Here's How to Convert Your VHS Tapes to DVD

Category: Video

Unfortunately, those 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 or digital format today, and save those memories for posterity. Here are some tips on how to get it done...

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.

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 can still be found! You can find the Samsung DVD-VR375 DVD Recorder VHS Combo and the LG RC897T Multi-Format DVD Recorder and VCR Combo with Digital Tuner at Amazon, and I'm sure you can find used VHS/DVD recorders on Ebay for even less.

Convert VHS tapes to DVD disc

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 DVD or digital 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 VIDBOX Video Conversion for PC or Mac. This hardware/software combo can capture VHS, Beta, 8mm or camcorder tapes and convert them to DVD or other digital formats. It can also record audio from your cassettes and LP records to create WMA files or audio CDs. It comes with a USB video capture device, USB Cable, RCA AV Cable, Quick Start Guide, Installation Software CD and step-by-step instructions.

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 4GB or more of RAM and at least 15GB 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 Movie Maker 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, or share them on social media sites.

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 iMemories. Their price is $14.99 per videotape. You can download your digital files, or store then with an iMemories Cloud subscription, which costs $6/month or $50/year. The cloud option lets you store, organize, edit and share your videos with others if desired. You can have them burn a DVD ($10 extra) or a USB thumb drive ($20 extra).

WalMart has a similar service which charges $12.96 for a 30-minute VHS videotape, and $7.46 for each additional 30 minutes. You get a digital copy of your items, accessible in your MemoryCloud account for 60 days. From your account you can view and download your files to a computer, smartphone, or tablet. You can order additional copies on DVD ($3.96 each) or USB ($12.96 each). There’s also an option to transfer your items to Google Photos.

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 and 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. Storing your videos and photos in digital form, with regular backups, is an even better strategy.

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 or digital 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 "Here's How to Convert Your VHS Tapes to DVD"

Posted by:

Joe F
10 Sep 2020

I purchased the Elgato Video Capture device from AMZ and used a VHS player with the RCA outputs connected to it. The other end of the Elgato Video Capture is USB and connects to a PC running the Elgato SW. You can create an MP4 file which you can store on your Home NAS or burn the DVD as you need. Obviously, the MP4 file can be edited as you wish before making a DVD or playing it.


Posted by:

Gary Bergman
10 Sep 2020

As stated, DVDs made on home equipment can have a very short life-span. These disks are not really "burned." A low-power lase simply changes the dye color. They can fade out when exposed to sunlight. It is critical they be kept in the dark. A better alternative, in my opinion, is to convert them to .mp4 files stored on flash drives. The only media, that I know of, that can be reproduced indefinitely, is DNA. Maybe my grandkids, someday, will be able to buy such a recorder on Amazon.


Posted by:

Charley
10 Sep 2020

Pressed CDs and DVDs last longer. Ones that are written by you on a CD or DVD recorder don't last as long because the dyes or metal degrades. See this article from the library of congress.

https://www.loc.gov/preservation/scientists/projects/cd-r_dvd-r_rw_longevity.html


Posted by:

Lucy
10 Sep 2020

eBay and Amazon shipping charges would add to the cost quite considerably. First check out Goodwill or Salvation Army Thrift Stores. They reliably have stock of VHS players. Other thrifts don't seem to accept them. Because of COVID they will actually check their shelves for you if you call.
I would recommend you use a VHS cleaner if you buy a used machine. They can be pretty gunky and might spoil your tape if you don't.
Maybe a neighbor or friend has a machine sitting around that you could borrow or rent. If you are on Nextdoor neighborhood app you could ask on there.
We transferred all of our tapes to DVD, then copied to the computer and to a thumb drive.


Posted by:

kkaamm
10 Sep 2020

A few years ago I transferred over 20 'high quality' branded DVDs worth of VHS but, within 2 years, not a single one of them worked in my recorder! This was a warning, so I borrowed a friend's stand alone recorder (which would still play most of them) and redid the lot. I don't know if they still work. I would convert through a PC to HDD, SD card or USB stick in future...k


Posted by:

Earl J (Maui Boy)
10 Sep 2020

Aloha Bob...
I do believe that family members entrusted with family treasures would have a easier time at converting black and white films from the 40s and 50s than VHS tapes from the 70s and 80s... (grin)
I actually converted some 35 mm black and white film that was shot by an amateur videographer who was a glider pilot on D-Day; he was never assigned a unit or a job after the invasion... so followed the invasion force up to and including the fall of Berlin... taking video and stashing them safely until the end of the war (handing them off to news and documentary units along the way, I guess) ... including a piece of film (which I ended up with after all those years) from a dance hall with topless can-can dancers (from France, I suppose)... LOL... it certainly amazed me with its quality and durability... (wink)
* * *

Until that time...


Posted by:

Earl J (Maui Boy)
10 Sep 2020

Gee whiz...
{{ 𝑨𝑵 𝒆𝒂𝒔𝒊𝒆𝒓 𝒕𝒊𝒎𝒆 }}
It actually found me at Fort Bragg, NC... It sure would be interesting to trace its path from my hand to the videographer shooting it back then (50 or 60 years earlier from the time I received it)...LOL
* * *

Until that time...


Posted by:

Will
10 Sep 2020

A lot of great suggestions and experiences on this topic, today.

I can only add the following. After converting about 150 hours of personal family VHS tapes (1-2 hours each) to DVDs using my VHS recorder to SONY DVD recorder, I then took the time to convert each of the DVDs to ISO files.

I realize this is definitely not for everyone but ISO files are easily watched on available s/w such as VLC Media Player and they promise more long term durability than the DVD media.


