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How do I Convert VHS to Digital?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

While current personal recording equipment is entirely digital, those who came of age prior to the 90s recorded home movies to analog VHS tape. Vacations, the baby’s first days at home, his or her first steps, recitals, school plays, the puppy and baseball games are all sitting on a medium that degrades with every playback and over time. Let’s face it: it’s time to convert VHS to digital files to preserve your memories safely. You’ll also be able to dump that box of bulky tapes and get rid of the antiquated VHS deck that does little more take up space!

But before we toss the VHS deck to the nearest electronics recycling center, we’ll need to use it one last time. There are three basic steps to convert VHS to digital:

1. Stream the VHS tapes to hard disk by connecting the tape deck to your computer.
2. Edit the resulting digital files as needed or desired.
3. Burn the digital files to CD or DVD.

An A/V-to-USB adapter cable.
An A/V-to-USB adapter cable.

Step one requires connecting the tape deck to the computer through a common interface. The most advanced video-out port on a VHS tape deck is the S-Video port. If the deck does not have S-Video out, it will have composite video out. Since neither video port carries audio, the deck will also have (2) RCA audio-out ports for a stereo signal.

Most desktop video capture cards include an S-Video-in port for accepting streaming media, along with a 3.5mm stereo Line-In port. An S-Video cable can be run from the tape deck to the capture card. The capture card should also have composite-in, if S-Video is unavailable on the deck. An RCA audio cable can be purchased that has left/right connectors on one end, and a 3.5mm male stereo connector on the other, to connect the audio. Software that came with the card will allow you to capture the streaming video to the hard disk.

A burnable DVD, which is used in converting VHS to digital.
A burnable DVD, which is used in converting VHS to digital.

For those without a video capture card there are several products that can be purchased to interface the deck with the computer. Perhaps the easiest way to convert VHS to digital in this case is to buy an A/V-to-USB adapter cable. This cable features a USB connector on one end, and at the other end, an S-Video connector, a composite video connector, and two RCA audio connectors. Since most converter cables of this type are short tails, you will also need a USB extension cable to use with it. Software comes with these cables, but you might prefer using a different program. Several video capture programs are available, and might also be included by default on your computer.

VHS tapes were once the most popular medium for recording movies and TV shows.
VHS tapes were once the most popular medium for recording movies and TV shows.

In the streaming process, choose a standard NTSC capture rate of 29.97 frames per second, and a resolution that is at least as great as the original resolution. Note that this process requires a considerable amount of space on the hard drive. While VCD quality will consume about 700Megabytes (MB) per hour of tape, the best DVD quality consumes about 5 Gigabytes (GB) per hour. Mentally double the needed capacity to account for the editing process, which comes next. If short on space, consider converting one tape at a time.

Step two allows you to edit and organize the files you have created before burning them to disc. Various editing software is available from third parties, but most DVD decks come with editing software that should already be present on your computer. You can create titles for your home movies and combine similar content by placing several digital files in one project, using menu creation to easily access individual movies.

Step three is the final process: burning the digital files to disc. To maximize universal playback ability use write-once media verses rewriteable, though the latter is great for burning projects on a trial basis to see how they will turn out. If you create an .iso image of the files, you can re-burn the image at any time to a new CD or DVD disc. This will save time in the long run, though storing .iso images does consume hard disk space. Burning software typically comes with every computer, and is also available online.

There is no better time to convert VHS to digital and start enjoying those home movies in a more convenient format that will preserve your cherished moments far better than analog tapes. Move your memories into the 21st century, clean out that tape storage area, recycle that old VHS deck, and say goodbye to the hassle of VHS forever.

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Discussion Comments


Back in 1990-1991, I was in Sears and there was this new device that you would stick a VHS video in and play it and it would let you print pictures from the video. You just go to the part on the video you wanted the picture of and then print it out. I don't remember the name of the device or who made it. Does anyone have any idea at all?


The example they have is the EasyCAP.


@indigomoth - Yeah, we thought our family tapes were all safe in the garage, only to discover that they had gone moldy and a lot of the memories were lost.

None of us had any clue how to get the information into digital form, so basically we took them into a place that did it for us, and for a pretty good price as well.

I've also heard that a lot of high schools are set up so that they could do this, so if you know someone who worked at a high school and has access to the information and technology, you might want to ask them to see if they can fix you up.


@behaviourism - You might want to get any family videos backed up anyway. The thing about vhs is that it doesn't last forever, or even for very long. The tape will eventually deteriorate even if your parents don't use it very much.

It doesn't really matter if all you've got are taped reruns or something, but if they are holding on to your first Christmas or something like that, you really want to try and get them sorted onto CDs or whatever.


For VuPoint Solutions, the video converter DVC-ST100-VP-BX4, I just purchased the DVC-ST100-VP converter and when the movie was put to disc and tried to play in the VCR an error message "This disc has no play back capabilities". The disc will, however, play back on the PC. Can you help?


@behaviourism: Thanks for that worthwhile contribution to the discussion. With that knowledge, my world is a better place.


My family has just kept their VHS tapes to use occasionally; up until a few years ago, my parents even had a BetaMax tape machine that we still used; while it would be good to convert the VHS to digital, I don't think my parents feel that they use old tapes often enough to make the effort.


I have av to usb cable. can i convert my vhs tapes on pc, as i don't have a video capture card. I am working on pc with windo xp / laptop with vista.

Don't have S port in any of these. VCR has only audio video 2 jack output & RF output.

Kindly suggest what to do.

Thanks, Rajesh B.

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    • An A/V-to-USB adapter cable.
      By: Denis Dryashkin
      An A/V-to-USB adapter cable.
    • A burnable DVD, which is used in converting VHS to digital.
      By: kredo
      A burnable DVD, which is used in converting VHS to digital.
    • VHS tapes were once the most popular medium for recording movies and TV shows.
      By: windu
      VHS tapes were once the most popular medium for recording movies and TV shows.