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How to digitally encode VHS home movies

One of our readers recently contacted us wondering how best to store her collection of VHS home movies. My response to her was simple — Don’t.

Well, at least don’t store the memories as VHS tapes. I recommended that she have the tapes digitally encoded and store the videos on a hard drive. VHS tapes deteriorate over time and are prone to breaking, and preserving the videos in digital format will help ensure that the memories won’t accidentally be destroyed. Additionally, digital data on a hard drive takes up considerably less physical space than a bunch of VHS tapes.

How do you turn VHS tapes into digital data? Well, there are two ways you can do it: you can have someone else do it, or you can do it yourself.

Someone Else

For $20, Costco will transfer two hours of VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, Hi-8, Digital 8, 8mm videotape, MiniDV, or Betamax tape to DVD. Once you have the DVD in hand, you just save the files to your computer’s hard drive (assuming your computer can read DVDs). Costco also has a service that transfers 200 feet of 8mm, Super 8, 16mm movie reels to DVD for $20 and another that scans 50 slides to create digital photographs for $20.

There are dozens of other companies out there doing the same thing that Costco is doing, but many require you to ship your tapes to them. If you’re okay with putting your tapes in the mail, here are a couple websites to explore: Family Memories to DVD and The Photo Archival Co.. Be sure to give your local camera shop a call, too, because often they offer these services.


If you’re going to go the DIY route, you’ll need either a video capture card or an external capture device to allow you to connect your VCR to your computer. We use the Canopus ADVC110, an external capture device, which has some nice features that help accurately maintain synchronization between audio and video. We’ve had poor luck with less-expensive devices in the past, so be careful when choosing a capture device and be sure to read reviews.

Once you’ve plugged in the ADVC110 and connected it between your VCR and your computer, you’ll need to launch either Microsoft Movie Maker if you’re on a Windows PC or iMovie if you’re using a Mac.

The Canopus will export DV footage just like a camcorder, which will allow you to easily import the footage into the editing program. From there, you can edit the video, create titles, or add music.

When you’re done editing your video, you’ll probably want to burn your movie on a DVD. Follow these directions if you’re using a PC. If you’re using a Mac, just launch iDVD from inside iMovie.

Also, after you finish encoding your collection of VHS tapes, you can sell your capture device or let your friends borrow it.

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