Converting VHS Tapes to DVD: A First-Hand Experience

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Preserving family videos is an important task, because no one wants to lose the precious memories of their loved ones. Recently, my family started the process of converting several VHS tapes to DVD format. My mother had been thinking about doing this for years; however, since she doesn’t consider herself to be especially tech-savvy, she was intimidated and kept postponing the job. However, after recently watching some of the tapes with the family, she decided it was time to transfer them. She was reminded of how special these home movies are, and she also knows that the tapes can deteriorate over time. Some of them are more than two decades old.

First, she researched options and costs. Phone calls to professional companies that transfer tapes were discouraging. Prices she was quoted ranged from $15 to $50 per video tape, and since we have a total of 22 tapes, the estimates seemed cost prohibitive. Ultimately, she opted to borrow a VHS-to-DVD converter from a family friend.

The process was simple. She connected the VHS-to-DVD converter to the TV, put in the VHS tape, put in a blank DVD and pressed the “Dubbing” button. It was even possible to edit as it was recording, although this involved sitting with it while it was converting. If you don’t want to edit, you can just come back when the VHS tape is finished playing. The first conversion she did took 2 hours and 36 minutes. As my mother neared the end of the process, all she needed to do was to “finalize” the DVD, and she was finished.

While this isn’t the only way to transfer your VHS tapes to DVDs, it’s certainly an easy way. In addition to this option, there are three other methods for conversion:

  1. Use a VHS player with a separate DVD recorder.
  2. Use an analog-to-digital adapter bundled with software, such as an Elgato Video Capture, or similar products, such as Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for Mac, or Corel Easy VHS to DVD for Windows. These systems connect your VHS player to a computer, and enable you to create a digital file that you can burn to DVD.
  3. Head to the photo department of a retail store like Walgreens or CVS, or seek out mail order options. (Groupon sometimes offers mail-in deals on VHS conversions).

Click images above for more information.

While it’s time consuming to do this yourself, it’s not complicated. The cost savings can be significant—our family saved between $500 and $1,000 by doing it this way. Most converters, like the one my mother used, cost less than $175. Even though we already had a spindle of DVD-/+R discs, these are inexpensive and widely available. Plus, you have the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

DIY conversion also affords more control, because you can edit as you convert each VHS tape. A professional company can edit out blank or damaged sections, but they wouldn’t be able to do personalized editing, without additional effort and expense.

One more thing to note is that the DVD won’t improve the quality of the VHS recording, which, given the state of video recording two or three decades ago, can be spotty. Couple that with the effect of aging on the tape, and you may have a somewhat messy viewing experience. However, starting the VHS-DVD conversion process will preserve your priceless memories no matter which option you choose, and it may be better to have them with some artifacts than not have them at all.

161 Comments

I spent a lot of time converting family VCRs to DVDs. Many of the DVDs had several small segments of video not just one long sequence as we had some short parts of tapes to convert. They played back fine but only on the machine I recorded/converted them on. Then I realized I needed to finalize the DVDs before they would play back on another DVD player. I was upset to find that the DVDs only played back the first sequence after I had finalized them. Are all the other parts inaccessible now? I hope not. Thank you.

I am sorry, but usually you will need to finalize a DVD before it can be played on a DVD player.   You may need to convert the tapes again and make sure you finalize the discs.

Thanks.

Great forum.

May I ask - just in terms of the quality of the end product, is there a difference between a standalone machine(Samsung VR375) and a video capture system (Roxio Easy VHS to DVD)?

Also, is there a difference in terms of the likelihood of glitches, as with many hours of VHS tapes to convert, I won’t be able to fully view all the results, to see how they’ve turned out.

Many thanks J

The Samsung VR375 is not a product we currently sell.  However we now offer the ION Audio Video 2 SD Standalone VHS Conversion Recorder.  Rather than connecting a capture device to a computer, like the Roxio, you can connect your VCR to this and record right to a Micro SD Card.  It makes the process a lot more convenient.  As far as differences in quality, they should be around the same.

https://bhpho.to/2WKpvYC

Thanks!

