Digitizing VHS Home Movies

vhs capture

If you are like me, you might be at that age when you start looking back in your life. You may also have in your possession, or maybe in your parent’s attic/basement, a dozen or more videotapes from the 80’s and 90’s filled with holidays, birthday parties, and other family events. These could be VHS, SVHS, VHS-C, or one of the 8mm variants (regular 8 or Hi-8). All of these are ‘analog’ formats using a magnetic tape. These tapes only last for a certain amount of time, so it’s probably time to digitize them. I’m here to help.

There are several ways to get this job done. Of course the easiest way to do this is to send them out to a service that specializes in media transfers. While this might be the easiest, it is definitely not the cheapest. For even just a basic transfer to DVD you are looking at about $25 per cassette. This will actually go up if the tape was recorded at a slower speed, which some people did to get more than two hours on the tape. Most services limit each DVD to only two hours so you have to check your tapes to see how they were recorded.

There are several mail-order transfer services out there; some might even be local to you. Places like Wal-Mart and Costco (or even some of the bigger drug store chains) can do this type of work. Just remember that these could be precious memories, some that you may never see again if anything were to happen to them. Choose wisely when sending them out. Check to see if there are any reviews from customers posted online.

Since you’ve gotten this far, maybe you want to try and do all this yourself. It’s not that hard to do, with the right equipment and software. The main thing to know is that it takes a large investment in your time. If you are willing to put the time in, you can save a lot of money doing it yourself.

There are two ways of getting a VHS tape onto a DVD. First is the simplest, but the devices to do this are getting harder to find. I’m talking about a combo DVD-recorder/VHS set-top-box. Maybe you’ve seen one. They look like a standard VHS deck, but has a DVD-recorder on one side and a VHS deck on the other. Companies like Panasonic, Magnivox, JVC, and Samsung made these a few years ago. Currently, I’ve found models from Toshiba, Funai, and Sanyo that are still available new. Prices are right around $200. If you have a dozen tapes to convert, that’s at least $300 (at $25 per tape). If you have more tapes, you’ll be saving even more money, if you decide to do this yourself.

These units are easy to use. Personally, I own a Samsung unit, the DVR-375. You just put the tape in the deck side then put a blank DVD in the tray and hit one button on the remote – Tape to DVD. It does the rest. When the disc is done, just finalize it and it pops out ready to watch. When you play this DVD it will show a basic menu of your program. With most of these units there is no way to customize this so you get what you get. The quality is very good and the disc should play in most any modern DVD/Blu-Ray player. Most computers can play them back too, as long as you have a DVD player App installed.

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