If you still have VHS tapes around the house, it’s probably because they contain precious memories. But, even though they have a long lifespan (10 to 25 years, depending on quality), VHS tapes are not the most reliable storage mediums.
As time goes by, and depending on how often you play them, the tape will get old and damaged. So, if you don’t want to lose those memories, now is the best time to start thinking about better ways to preserve them.
The best way is to have the content converted to digital and then stored in a more portable and safe location, like your computer or the cloud. This way, you’ll also get rid of old technology lying around the house, such as the VCR needed to play VHS tapes.
In today’s article, we’ll talk about the two most common ways to convert VHS content into digital format and the tools and steps needed for each.
Use a Service to Convert VHS Tapes to Digital Format
The fastest and less time-consuming way is to use a reliable service that does VHS to digital converter jobs. This type of service has specialized tools and technicians who know how to handle old or aging tape without inflicting any damage.
Also, many of these services will do minor repairs (where necessary) to ensure the best content quality possible. Once the job is completed, you can get the resulting footage via digital download or on a USB driver (or another storage device).
All you have to do is gather the tapes you want to be converted and pack them for delivery. As an additional step, you may want to clean your VHS tapes, especially if they haven’t been properly stored. VHS tapes have lots of nooks and crannies that gather dust or develop mold over time, so you may want to check the casings and see if there are any problems.
Convert your Tapes to Digital Format at Home
If you’re the crafty type, you may want to turn the conversion to digital into a DIY project. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.
So, before starting anything, check out the steps below:
Get the Tools You’ll Need
Depending on the type of conversion you want to make, you’ll need a slightly different set of tools. For starters, you need a good VCR, which may be the most challenging part of the project if you don’t already have one.
A quick tip: VCRs are rare nowadays, and good ones are even rarer. If you buy a used one, test it with a tape you don’t care too much about first. This way, if the tape gets snagged or jumbled, you won’t lose your precious memories.
Once you have the VCR, you’ll need an analog converter to connect the VCR to the recording device, which is usually a computer hooked to a DVD player. These are a lot easier to find and quite affordable.
If you want to store your content on DVDs, you’ll also need a DVD player with recording features. Still, keep in mind that DVDs don’t have a long lifespan, so you may want to have a good DVD to MP4 converter tool nearby for the future.
Lastly, to put everything in play, you’ll need a software tool that will capture the content from the VHS tape and convert it into the digital format of your choice. Here you have to do a bit of research and find the software that fits your analog converter. Pay attention to the software version since you need the right one for your converter to work properly.
Set Everything Up
Before you set up your workspace, check to see if you have all the cables and adapters required for the operation. While the computer and DVD player (if it’s part of the setup) won’t need much setting up, the VCR is a completely different thing.
If you’re not used to setting up a VCR, it’s best to do a bit of research first. That’s because the VCR has several different ports that look alien to someone who isn’t used to old technology. Also, the ports and cables are different, so you have to be extremely careful when trying to shove a plugin.
For instance, most converter devices have three plugs for the VCR. Luckily, they are color-coded (usually white, red, and yellow), so all you have to do is match the colors on the plugs with the colors on the ports. Just make sure to use the output ports and not the input ones.
This means you may have to buy an RCA cable that has the right plugs. This is a cable split in three at each end, and one end goes into the output ports on your VCR, while the other end goes into your converter (where you’ll find the same color-coded ports).
Lastly, the converter also has a USB port, which you’ll connect to your computer. Once everything is set up and the software installed, you’re ready to start the action.
Let It Roll
The conversion process happens in real time, so you have to let the VCR play the footage as the software does its job. This doesn’t mean you have to hook the VCR to a TV; the converter is enough.
Also, before you hit play and record and let the tape roll, it’s best to do a test capture. Let the software record a couple of minutes, hit stop, and watch the recording. Check the settings and see if there’s anything to improve. If everything looks good, restart the tape and start recording.
A quick tip: Don’t be tempted to hit fast forward on the VCR in an attempt to shorten the time spent recording. If you do that, your record will also be sped up. Also, if you stop the tape and not the recording, this will show up in your digital footage.
Do Some Editing
Once the recording part is over, you have a bunch of digital recordings you have to check. Play the footage and make notes of any edits (trimming the beginning and end, cutting out empty spaces, and so on).
It’s a good idea to do these basic edits before saving the footage for storage. This way, whenever you want to see it (or use it), you’ll have access to good-quality content.
Save & Store
Depending on the converter and its software, your digital video format may differ (most use MP4, MOV, or MPG). As a result, the overall size of your content will be different as well. Still, if you had a full tape’s worth of content, this usually means around 120 minutes of footage, which means the final file will be large.
So think carefully about where and how to store the files. You can store them on DVDs (which is not a good long-term strategy), USB devices, external hard disks, or on the cloud. While all of these options have limits, the cloud looks like the safest and most accessible medium. Plus, if you want to share the files, it only takes a few clicks.
Saving precious memories from the confinement of old VHS tapes and uploading them to the cloud can be a wonderful DIY project, but it takes time, patience, and a small financial investment. Plus, you’ll have several pieces of old technology left to dispose of by the end of your project.
So, unless you are prepared to dedicate yourself to the project and clear out a big chunk of your schedule, you’re better off with a specialized service. Plus, this type of service will always focus on getting the best quality out of your old tapes (whenever possible). So you may get better results than if you’d decide to do this by yourself.