Thank you! That sounds like a neat little product. However, I presume you would still recommended I then burn the video files to DVDs, for long-term storage?

Thanks again. :)

Not necessarily.  You could burn DVDs, you could save the footage to a hard drive on your computer.  You could even consider doing both.

Thanks again!

Jumping in on this question as I too am interested. I was looking at the Elgato Video Transfer to transfer a lot of old VHS to digital files. Are there any differences between that and the ION listed above that I should know about? Quality? Ease of use? Format output? I like the idea of recording directly to an SD Card since it's obviously very portable/easy to share but would still like to transfer it to my MBP for editing in FCPX. basically do you think one is much better than the other? In quality or any other aspect? Thanks! 

The difference really lies in how the product works.  The Elgato system, B&H # ELVC, connects directly to a computer through USB while the ION records directly to a SD card.  You would need to bring in the footage to you computer after the fact.  As far as quality, they will both be around the same but the Elgato Captures .MP4 files and the ION .AVI Files.  An MP4 file is a bit more friendly with FCP X.

Thanks!

I was able to copy a vhs tape on to a dvd, but it does not play on my mac. The instructions say to "finalize" the disc. How do I do that? Thank you

Hi Nicole - 

It depends upon your DVD recorder Nicole. E-mail us with more details:  askbh@bandh.com

Can you watch vhs tapes on these converters with sound?

Hi Marty -

Yes you can.  Just connect to a monitor or TV.

I want to copy VHS tapes to digital video files (I assume DVD files) to save on SSD's, not DVD discs.  I have VHS players, and Windows 10 PC's to perform the conversion.  

What is the best way to do this with minimum technical difficulty, and maximum quality (essentially no loss of image and audio quality)???

I assume there is software available to do this, but don't know what product will best meet these requirements.  

By the way, these are old VHS tapes of Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, and Dallas Cowboys games (I assume the are copywright limited), so I need something that will work with such tapes.  

Thanks for any help you may be able to provide.

one other thing.. don't buy into the 'Myth' of converting vhs to dvd. DVD discs were limited to 2 hr max before they started dropping pieces of the picture as macroblocking or artifacting. So unless you recorded the vhs at high speed, 1 vhs tape for 2 hour shows.. it will never ever fit on a DVD. Most people don't want to think about taking one vhs tape with 6 or 8 hours and converting that to 3 or 4 DVD discs.. but that's all that is really practical. Blu-ray came later and is rarer but had 5 times the storage capacity.. if you convert a slow SLP vhs tape to Blu-ray it will work.. but there were never any Blu-ray recorders in the United States.. only Blu-ray recorders for Personal Computers.. so if you go that way.. your going to need to capture to PC files and then use those to make Blu-ray discs.  Another way is to choose not to make standard DVD discs and make non-standard DVD discs using MPEG4 instead of the standard MPEG2.. but its not a standard and most people would never want to do that.. Blu-ray would be safer.. or just keep them as long term files on a PC drive you back up regularly.. unlike many things though you can't backup broadcast recordings up to the cloud or youtube since that would be taken down

one of the better ways to pursue this today, on your own is first find a vcr that works.. an SVHS vcr isn't really needed for 6 or 8 hour tapes, but if you have SVHS then a reputable model like the ag1980 or jvs9600 would be risky but justified. You really can't get these serviced anymore and spare parts are gone.. so its a one shot deal.. it either works or doesn't. Then get a reputable DVD recorder to use as a filter, many would clean up the signal and pass it on through to its outputs. Finally the recording device can be a usb dongle (but really they don't work well) or a capture card for a PCI slot, Magewell makes these, or a totally standalone capture device which records to computer files on a removable hard drive, AverMedia makes these. - Avoiding a PC is not really possible anymore because this such a niche hobby.. sooner or later a PC has to be used to touch up the capture or transform it into whatever you need for playback. its not that hardware got dumber or totally went away, they just stopped trying to make it easy to use for most people.. it all takes some expertise to use whats been left behind.. vhs has been gone for 10-20 years now and nothing ever really replaced it

I’m trying to convert 8mm tapes to digital.  I’m using vidbox. The process is very easy,but the video quality on my Sont camcorder is sharper and more vivid the the digital version.  I realize I can’t make old 8mm tapes HD quality, but was hoping for at least as good as the original.  Any advise would be greatly appreciated!!! 

