HOWTO: Convert VHS Tapes to DVD

Category: Video

Let's face it... your old VHS tapes with treasured family memories won't last forever. Even if the VCR doesn't eventually jam and eat the tape, a VHS recording uses fragile magnetic tape that degrades over time, whether you watch it or not. Don't count on those VHS tapes (or your VCR player) lasting forever -- convert your VHS tapes to DVD format today, and save those memories for posterity...

How to Convert VHS to DVD

You have several options to when converting VHS to DVD. Let's look at them one by one and then you'll be ready to choose the one that's best for you.

Combo Units

If you own a combination DVD and VCR player/recorder, it's almost painless to pop in the VHS tape and a blank DVD, press a few buttons and directly record the old tape to a shiny new DVD disc. A slight variation on this method is to connect your VCR to a separate DVD recorder unit.

Convert VHS tapes to DVD disc

If you don't need to modify the video (editing, adding chapters and custom menus), this method is the easiest and most direct. If you don't own a machine that can play VHS tapes, don't despair -- they still make them! You can find the Toshiba Multiformat DVD Recorder/VCR Combo (Model DVR620) at Amazon, Best Buy or Walmart for under $200, and I'm sure you can find used VHS/DVD recorders on Ebay for even less.

Using a Video Camera

Just about any digital video camera (camcorder) can serve as the tool to help you copy directly from your old VCR into a digital format. Usually it just requires hooking up a cable (may need to be purchased separately) from the VCR's Video Out port (the red, white, yellow connectors) to the Video In port on the camera and pressing a few buttons. Each camera works a bit differently, so follow the instructions in your video camera's manual for recording from an auxiliary input. This is a slow process because it is a re-recording of what is on the tape to the new DVD format, but it is fairly simple and requires no additional hardware if you already own a video camera.

Using a Black Box

Special devices like the DVD Xpress Video Converter from ADS Tech make it easy to transfer directly from VHS tape to a DVD disc. Basically, this is an external device that takes the place of the video camera in the previous scenario. You connect the VCR to the device with a standard red/white/yellow cable and then connect the device to your computer with a USB cable. These devices may be more cost effective than a video camera and a little easier to use. This unit is no longer manufactured, but you can still find them for sale online.

Another option is the VHS to DVD Deluxe from Honest Technology. This is a hardware software combo that comes with a "Vidbox" video capture device that supports VHS, camcorder, Beta, and 8mm tapes. The included software offers an "Easy mode" for one-click VHS to DVD transfer, and "Advanced mode" which allows for editing, removal of unwanted scenes, transition effects, and easy uploading to YouTube. The product is listed for $79 on the vendor's website, but I found it for $49 at Amazon.

VHS to DVD Conversion

What Hardware and Software Do I Need?

Most computers sold in the last few years will have the basic system requirements needed for dealing with the digital version of your VHS recording. You should have 1GB or more of RAM and at least 10GB of hard drive space available.

Oh, and a DVD burner of course, and a stack of blank DVD discs. Some computers have combination CD/DVD drives, which may or may not be able to burn a DVD. Don't assume that because you can burn a CD, you can also burn a DVD. Look for the "DVD-RW" logo on the drive door, or consult the documentation if you're not sure. If you need a DVD burner, external USB-connected models are easier to install than internal CD/DVD drives.

Once you capture the video on your computer, you can use movie editing programs such as Windows MovieMaker, QuickTime or iMovie (Mac OS) to manipulate the video as desired, add subtitles, chapters, etc. Make sure the DVD software and/or recorder is set to "finalize" the disc. A disc that's not finalized can be played on most computers, but not on standard DVD players.

If you run into trouble transferring a copyrighted movie, try using a "stabilizer" such as the Sima CT-200 (also sold as the Clarifier SX by Facet Video.) Check out VideoHelp.com for more video editing software and tutorials with wonderful step-by-step instructions.

Here's one thing to consider: you might not need the physical DVD at all. You can convert VHS to digital format and save the video to a hard drive. You can view the video on your computer, or store the digital version as a backup of the video tape.

The Low-Tech Solution

A final option for those who don't care to dirty their hands with wires, bits and bytes is a service bureau. Many services offer to receive your VHS tapes by mail and return them with a DVD or Blu-ray equivalent. One example is Home Movie Depot. For around $15 per VHS tape (more for damaged tapes) they can walk you through the preparation process and help you get the tapes to them for conversion. They also offer an "Easy Box" option, which lets you fill a large UPS, USPS Priority, or FedEx box with up to 25 VHS tapes and they will transfer it all to DVD for a flat rate of $299.

Another option for VHS to digital transfer is iMemories. Their regular price is $14.99 per videotape, but they're offering a "limited time special" of $9.99 per tape. The catch is that you don't get a DVD. Instead, they store your videos online, where you can view them. You can burn a DVD, but that's another $10 charge. WalMart has a similar service which charges $19.96 for 2 videotapes. You do get a DVD, plus online viewing and sharing capability.

