtualdub convert vhs to dvd

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 10 Simple Tips To Make Home Videos Look Professional 10 Simple Tips To Make Home Videos Look Professional As mobile phone cameras have gotten progressively better, they've become reliable tools for recording videos on the go. Here are 10 tips for making your videos look professional. Read More .

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.

avs editor convert vhs to dvd

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 The Best Free Video Editors for Windows The Best Free Video Editors for Windows Everyone takes videos these days. Yet powerful free video editors remain rare. We present the absolute best free video editors available for Windows. Read More . 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 10 Niche Streaming Services for Those Who Hate Netflix 10 Niche Streaming Services for Those Who Hate Netflix Mainstream streaming services carry mainstream content. What can you do if you want to watch something a little less conventional? You're better off checking out these alternative streaming services packed full of niche content. Read More , it’s easy to argue the end of DVDs is also nigh (though at least you can rip them to your hard drive 5 Simple Steps to Rip an Entire DVD to Your Hard Drive 5 Simple Steps to Rip an Entire DVD to Your Hard Drive Have you backed up your DVD collection? Let us show you how to rip your DVDs to your hard drive for free with HandBrake. Read More ).

Do You Still Have VHS Tapes?

To summarize, if you want to digitize your old VHS tapes, you have two avenues available to you:

  1. Buy a VCR and analog converter and import the footage onto your own computer.
  2. 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

Explore more about: File Conversion, Nostalgia, Restore Data, Video Editor.

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  1. Bearrider
    October 11, 2017 at 6:05 am

    I used a VHS/DVD recorder combo. it would copy my VHS tapes directly to DVD. Have done approx 400 vhs tapes this way. The only catch is the unit is a little pricy but if you have a lot of VHS tapes it's worth it.

  2. likefunbutnot
    October 5, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    If you're converting VHS, it's well worth the effort to find the best quality VHS deck you can find. Most of the best ones were meant for a format called SVHS and include an S-Video connector rather than the standard composite video cable. You're probably talking about a $50 - $100 product even now, but given the limitations of the format, having the best equipment for reading tapes is essential for getting a good transfer.

    Also, VHS-to-DVD recorders don't actually make DVDs. If you're tempted to go that route, please don't. While they do put extractable video onto a disc, they actually record in a format called DVD-VR that misbehaves in most non-recording DVD players and DVD playback applications for computer. You basically wind up with a disc that can't be played in anything but another DVD video recorder.

    And what do you do with your old home videos? Put them on Youtube! If the videos are personal, you can mark them as Private or Unlisted when you upload them. They'll be stored with everything else that lives on Youtube, someplace where you can get it back, but also not available for just anyone to find it.

    One final caveat: VHS transfer is boring AF and it really has to be done in real time. Learn to work the counters on your VCR so you know how long to record and where things are on a tape. It really helps with a process that isn't any fun in the first place.

  3. Marty Monroe
    October 5, 2017 at 7:47 am

    It is probably worth pointing out the way that W10 handles usb is terrible, and the analog converter that you purchase might not work. I have one that worked perfectly in W7 but when we upgraded the boxes to W10, it failed to work consistently. Sometimes it would capture a portion of the video, occasionally it would work perfectly. New drivers from the manufacturer didn't help. The only reliable solution is to keep a W7 box .

    We've had trouble with other usb devices too - old interactive whiteboards, data loggers and writing tablets, all of which worked perfectly under W7 but the W10 built in usb drivers render the devices inoperable, overriding the manufacturers driver.

  4. Rico
    October 4, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    I digitize my tapes using a DVD recorder. I have a prosumer-level SVHS deck connected to my VCR/DVD Recorder combo. I haven't used the on-board deck since getting my SVHS VCR, as I've noticed a great quality improvement. I transfer my tapes onto DVD at no lower than SP quality, and then I rip them with Handbrake on the computer. I usually opt to use the AC3 passthrough option in Handbrake as then it won't-re-encode the audio. I've had great success with this method. It probably isn't as good as a capture card, but it's the most do-able for me!

  5. Max
    October 3, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    I have some vhs tapes to convert and an an old pci capture card. But some things do not work any more in ubuntu.

  6. Max
    October 3, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I have some vhs tapes to convert and an an old pci capture card. But some things do not work any more in Ubuntu...