Hi Patti -

Use the S-video output of the camcorder for the highest resolution capture.

I am copying my old VHS tapes using a Sony Video Cassette Recorder SLV-N51, VIDBOX, and HP Pavilion.  Occasionally the copy comes our fairly clean, but more often the top 1/5th of the screen looks as though it has been pulled to the right with a flickering rainbow of colors showing just as it transitions to the fairly good screen.  When I say "fairly clean" I mean that there appear to be horizontal lines that are distracting.  If I simply play the VHS tape, the image is clear MUCH better than DVD version!  Everything is plugged in firmly, I am following the instructions, I tried cleaning the head and it did not make any difference, and yet the problems continue to occur; what am I doing incorrectly? 

I really don't want to lose these memories, but don't have the money to have it done professionally.  Can you help?

Hi Flohr -

 It may be time to get the recorder serviced by a professional.

Flohr wrote:

I am copying my old VHS tapes using a Sony Video Cassette Recorder SLV-N51, VIDBOX, and HP Pavilion.  Occasionally the copy comes our fairly clean, but more often the top 1/5th of the screen looks as though it has been pulled to the right with a flickering rainbow of colors showing just as it transitions to the fairly good screen.  When I say "fairly clean" I mean that there appear to be horizontal lines that are distracting.  If I simply play the VHS tape, the image is clear MUCH better than DVD version!  Everything is plugged in firmly, I am following the instructions, I tried cleaning the head and it did not make any difference, and yet the problems continue to occur; what am I doing incorrectly? 

I really don't want to lose these memories, but don't have the money to have it done professionally.  Can you help?

If you are looking for a professional company, Classic Memories does a fantastic job and their prices are very reasonable. I recommend classicmemories.com

I have 2 different kinds of tape that I'd like to convert to digital. VHS-C and Mini DV. And I'm working on an old macBook Pro running 10.9.5. Any help would be appreciated!

Hi Diane - 

If you have a VCR and a camcorder to playback the tapes,  all you will need is this device:

The Elgato Systems USB Analog Video Capture Device is a compact USB device, perfect for converting analog video to a digital format. You'll be able to use the device to capture old home movies, VHS recordings, or any other analog media to a modern digital format. Simply plug your playback device into the S-Video or RCA composite input of the device, and capture.

Video is digitized into a format that is compatible with iTunes, any iPod, the iPhone, the Apple TV, YouTube, and iMovie. This gives you extreme flexibility as to how you utilize the captured video, without having to jump through the hoops of manual file format conversion. Elgato's Video Capture is an excellent tool for any Mac or Windows user who would like to bring their old analog videos into the digital age.

Standard USB interface

Captures from RCA composite and S-Video sources

Perfect for digitizing old home movies

Compatible with NTSC, PAL, PAL/60, and SECAM signals

Includes free download of Elgato Video Capture software for Mac and Windows

Software features basic video editing tools, allowing you to trim unwanted footage away

Exports to H.264 format, perfect for iTunes, the iPod, an iPhone, the Apple TV, YouTube, and iMovie

Compatible with Mac and Windows (please click on "Specifications" tab)

If you do not have the playback devices contact us via e-mail:  AskBH@BandH.com

I am in the process of converting VHS to DVD on my own     We have a system that converts VHS to DVD    I have made copies and replayed them in my VHS player and the work fine.   However, when I try in my portable DVD player of my Mac Lap top it says I have inserted a blank disk.   I use the -R DVDs as well.   HELP???

Hi Sheryl - 

Most likely the discs were never finalized.  That means they will play back on the machine that recorded the copy and sometimes a computer with a DVD drive.