How Long Do DVDs Last?

All that I've read indicates the expected longevity of CD/DVD discs is anywhere from 2 to 250 years. That's a pretty wide spread, and the most likely reason is that optical discs have only been in common use as archival media for a decade or so. DVD discs were invented in 1995, so there simply are no 50, 100 or 200 year-old DVDs to support the notion that they will last for decades or centuries. They might, under the right conditions, but we don't know for sure. Here's what some experts are telling us:

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's 2005 report on CD/DVD Care & Handling offers information on the subject of CD/DVD life expectancy. In that report, they say: "...there is consensus that, under recommended storage conditions, CD-R and DVD-R discs should have a life expectancy of 100 to 200 years or more. CD-RW, DVD-RW (writable) discs should have a life expectancy of 25 years or more."

However, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has a report called Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Optical Storage Media which says "CD/DVD experiential life expectancy is 2 to 5 years even though published life expectancies are often cited as 10 years, 25 years, or longer." They discuss various factors which can impact life expectancy and recommend that you test your media every two years to make sure it's still readable.

The useful life span of CD and DVD discs is affected by temperature, humidity, exposure to light and day-to-day use. My advice is to buy quality name-brand discs, keep your DVDs in a cool, dry place, avoid direct exposure to sunlight, and hopefully they will last for a decade or more.

Should You Keep Your VHS Tapes?

There's one interesting wrinkle here. Transferring your VHS tapes to DVD is a good idea for several reasons. Aside from the fact that the tapes are fragile, you may not always have a VCR on which to play those tapes. But it's quite possible that your old VHS tapes will outlive the DVD discs to which you are transferring your family memories. Bob Greene, a contributor to this website, gave me the following information, which I think is excellent advice:

"Optical discs are NOT the best archival media. No consumer-grade disc manufacturer makes claims about disc reliability, but latest word is the archival stability of optical discs does not even approximate tape. VCR tapes, like audio tapes, play until the oxide coating is damaged or covered by contaminants. Or until, at the extreme, when the acetate tape and/or oxide binder breaks down chemically.

There is another, huge advantage to tape. If a portion of the recording becomes damaged or otherwise inaccessible, the rest of the tape is still readable, in most cases. Not so for digital discs -- if a byte fails in the most critical area, the entire thing can be lost.

Keep your family memories longer on VCR / audio tape, and store the tape under best archival conditions, away from heat, humidity, strong magnetic fields and sunlight UV. Maintain a tape player (for the format used) in operating condition, and protect the player with storage under best conditions possible. If you plan for the long term, look into the condition of rubber pressure wheels and belts-- these must not "dry out" and crack.

The ideal strategy is to copy the tape to optical disc, archive the tape, and use the disc as source material. Check the disc yearly for problems, and re-record a disc from the tape source, if necessary."

So YES... keep those VHS tapes around for as long as is practical. You may need them again. Have you converted your VHS tapes to DVD format? Share your experience and tips you've learned here, by posting a comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Convert VHS Tapes to DVD"

Posted by:

Jim
06 May 2013

I've converted many VHS tapes to DVD -- family creations (with a lot of 8mm still to go), TV shows, and commercial tapes for which I did not wish to buy a DVD replacement. I have a special "stabilizer" (can't recall the name and haven't used it in a while) that did a fabulous job even on Disney VHS tapes, which are notoriously hard to convert.
Not of these are regularly viewed, so I can't comment on longevity, but I can say that, in response to Bob Green, I have seen deterioration in VHS tapes, including commercial ones, most notably in color (fades like old photos) and audio (becomes soft or even garbled). I do archive the most important tapes, but in general, I'll take my chances on DVD.


Posted by:

Howard
06 May 2013

I have used the Roxio Easy VHS to DVD unit with very good success. The combo VHS DVD unit we have will indicate copy protected way too easily and refuse to copy to DVD. The Roxio unit is small and the software works easily, getting good sound sync so it's not like watching the old late night martial arts movies. Easy editing software, and since it's installed on my laptop, I can take it to the stereo and use it to record LP's and cassettes to CD.


Posted by:

Steve Zimmett
06 May 2013

Is it possible to convert DVD movies to this format using the machine you spoke of in this article? Will this machine work for this conversion.


Posted by:

Bill
06 May 2013

You can also archive video files to a harddrive. USB Hard drives are cheap these days. If you have dvd's you can burn ISO images of them using IMGburn which is free (asks for a donation) You can also goto DVDFab site and download free virtual drive to mount ISO images and play them.