Posted by:

Art F
10 Sep 2020

One aspect of family videos on VHS you did not comment on: Converting them to DVD makes them very easy to share with other family members online. Once the file has been moved to DVD, you can use your computer to convert the DVD contents to a convenient video file format like .MOV. The file can then be uploaded to Google Drive or OneDrive or wherever, and then a link to it can be emailed to family members or other interested persons. When they click on the link, the converted video will play on their screen.


Posted by:

Brian B
10 Sep 2020

Why not use DVDs of 100GB with a claimed life of 1,000 years, and almost destructive proof? Claims backed up by the US Navy.


Posted by:

David Maguire
11 Sep 2020

i see no mention of DVD "M" disks that although expensive are supposed to last a thousand years.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mdisc company went bankrupt several years ago.


Posted by:

kevin
11 Sep 2020

Storing original VHS tapes for decades requires additional precautions:

First, tapes should be kept in one vertical position or another (and preferably flipped every few years) rather than flat or stacked. If not, gravity over time will weigh down the tape pack and curl whatever happens to be the bottom-most edge of the tape. Such edge damage can eventually make the tape unable to be played with proper "tracking", causing snow to cover much of the picture.

Each tape should also be wound from beginning to end (or rewound) every few years. That undoes any sticking that may have been developing between the layers of tape, especially if not stored under ideal conditions. It also restores proper "tension" for the tape as it gets packed back onto the reel. Of course, use a VCR that's in good mechanical condition for this. If you have a large collection, you can spare that machine from too much work (plus get more tapes done in less time) if you also use a quality "tape rewinder" unit for at least the rewind cycles. (Some can even do the fast forward winding as well.) Just make sure it transports the tape gently and not exremely fast. When done, it's a good idea to end up with the tape wound fully forward rather than fully rewound. That keeps the first part of the tape (the end most likely to have recorded content) from being exposed to the air all the time that it's in storage.

No matter what you do, you may find that older tapes can get detached from the beginning or end of the reel (spool) that its wound on. That happens when the folded piece of tape that is attached onto the reel breaks or slips out of the slot where it's normally held by a snapped-in sliver of plastic. This detachment will usually be noticed after you just did a wind or rewind operation on an old tape, even with a smooth-winding VCR or winder. (But that just means it would have happened anyway the next time you played it.) Some people know how to open up the shell to reattach the tape end in some fashion or another, or even to untangle a tape jam. But this requires knowledge of exactly how the tape is threaded inside and experience in assembling it together when you close it back up. So it's wise to first explore and practice on unwanted tapes that you were ready to discard anyway.


Posted by:

Robert Mansker
11 Sep 2020

what is a good way to transfer cassette tapes to CD's. The devices on Amazon are cheap and don't do a very good job.


Posted by:

Wolfgang
11 Sep 2020

This is another excellent article! About 10 years ago, I purchased a special analog to digital circuit board, which I installed into one of my older computers. I did a LOT of digitizing of VHS tapes and music cassette tapes. I used video editing software and audio editing software for creating '.mp3' sound files and '.mp4' video files. I have been archiving those audio and video files, and, importantly, backing all of my image, audio, video, and document files on Carbonite cloud backup. I did burn a small sub-set of those video files onto DVDs. I am so glad that I have performed al of that digitizing and making several backups. Thank you Bob for all of the good advice contained in your articles!


Posted by:

David
11 Sep 2020

About the longevity of VHS vs DVD, we have a very large movie collection (from silents to 2000's) that started with VHS and went into DVDs. We have lost perhaps 3 of the VHS tapes and a couple of dozen DVDs over the years due to degradation. A professional DVD will be fine one year and bad the next, even if treated gently.

I get the feeling that 2 to 5 year life of a DVD is more correct than the 50 that I first heard about.

I also have to wonder how long the machines that play the media will be around. (Which is why we have multiple VHS and DVD players.)


Posted by:

Terry Hollett
11 Sep 2020

I use to have a Toshiba VHS to DVD recorder. It only recently gave out. You can also use TV tuner/capture cards or the USB versions.


Posted by:

Jerry Owen
11 Sep 2020

I suppose similar methods can be used for Beta tapes. The problem is finding a working Beta player. I have seen a few offered on Ebay but the asking prices are high. The same goes for VHS-C.


Posted by:

bb
11 Sep 2020

I've acquired and testing at least a dozen USB Video Capture Devices for my local computer club. They cost from $10 to $50; bottom line they all were unreliable (some worked in some computers)and the software was ... uuhhh ... mostly amateur.

Like Joe F above, I finally settled on the then-$80 Elgato USB video capture device. It has worked perfectly in every machine tested. Elgato has kept drivers and software updated, that can't said for some of the XP-era devices still being sold. Unfortunately it appears Elgato is no longer making that unit and the price has exploded on the third-party market.


Posted by:

Brian B
11 Sep 2020

@ EDITOR'S NOTE: "The Mdisc company went bankrupt several years ago."

True, but the company Millenniata was taken over by the debt holders who took possession of all of the company's assets. The debt holders subsequently started a new company, Yours.co, to sell M-DISCs and related services. M-Disks are still freely available here in Oz.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yours.co seems to be unresponsive as well.


Posted by:

RandiO
14 Sep 2020

What is a VHS? ;)
I bought one of those converter machines about 5 years ago. I was forced to redo the whole wiring on my A/V entertainment system to accommodate it and haven't turn it on to even test it just yet!
I am surprised that BobRankin would recommend going from VHS to DVD: That is like jumping saddles from a dinosaur to a horse and buggy and calling it 21st Century tech upgrade.
Just last week, I recall reading the post about the wonderful virtues of cloud storage. Yet, I presume that it must not be ready for the 21st Century needs of consumers who should rather retain archival quality conversions to be viewable way into the future. This would obviate the need to visit this topic in the future for how to transfer you DVDs cloud storage.


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