Good Afternoon,

Yes, I do want to copy VHS to DVD  easily, I am not the brightest bulb on the tree, so I guess I will  invest in an old  multi recorder, however,

I am wondering if there are unites out there that have a "button" to press that will do the recording in a lot less time.

Do you know of any??   Thx Carol in Florida.

Hi Carol - 

Unfortunately our stock of recorders has been sold out for some time.  The manufacturers are no longer producing these devices. If you search the internet usnig this phrase you are sure to find something suitable:   "dvd/vhs combo player"

I am still researching how to copy my VHS and 8mm tapes. I'm planning on the the Elgato to an external hd using my mac. I am wondering what size external hard drive to buy and I would probably buy two so that I have 2 backups. Do you know how many GB per VHS and the same for 8mm? Thanks.

Hi Linnea - 

Tough to say exactly, depending upon the recording speed of the taped recordings and how many tapes you plan to transfer.  But for archiving purposes i would consider  using nothing smaller than 4TB external drives.  Portable drives would work well for this project:

Designed for Mac and ready to be used with Time Machine, the 4TB My Passport for Mac USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive from WD can be used to create system backups, store your photos and videos, and much more. The drive comes preformatted for Mac and works out of the box; simply plug the drive in and begin transferring your files quickly using the USB 3.0 port with maximum data transfer rates of up to 5 Gbps. In addition to just storing your files, this drive features 256-bit AES hardware encryption along with the ability to add a return-if-found message if the drive is ever lost.

Hi! Great little forum here. Yesterday I copied a video to dvd on our Panasonic dvd recorder and things went mostly as the operating instructions said they would. I finalized the dvd and was able to play it back on the dvd player. However, when I stuck it into my computer and tried to play it there, the computer would not recognize it and therefore would not play the disc. My computer is an old Mac Powerbook and it normally plays dvds, but it would not play this one. So, I'm wondering if it's normal that a copied dvd will not play on a computer or, if they do normally play on a computer, why it's not playing on mine. What say you?

Hi Jennifer - 

This can happen.  Does your computer normally play these DVD copies you have made on the Panasonic?  You might want to try a new blank disc.  I tis also possible that the Panasonic recorder is no longer finalizing the recording.

I will be using the Elgato product to convert my old VHS tapes to DVD.    I saw on Youtube videos that you can select the number of minutes that you want to capture and it will tell you the size of the digital file that will be created.  So, let's say I choose 90 mins of recording and the resulting digital file comes to 3.5 GB.    I will then take that file and burn it to a DVD.  In past experience with using my DVD burn software ( I use "Burn"),  the software would further reduce the size of the  file when it converts the file for DVD compatibilty.      Will this happen with the files that I create using Elgato?    I am asking because I want to know if I can create files that are greater than 4.7 GB (my DVD disk capacity) when using Elgato, knowing that my burn program is going to reduce the size of that file and therefore the file will fit on the DVD.  So, the resulting Elgato file may be 5 GB,  but once I convert it using my burn software,  it might reduce to 4 GB ,  for instance, and I can then burn it to my DVD disk since it is under 4.7 GB.

You can ignore my question above.   I  tested the Elgato Video Capture on an old VHS tape lasst night and created a couple of h.264 files.     My free Burn software could not convert the files (kept getting error message) so I purchased Wondershare DVD Creator.   That worked and I was ablle to convert the file into a DVD format and  burn the DVD.   I had an error in my question above wihere I stated that when you convert the files for the purpose of creating the DVD, that it "reduced" the size of the file.   I meant to say it increases it.    So,  therein lies the issue -- you need to figure out the correct number of minutes of video to capture in order to fit the resulting converted file on to the DVD.    I tried 120 minutes of VHS video, which created a file that was 1.7 GB.   When I imported it into Wondershare DVD Creator,, and it converted the file into a DVD format, and then went to burn the DVD,  I recieved an error message saying that the file would not fit on my 4.7 GB DVD.     It did, however, at thtat point give me the option to compress the file so that it would fit.   I did not opt for that at this time.   Need to test some more.      What I would reallhy like to do is import the captured video into iMovie so that I could edit it first, but the resulting file created by iMovie is huge and certainily would not fit on the DVD.     

