Everything You Need to Convert Your VHS Tapes to Digital

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Lots of people have stacks of old VHS tapes they want to convert to digital. The process is less overwhelming than you might expect. You just need your VHS tapes, a VCR, a computer, and a capture card.

Why Convert Your Tapes to Digital?
Preparing Your VCR
Preparing Your Tapes
Preparing Your Computer
Convert Those Tapes!
Safely Store Your Digital Files

People convert their VHS tapes to digital for different reasons. Maybe you want to save some old family movies, or you hate the new Star Wars digital remasters. Either way, VHS tapes degrade over time, so the best time to convert your tapes to digital is right now.
But that seems a little overwhelming, right? Don’t you need some expensive hardware or a giant nerd brain to convert tapes to digital?
No, not really. You just need some tapes, a VCR, and a capture card. Once you’ve got everything together, tape conversion is a breeze. And it shouldn’t cost you much more than $30 to complete this project ($15 if you already own a working VCR).
Some companies, like Kodak, will convert your VHS tapes to digital for you, but they charge about $35 per tape. That option isn’t really worth it unless you only want to convert one tape to digital.
You need a working VCR to convert tapes to digital files. For many people, this is the hardest part of the process. It’s not difficult to find a working VCR; it’s just a bit time-consuming (you’ll have to buy one secondhand).
Here’s the best way to buy a VCR and set it up for tape conversion:
If you happen to buy a VCR that doesn’t work, don’t bother trying to fix it (unless you know how). Instead, see if you can return it and buy a new one.
Now that you’ve got your VCR set up, it’s time to get your tapes together.
There’s a good chance you’ll run into some problems with your tapes. They’re probably at least 20 years old, after all. So, it’s time to go through each tape and look for problems.
Look through the “windows” of your cassette tapes for any obvious problems, like mold. Then, open the top of your video cassettes to get a good look at the exposed tape (you might need to press a button on the side of the cassettes to open the top). If the tape looks crunchy, tangled, moldy, or broken, it might need some TLC.
Here are some common problems you might encounter and how to fix them:
Now that your tapes are ready to be converted, it’s time to set up your computer with a capture card and some software.
Your computer needs a way to receive and decode the video signal from your VCR. This is a two-step process:
So, now you’ve got your capture card, VCR, and tapes set up. It’s time to start converting that giant stack of VHS tapes.
This process happens in real-time, so it might take a while. If you don’t have a lot of time at present, you might want to set aside a day in the near future to convert all of your tapes to digital files.
To start recording some VHS tapes, plug the capture card into your VCR and computer, fire up the recording software, and begin the arduous process of digital conversion.
Your capture card software should include all the instructions you need. If it doesn’t, don’t sweat it! Here’s what you need to do:
And that’s all there is to it! While this process might sound complicated, it’s pretty straightforward. If you run into any problems using the capture card software, consult the instruction manual or email the manufacturer for help.
Don’t leave your digital files on your computer’s hard drive unless you want to risk losing them forever (or putting yourself through this time-consuming process all over again).
Instead, back up your newly digitized videos on an external hard drive, and then upload them to a cloud storage solution, like Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Drive, or iCloud.
As for your tapes, if you want to keep them, be sure to store them in a cool, dry environment. You can also go the extra mile and throw them in some plastic cases or a tape storage bag. These prevent mold buildup, dust accumulation, or water damage.
Lastly, if any of your tapes contain television broadcasts or advertisements, please upload them to the Internet Archive. Most of television history has been lost, so any contribution to this archive is extremely valuable.
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Digital Strategist Chris Hood

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