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How to Transfer Your Videotapes to Your Computer

By Brian
Published 01/07/2016
 | Updated 04/13/2021

Do you have a pile of 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 videotapes to a digital format. Here's how to do it.

Using a Service

Since I first wrote this article, many services have cropped up that will convert old media (i.e., VHS tapes) to new (i.e., digital files). Even Costco and Walmart offer these services now.

If you're just converting one VHS tape, these are a good deal. But if you have many, it can get expensive really quick, at around $20 or more per tape.

If you prefer to do it yourself, and you still have your VCR, read on!

What You'll Need To Do It Yourself

First of all, you'll need a VCR (VHS or Beta, either will work). 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 USB capture device.

One caveat before we go any further: computer video capture products are notoriously finicky. I had to try a bunch before I found this one, which worked for me. If you do decide to purchase one of these, please make sure to get it from somewhere with a good return policy, like Amazon.

USB Video Capture

A USB video capture device converts 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.

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.

These USB video capture devices are pretty cheap these days (because they are cheap Chinese knockoffs of each other). Here are some others, which probably use the same chipset as the one I used:

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.

RCA cable connections

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

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).

An alternative method of recording is to simply play the recording on your computer and use screen recording software, like ScreenRec to record it. Thanks to reader Shella for this option.

What If You Don't Have a Computer?

If you don't have a computer, or if the solution above just doesn't work for you, check out the Ion Video 2 product which records straight to micro SD card. No computer needed during the conversion process, other than to view the file on the SD card when it's done (so you will need a micro SD card reader on your computer):

Conclusion

So, although converting videotapes is 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! - Brian

Did You Like This Article?

Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com
If you did, please share it and sign up for my email updates. I'll send you my new articles, no more than once a month.

Check out my other site, thefrugalnoodle.com, with ideas on saving money and living simply.

Ask a Question or Tell Me Your Story

If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. 

When you comment, you'll automatically receive replies by email. Your email address will not be displayed.

I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story!  Thanks! - Brian
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אלי לוי
אלי לוי
6 months ago

I use the software you specified with windows10. In the created file (mpeg2) the video is not continuous (there are stops in the video). It appears that the software is unable to generate a continuous file. I tried on two computers and it's the same problem.

Shella Lawrence
Shella Lawrence
10 months ago

I rather played it on my computer screen and then recorded these videos with ScreenRec. It is the easiest way out

Surya Narayan
Surya Narayan
3 months ago

Is it possible to record audio with video? Can you explain?

Adele Crowther
Adele Crowther
1 year ago

Hello there!
Your article was really helpful (I too was concerned about the terrible translation on the pack & on the disk!!)
My issue is... My laptop will not recognise either the VHS machine or my video camera when I plug it in with this device. I am using Windows 7 (I know... lock-down has made it hard to get my techy friend to sort this out!!) please see image of my current system...
I downloaded OBS software & for a moment or 2 I could see the film from the camera but it was black & white & very liney... I have downloaded a whole host of other software (some mentioned above) but none can 'see' either device.
Do I need a different driver or graphics card?
I just need to get my laptop to see either device.
When I look at my device list - it shows - please see attached images...
comment image comment image comment image

I hope you can help - I am trying to convert old camcorder footage for my son's 25th birthday - which is today!!!! I haven't seen him for 18 months as I moved abroad just before lock-down & I have been on this quest for weeks now!!

I'd be most grateful for any advice, help, links etc.
Many thanks
Adele

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Adele Crowther

Hi Adele,

Computer video capture products are notoriously finicky and sometimes just don't work on certain computers/systems (I'll add a warning in my article). I had to try a bunch before I found this one, which worked for me. If you're using the extender USB cable, I would try a different one. If that doesn't work, I would return it for a refund.

Sorry about the trouble.
Brian

Adele Crowther
Adele Crowther
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian

Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly Brian!
So, do you think it might be an issue with the device itself?
My husband tried it on his laptop & that wouldn't 'see' it either...
If I buy another one, do you think it will solve the problem?
Did you use the software that came with it or use i.e. OBS Studio?
I really appreciate your comments!
Thanks again!
Adele

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Adele Crowther

I used the software that came with it.