Hi Rich -

Sounds like you understand the process, but the "Burn" freeware is not something we can support.

I opted to bypass the iMovie edit process and just do a straight copy of my old video camera tapes using Elgato Video Capture  and newly purchased Wondershare DVD Creator and it is going very smoothly!  My real objective was to digitize the tapes so that I would not lose  20 year-old home movie gold,  and this is working perfectly!   

I want to copy several VHS tapes to DVD. Embarrassed to say, I am not technically savvy--therefore, the following questions will probably sound dense:

Do all VHS to DVD combo recorders have to be hooked up to a cable box/TV if you just want to copy a tape to DVD - are there any you can just plug in without hooking up to a cable box/TV?  I have read that after copying the tape to a DVD, you can only play the DVD on the machine that made it.  Is this true for all copied DVD's?  Simply, I just want to copy tapes to DVD's without having to hookup to cable box/TV and be able to play the DVD on any DVD machine.  Hope this makes sense?!!  Thanks

Hi Lynn - 

All machines of this type do not need to be connected to an antenna or cable TV source at all for dubbing copies. Once a disc is finalized it should playback on any DVD disc reading device.  Unfortunately these VCR/DVD combo units are discontinued and no longer available at B&H.

I am in the process of converting my old VHS tapes to files. On my last conversion I noticed White checkered lines that run top to bottom on each side of my recording. The picture is fine otherwise. These are visible during playback. Is there any way to fix this situation?

Hi John - 

I am not aware of any linear or practical way to do this.  I once had a similar situation where I projected the footage and then re-shot the footage with a camcorder, framing the projected so the sides were effectively cropped.

Isn't there a way you can just use a cable (not software) to connect your laptop to a VCR and play to copy VHS tapes?  Seems like it should be possible without putting software in your computer to do this.

Hi Junie - 

Sure is:

If you have a VCR to playback the VHS tapes,  all you will need is this device:

The Elgato Systems USB Analog Video Capture Device is a compact USB device, perfect for converting analog video to a digital format. You'll be able to use the device to capture old home movies, VHS recordings, or any other analog media to a modern digital format. Simply plug your playback device into the S-Video or RCA composite input of the device, and capture.

Video is digitized into a format that is compatible with iTunes, any iPod, the iPhone, the Apple TV, YouTube, and iMovie. This gives you extreme flexibility as to how you utilize the captured video, without having to jump through the hoops of manual file format conversion. Elgato's Video Capture is an excellent tool for any Mac or Windows user who would like to bring their old analog videos into the digital age.

Standard USB interface

Captures from RCA composite and S-Video sources

Perfect for digitizing old home movies

Compatible with NTSC, PAL, PAL/60, and SECAM signals

Includes free download of Elgato Video Capture software for Mac and Windows

Software features basic video editing tools, allowing you to trim unwanted footage away

Exports to H.264 format, perfect for iTunes, the iPod, an iPhone, the Apple TV, YouTube, and iMovie

Compatible with Mac and Windows (please click on "Specifications" tab)

If you do not have the playback devices contact us via e-mail:  AskBH@BandH.com

When I copy videos from a VCR tape to a DVD will I still have the videos on the VCR tape after?

Hi Alyssa - 

Yes.  The original tape and content will always be retained.

Hello MARK I HAVE A NEW SANYO 2 WAY DUBBING I WANT $200 new in box..

Mark,

What equipment do the professionals services use to convert VHS tapes to an archive quality digital file?

I see several DIY options available that I'm sure with convert to something usable but looking for a more long term solution.  I see no point in converting to DVD format for a final format as they are too difficult to work across many devices.

Since VHS players are no longer made new, I'd like to capture the info on a few family VHS tapes in the highest quality archive digital file possible so I can later convert to different options as they change with the times.

