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.
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.
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.
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.