I would try a totally different solution. This box records straight to micro SD card and doesn't require a computer at all:
https://amzn.to/3dxQyiD

Best,
Brian

Travis
1 year ago

Would you know why the home videos I record to the computer flicker at the bottom? It plays on the VCR fine. It even does the flickering after it is burned to dvd. I've tried on my laptop and high end desktop with same results, could it be the USB cable? I use this one https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0040FT30O/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_sXIcFbVCXQEK4 I've had since 2011, maybe it's just not compatible with windows 10? Thanks for any advice!

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Travis

Hi Travis,

If it's the kind of flicker that I'm thinking of (a thin band of flickering picture at the bottom), I believe that is a VCR tracking issue and not related to anything digital. It probably is just cut off when playing on your VCR to your TV. Maybe try adjusting your VCR tracking?

Best,
Brian

Travis
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian

Hey I don't know why I didn't get notified of your reply! I will try adjusting the VCR tracking, Thanks! :)

Claire Francès
Claire Francès
1 year ago

Hi guys !

I need some help on how to convert my vhs c tapes by myself and i hope i can find some solutions to my questions here :)

I was bored of paying 30$ to a professional each time i have to transfer a tape so I bough this set up : https://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B078H54QDR/ref=ask_ql_qh_dp_hza
It works fine but my video recording file arrives interlaced (image 1) , i can uninterlace it but it makes my file super pixellated and crappy (image 2)

Do you know how i should transfer my videos to have a correct quality as shown on my camcorder screen and not crappy stuff like my linked pictures ?

Thanks a lot for your help, it would mean so much !
Claire
comment image
comment image

Brian
1 year ago

Hi Claire,

Are there any tracking controls on the VHSC player that improve the picture quality at the source?

Other than that, there is software to de-interlacing but it might be expensive and hard to use: https://forum.videohelp.com/threads/381452-Interlacing-issue-and-restoration-on-VHS-capture

Perhaps there is some other post-processing software available...

Best,
Brian

Mary Litwinczuk Brimacomb
Mary Litwinczuk Brimacomb
1 year ago

My operating system is Windows 10. I purchased the Honestech TVR 2.5 system. I downloaded the software put in the Serial number to complete the installation. The first time I tried it, I saw myself throught the computer camera, then I switched to see the USB and I tried to capture a small amount of video from the VHS player. But now when I load the software and try to play a vhs tape I only see a white screen and neither the computer camera or the USB connector is talking to the software, I just see the white screen.

gj off
gj off
1 year ago

I am capturing vhs using UCEC card and get files. Good BUT -- how do I move these (ex. mp-4) file to DVD -R. I have tried different output formats UCEC provides; it appears files move to my DVD drive but no finalize - DVD player does not read disk. Any ideas; appreciate your assist. Gerry, Brookfield WI

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  gj off

Hi Gerry,

You'll have to consult your DVD player's manual to see what audio file format it can play.

Best,
Brian

Tim Childs
Tim Childs
1 year ago

I used honestech software but could only get back and white. Mpg4 format was my format choice. Is there yet another setting?

yakov hanimov
yakov hanimov
1 year ago

i did all of this on my home pc
i used Easycap USB 2.0
when i play the VCR i see the video on my pc screen (in the honestech TVR 2.5 software) just fine,
but when i try to record i get an audio lag and frame drops, i tried diffrent formats and all the same lag,
any suggestions?
note, i have 3 rca cable (white yellow and red)connected to an adapter which connects them to the vcr, i dont know the name of the adapter, the one will a lot of pins

yakov hanimov
yakov hanimov
1 year ago

i did all of this on my home pc
i used Easycap USB 2.0
when i play the VCR i see the video on my pc screen (in the honestech TVR 2.5 software) just fine,
but when i try to record i get an audio lag and frame drops, i tried diffrent formats and all the same lag,
any suggestions?
note, i have 3 rca cable (white yellow and red)connected to an adapter which connects them to the vcr, i dont know the name of the adapter, the one will a lot of pins
thanks all

Jolteron
Jolteron
3 years ago

The software doesn't know how to tell how much space is on my disk; I have it set to record to my D: drive (my big TB HDD) and records for a split second before saying "disk full" anyone know of a remedy?

Jim Foster
Jim Foster
4 years ago

i got the totmc, the video coming in is only clips for like a second and then black then another clip. the audio seems uninterrupted? am using the yellow red and white concoctions.
any ideas?

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