What additional equipment would you suggest? In the different components I'll need- where is the quality determined? 

Hi Beth - 

Commercial duplicating machines are not available to the general public and are not practical to copy just a few tapes.  If you have acces to a VCR use a product like this one (used by the pros at B&H ) to create high quality files that you can distribute to family on USB thumb drives.

The Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle is a 10-bit HD/SD video capture/playback device that supports USB 3.0, and allows you to capture 10-bit HDMI or analog video directly from a camera onto your computer for professional editing or mere playback. With a neat, compact design, the Intensity Shuttle is very portable and easy to set up. As the input and output connections are on different sides, you can simply plug the unit in line with your existing cable setup.

Supporting HDTV 1080i/59.94, 1080i/50, 720p/59.94, 720p/50, the Intensity Shuttle allows easy and instant switching between HD and SD video standards. Additionally, using the USB 3.0 interface eliminates the need to compress visual data and thus saves on CPU processing power; this allows your CPU to solely focus on HD real-time effects. The video capture/playback device draws power from the USB 3.0 connector itself, and eliminates the need for a dedicated power source. 

The Intensity Shuttle for USB 3.0 is directly compatible with various editing applications, including such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Fusion, and Nuke. It's compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux systems.

10-bit HD/SD capture-playback allows you to capture and playback high-quality 10-bit HDMI data

USB 3.0 support ensures compatibility in the future when USB 3.0 is anticipated to become the main I/O standard

Direct capturing of 10-bit HDMI video allows speeds up editing and playback

Compact, lightweight design ensures that set up and installation are easy

Separate sides for inputs and outputs allow inline connectivity with existing cables

Support for multiple video standards ensures adaptability in varying types of setups

No compression required as the USB 3.0 interface is capable of handling HD video, thereby saving on CPU processing power

No separate power source required as the device draws power from the USB 3.0 connector itself

Compatible with multiple software image-editing solutions such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Fusion, and Nuke

HI: We have an old VCR and a seperate DVD recorder/player (Pioneer).  I was able to record a family party recorded on a VHS tape from 1987, to the dvd.  I can watch it on that recorder and also on my windows 10 computer.  However I wanted to make additional copies for other family members.  I used to have a program on my older computer that would copy straight across (that is all I need) and would be able to play it on any dvd player.  I no longer have that computer or program.  Is there any program that I can use to make additional copies.  We own two dvd copiers (sony double layer from 2005 and LG Modisc from 2013).  I have downloaded the movie to the Windows 10 computer, it copies on the copier but then when put in the dvd player it will not play.  Any suggestions would be helpful.  Thanks

Hi Katie-Jo - 

There are lots of freeware and free trial versions of software available that will allow you to copy your home-made DVD movies with Windows 10:

http://bit.ly/2njjjV2

Hi,

I have a new Grandbaby on the way and would love to transfer all our old Walt Disney VHS  tapes onto DVD.

Is this possible?  Just using for own personal use, and to play in car.

I do not have a VHS player anymore , so can you tell me what I need to actually do this? 

Thank you

Elizabeth

Hi Elizabeth - 

Unfortunately, these commercially produced and distributed DISNEY films are copyrighted material and would be illegal to copy.  They are typically copy-protected which means they cannot be copied to DVD disc or other media. 

To be specific, it's only illegal if you reproduce the content and then distribute or otherwise sale the content. 

If you are simply backing up your own collection, there is nothing illegal or copyright enforceable in that regard.

But of course professional services won't copy your Disney VHS for you for liability reasons.

Mark is correct, there’s no copyright infringement as long as there’s resale. Also check YouTube.

I have 2 differnet Progrmas for you to check out.. Snagit and Camista is a Pro Grade Software that is Great. get a trial version and see how you like it ..It uses a lot of space..  I perfer the Camista it takes it makes it in TREC Format then you use the same program to convert it to HD MP4 Takes some time but It works great I use it for recording all the time.. far as burning Yoiu can use Dual layer DVD's 

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