How to Transfer Your Videotapes to Your Computer

VHS VCR

Do you have a pile of VHS videotapes taking up space in your home? Or, do you want to archive your VHS/Beta videos for posterity or easier viewing on a computer or tablet? There are many reasons why you might want to convert your video tapes to a digital format. Here’s how to do it.

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What You’ll Need

First of all, you’ll need a VCR (VHS or Beta, depending on what kind of tapes you want to convert). You’ll also need a computer. I used a Windows PC, but you can get a video capture device that works on a Mac. You’ll also need some RCA cables, usually colored white, red, and yellow. Often, these cables come with your VCR or TV.

The one thing that you’ll have to buy is a video capture card or USB capture device. I’ll discuss both.

Video Capture Card Method (More Advanced)

A video capture card plugs inside your desktop computer, so if you have a laptop, skip this option. The advantage of using a card is that they often offer more features, mainly a tuner that allows you to plug in an antenna and watch broadcast TV on your computer! Not only that, you can record broadcast TV to your computer’s hard drive, creating your own DVR (digital video recorder) – pretty cool!

However, all of this comes at a cost, not only to the price tag, but also to complexity. The drivers for video cards can be dicey, and the TV viewing software that comes with them are often very underwhelming, making the TV viewing experience mediocre at best. I personally have struggled with several video cards, and ultimately abandoned trying to get them working on my systems, but if you are tech-savvy, you can give them a try. The Hauppage brand has good ratings:

USB Video Capture Method (The Easier Way)

A USB video capture device is much simpler and just does one thing: convert a composite video (or S-video) signal to a digital file on your computer. There usually isn’t a tuner, so no watching broadcast TV or recording off the air.

USB video capture devices are usually cheaper. Here are some:

The one I used is the Play X Store Chip USB2.0 Audio Video Capture Adapter for Windows. This one does not work on Mac, but there are similar ones that do.

If you are not as tech-savvy, and just want to cheaply transfer your videos to your computer and be done with it, this is the way to go.

Setup

The method I’ll show here involves using a USB video capture “stick” with a Windows 10 machine. I chose to use a USB video capture stick, the Play X Store USB 2.0 Audio Video Capture Adapter from Amazon.

This is not a name-brand and seems super sketchy, I know, but it had good reviews, so I gave it a try.

USB Capture Device

It includes the actual USB converter stick, a short USB cable, driver CD, and instructions. The instructions were written in broken English, which did not inspire confidence, but I moved forward!

The instructions tell you to plug the device in, then load the drivers off the CD. But, I wanted to make sure the CD’s drivers were loaded, not Window’s drivers, so I installed the drivers from the CD first, BEFORE ever inserting the USB stick. That insured that the proper drivers would be loaded.

Note, the Amazon description says the product includes video editing software. It does not! But for this price, I wouldn’t really expect it to.

After the drivers are installed, the connections are pretty easy. Connect the RCA cables to the dangling female cables on the USB stick.RCA cable connections

Connect the other end to the audio and video OUTs on your VCR.

VCR connections

Alternatively, you can use a single S-Video cable if your VCR supports it.  Then plug the USB stick into your computer.

USB video converter

Launch the “honestech TVR” app (I know, sounds super sketchy!!). You’ll see a window showing what is coming out of the VCR. Press “Play” on your VCR, then hit the record button on the software to start recording! Pretty simple!

Video software

The actual picture quality is better than what is shown here, because I had to take a photo of my screen (a screen capture wouldn’t work on the player).

Recording Options

Before you hit the red Record button, take a moment to think about what recording file format you want to use.

The software is preset to record at VHS-quality (320 x 240 pixels). You can change the recording quality up to 720 x 480px (DVD quality), but if you’re recording VHS tapes, there’s no point in doing that.

The file format is preset to MPEG-2 (.mpg file). Note that Windows 10 does not come with an .mpg video player but you can get one here.

You can change the setting to record to an MPEG-4 (.avi) file, which is playable on more software but you’re locked into 352 x 240 resolution at that setting, but is fine for VHS.

Whatever file format your choose, I recommend doing a short test recording to make sure you can play back the resulting video file on your computer before ripping a six-hour VHS tape!!

Doing the Recording

You’ll have to let it run for the entire time that you want to record, so it could be a lengthy process! Make sure your computer’s hard drive has plenty of space. If you’re recording hours of video, you could need many GB of free space.

Cue up your videotape to the point you want to start recording and hit Play on your VCR, then hit the red Record button in the software player. If your tape is long, set a timer and do something else while it’s recording.

When your recording is done, hit Stop and check out the file it created (usually in a sub-folder of your Documents folder).

Conclusion

So, although it’s somewhat of a lengthy process, you actually don’t have to be around for most of it. After you’re done, you can get rid of your video tapes, and you’ll have digital files which won’t degrade over time (unlike magnetic tapes), and which you can share on YouTube and play on any device!

How did it work for you? What conversion device did you use? Let me know below!