If you want to keep old home movies or taped TV shows or movies stored on VHS cassettes, here's how to convert VHS video to DVD or other digital formats. We also explain how to create digital video files that you can watch on your computer, smartphone and tablet.
Compared to DVD, let alone Blu-ray, VHS tapes are low resolution. If you haven’t viewed one for a while, therefore, it would be a good idea to play one to see if you’re still happy with the quality after becoming spoiled by the much improved quality of more modern video formats. After all, digitising your old tapes won’t improve the quality one bit.
If you decide that you do want to preserve your VHS tapes for posterity, you’ll need something to play them on and if you’ve already got rid of your VHS video recorder you’re going to have to borrow or buy one.
Despite being obsolete you can still pick them up, both new and second hand. The latter will cost next to nothing but do bear in mind that, like most equipment with mechanical parts, there’s no guarantee that a second-hand recorder will offer acceptable performance.
How to convert video to digital
If you have to buy something, one option to consider is a VHS/DVD combo player (again widely available new and second hand, even though they're largely obsolete) since most of these will let you record from VHS directly to a DVD (which can then be 'ripped' to a digital file on your PC if that's what you want). A similar solution but in two boxes, is to connect the video output on a VHS player to the video input of a DVD recorder. For this you'll need an A/V cable - either Scart, or a cable with composite video and RCA (phono) audio connectors.
If you don’t have a DVD recorder then your PC will provide the means of digitising your VHS tapes and, optionally, burning it to a DVD. However, you will need some additional video capture hardware and its associated software.
Since image quality really isn’t an issue with VHS tapes (i.e. it's inherently poor) issues such as price, ease-of-use, reliability and quality of the support will be the main issues you should consider when choosing software. Since these aspects aren’t immediately obvious, try to look at some reviews first. Converters range from around £20 for something like Compro's VideoMate C100 to around £50 for products from more established companies such as the VHS 2 DVD from Avanquest, or Easy VHS to DVD from Roxio.
How to convert video to DVD
Step 1. Connect your VHS video player to your PC using the cable or cables supplied with your chosen software. It should look something like the photo above. You may need a special Scart cable which has the red, white and yellow cables, or your video player may already have these outputs. (You won't be able to use front-mounted white, red and yellow connectors are these are almost always inputs - not ouputs.)
Step 2. The process of digitising your VHS tapes should be straightforward enough. Start the recording software on your computer and play your VHS tape from the point where you want the recording to start.
Step 3. Stop the recording software at the end of the video, and stop the video itself.
Step 4. If you're burning the captured video to DVD, your software should provide an option for this, but if not, you may be able to use Windows DVD Maker.
Insert a blank DVD into your computer's DVD writer (if it doesn't have one, you can buy an inexpensive USB DVD writer for £15-20.
Step 3. If DVD Maker doesn't support the format of your video file, you can use a video converter utility such as Handbrake or Any Video Converter. Read our detailed guide to converting videos to different formats
There's little point in burning the file to Blu-ray as the poor quality of VHS makes it a waste of money. DVDs are cheaper and offer better quality than VHS anyway.
Do take a good look at your old tapes before starting.If they’ve been gathering dust – literally, that is – try to clean as much as you can from the part of the cassette where the tape is exposed to prevent it being drawn inside once you play it. Also, make sure the spindles haven’t seized up. If they have, try to get them moving by hand before trying to play the offending tape.
If you don’t want to buy any gear or can’t afford the time to digitise all your VHS tapes, there are companies providing a commercial service but prices will soon add up if you have lots of tapes. Expect to pay from £5 per tape.