Converting VHS Tapes to DVD: A First-Hand Experience

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Preserving family videos is an important task, because no one wants to lose the precious memories of their loved ones. Recently, my family started the process of converting several VHS tapes to DVD format. My mother had been thinking about doing this for years; however, since she doesn’t consider herself to be especially tech-savvy, she was intimidated and kept postponing the job. However, after recently watching some of the tapes with the family, she decided it was time to transfer them. She was reminded of how special these home movies are, and she also knows that the tapes can deteriorate over time. Some of them are more than two decades old.

First, she researched options and costs. Phone calls to professional companies that transfer tapes were discouraging. Prices she was quoted ranged from $15 to $50 per video tape, and since we have a total of 22 tapes, the estimates seemed cost prohibitive. Ultimately, she opted to borrow a VHS-to-DVD converter from a family friend.

The process was simple. She connected the VHS-to-DVD converter to the TV, put in the VHS tape, put in a blank DVD and pressed the “Dubbing” button. It was even possible to edit as it was recording, although this involved sitting with it while it was converting. If you don’t want to edit, you can just come back when the VHS tape is finished playing. The first conversion she did took 2 hours and 36 minutes. As my mother neared the end of the process, all she needed to do was to “finalize” the DVD, and she was finished.

While this isn’t the only way to transfer your VHS tapes to DVDs, it’s certainly an easy way. In addition to this option, there are three other methods for conversion:

  1. Use a VHS player with a separate DVD recorder.
  2. Use an analog-to-digital adapter bundled with software, such as an Elgato Video Capture, or similar products, such as Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for Mac, or Corel Easy VHS to DVD for Windows. These systems connect your VHS player to a computer, and enable you to create a digital file that you can burn to DVD.
  3. Head to the photo department of a retail store like Walgreens or CVS, or seek out mail order options. (Groupon sometimes offers mail-in deals on VHS conversions).

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While it’s time consuming to do this yourself, it’s not complicated. The cost savings can be significant—our family saved between $500 and $1,000 by doing it this way. Most converters, like the one my mother used, cost less than $175. Even though we already had a spindle of DVD-/+R discs, these are inexpensive and widely available. Plus, you have the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

DIY conversion also affords more control, because you can edit as you convert each VHS tape. A professional company can edit out blank or damaged sections, but they wouldn’t be able to do personalized editing, without additional effort and expense.

One more thing to note is that the DVD won’t improve the quality of the VHS recording, which, given the state of video recording two or three decades ago, can be spotty. Couple that with the effect of aging on the tape, and you may have a somewhat messy viewing experience. However, starting the VHS-DVD conversion process will preserve your priceless memories no matter which option you choose, and it may be better to have them with some artifacts than not have them at all.

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What about S-VHS tapes? I have TV shows on S-VHS that I want to transfer to DVD with editing out of commercials.

We no longer have anything to playback S-VHS. If you still have am S-VHS player though you can use the techniques described in the article to transfer them. Whether it be using a stand alone DVD recorder or capturing it to a computer and burning the DVD from there.