Posted by:

Breandán
06 May 2013

Don't bother with DVDs, go straight to hard drives (duplicated of course) and view on PC, or on TV via a media player. Tapes may be long-lasting, but tape players are not - I've had one 8mm and four full-size VHS players die on me in the past couple of years. They've disappeared from retail outlets, nobody knows how to fix them now, and there's little service info on the net. Most people seem to have dumped theirs long ago, but if you still have one, keep it safe! I managed to buy a second-hand 8mm camcorder to convert old family videos. I played them through my Canon MV750i miniDV camcorder in pass-through ADC mode to its Firewire output, from where my PC captured the videos using WinDV (a great free program). Files were 13GB-per-hour AVIs, essentially uncompressed, so I invested in a 2TB hard drive to archive the AVIs, because subsequent editing is easy with AVIs. You can get more manageable file sizes by using Avidemux to produce mp4s of about 1 GB per hour - tape videos don't need bigger mp4 files than that. Compared to the mpeg2 files of DVDs, mp4's more advanced compression gives smaller files. Be aware that digitized videos with fast motion will need "de-interlacing" (I found Avidemux's Kernel Deint just fine). The picture may also need cropping to clean up the edges.


Posted by:

Ed
06 May 2013

The unit mentioned above by Jim is called a Digital Video Stabilizer that allows the user to bypass "Copyguard" that was used on many commercial VHS tapes to discourage copywright infringement.


Posted by:

Jeff
06 May 2013

Once I had my vhs transferred to dvd, I most certainly threw out those space-hogging tapes. Yes, the dvds may not last forever but I have digital backups of them on more than one computer, and now you can also store them on a cloud service.


Posted by:

Orville
07 May 2013

With external HDDs relatively inexpensive nowadays, how about copying onto one of these, or copying the DVD copies onto a HDD as a backup? What is the longevity of data recorded onto a HDD? Keeping the VHS tapes might be wise, but they take up so much space.


Posted by:

Jeff
07 May 2013

This article makes me question the integrity of this website. To recommend keeping VHS tapes for as long as possible and not to mention digital backups?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I guess you missed this line: "You can convert VHS to digital format and save the video to a hard drive. You can view the video on your computer, or store the digital version as a backup of the video tape."

The bottom line is that all media can fail, whether it's tape, optical disk, a hard drive, or cloud storage. Multiple backups are the key to surviving any data disaster.


Posted by:

salim
07 May 2013

my low-cost approach has been to have a Liteon all-write stand alone player, which can also copy audio cds, & it has enabled us to not only convert from vhs, but also from cassette tapes.
there's also a download you copy to a disc that when played into the machine, it will also add a 3 hour recording option, & also bypass a copy-protected disc, handy when making back-up copies.
just keep in mind Liteon optical readers are very sensitive to high temperatures so one can opt to put an extra fan, or just blow a house fan towards the back of the unit when in use..


Posted by:

Stan Koper
07 May 2013

Here's a question for you, Bob--with Hollywood moving away from film and to digital, what steps are moviemakers taking to ensure that the originals are archived, and not lost?


Posted by:

Walt
25 Oct 2013

There are vhs/dvd recorders avail with TBC(time base corrector)integrated. This will by-pass the
copy protection called macrovision on your VHS tapes. I'm not sure if a tv/monitor is necessary, will have to have composite/RCA cables. This type of recorder is a professional/studio deck and not found in the usual consumer outlets, Best Buy, etc. If anyone can elaborate on the nedd for a TV/monitor please post it. Thanks


Posted by:

Roy
24 Jan 2014

I am using a Toshiba brand VHS-DVD all in one machine. But it does tell me I cannot copy my old VHS movies to the DVD. Is thee a way to unblock the VHS so it will download to my DVD.
Was there a way that you cover over the notch in the back with tape to make it work?
Or is there something inside the VHS that stops the DVD from burning?
I need help here. Thanks.


Posted by:

Werner Kemp
13 Apr 2014

HI BOB. I have read your wonderfull, article about howto convert vhs tapes to Dvd. One of the option is to use a video camera by connect the vcr machine to the video camera. Is it right. Now! I want to use this option. Plaese let me know, if I can use my Dvd Camcoder to record the vhs tapes to my Camcoder. My camcoder uses a sdhc memory card. 2. Send me more details about Fanalizing a dvd . Witch software has this function? Yours Werner Kemp


Posted by:

Oyster
12 Nov 2014

Tapes will not stop. while we will convert to DVD and HDD, archive to Tapes is still having longer lifespan for companies and small business and some home users.
Sony has just invented 185 Tera Bytes cassette for data store.
the only best way to keep the memories is to use Mdisc technology which last for 1000 years.


Posted by:

Dino
26 Nov 2014

I have copied my tapes onto my computer but when I burn to DVD there is no sound. I use "I Q Mango " converter. Where am I going wrong.


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