How to digitize VHS tapes

Converting your old VHS tapes into digital files can feel like a never-ending project, especially if you've got decades of memories stored in the old format. The process isn't quite as straightforward as digitizing photos or film negatives, and it can be difficult to track down a VCR to play tapes, let alone convert them. The VHS format is not intended for archival purposes, and chances are your old home movies are already starting to degrade. Here's our guide on How to digitize VHS tapes.

If you want to digitize your VHS tapes at home, you'll need a working VCR. They are not impossible to find, but they can be difficult to track down. If you don't have one already, you can often find a second handpiece for sale on Amazon or eBay — prices vary widely, however, so be prepared to shop around. You will need one with video and audio composite jacks.

In addition to that VCR, you'll need a USB-to-composite video converter and a computer with a USB port. USB to composite video converters are easy to find, but like a used VCR, the prices on these devices vary.

At the lowest level is the ABL EWE Mini RCA to HDMI converter, which can convert the analog stream from your VCR to 720p or 1080p digital. However, you will need to provide your own software to record the video.

Another low-cost option is the REDGO Video Audio VHS VCR USB Recording Card, which can convert both NTSC and PAL video (good if you have video from abroad), has an S-Video port, and requires no external resources. It is compatible with Mac and PC, although Mac owners will need to use QuickTime Player to record videos.

In the mid-range is the DIGITNOW USB Video Capture Card Device Converter, which, in addition to the RCA connector, also has an S-Video connector. It is compatible with both Mac and PC, records video in H.264, AVI, MPEG2, MPEG4, and MP3 formats, and comes with its own video recording software.

At the higher end is Elgato Video Capture. The USB-to-composite converter plugs into the VCR and your computer (Mac and PC) to digitize those old tapes. It comes with its own video capture software and outputs at 640 x 480 resolution.

Before starting the process, you will want to make sure that you have it installed on your computer. Once the software is installed on your computer, you are ready to start. Plug the USB side of the adapter into your computer and the red, white, and yellow cables into your VCR. If your VCR is new enough and has an S-Video port, you can use that, as it will give you slightly better quality.

Feed the VHS you're looking to digitize into the VCR and rewind it to where you want it to start. Press play on your VCR and press record from the software on your computer and VHS will start converting. 

Everything happens in real-time, and while you don't necessarily have to watch the process, doing so can help you adjust to the initial VHS tracking. The software converts files to MP4 which you can upload to the cloud. If you are working on a large digitization project, you should invest in a dedicated drive to store your files.

Final Thoughts

Above is How to digitize VHS tapes. If you have time, you can convert VHS tapes to digital at home using a number of tools. If your tape is particularly old or you're short on time, there are services that will do it for you.

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