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Putting VHS Tapes on a Computer

written by: •edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 8/12/2009

VHS tapes of friends and family gain a new life when they are converted into digital files. These can then be viewed on the computer and will never deteriorate no matter how many times you watch them.

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    Why you should convert your VHS tapes to digital

    Those of us who lived through the advent of videocassettes have probably not bothered looking at a VHS tape for many years now. The problem is, in the back of our minds, we know that those memories of children, events and everything in between are just sitting there. Home movies we don't want to lose gathering dust and slowly deteriorating from age. Converting them into digital files on the computer seems like a great solution. Not just because they’ll be protected from damage, but also since they can now be watched so much more easily or even taken along for the ride on a portable player like an iPod or cell phone.

    So the catch is how to do this transfer safely and easily with a focus on easy. The last thing I’m going to do is buy some dedicated graphics card so I looked for some external gadget that could hook up to my computer and take care of it all for me. And talk about luck, everything I found was under $100!

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    No hassle Mac versions

    Roxio First up is Roxio’s Easy VHS to DVD. Just ignore the name and realize that once the VHS tape has been digitized it doesn’t have to ever leave the hard drive if you don’t want. The interface resembles a USB thumb drive. Just pop it into a USB port on the desktop or laptop, and plug in the connectors running from it to the VHS deck. There is the expected Composite plug but there’s also S-Video which will give you a better picture and two RCAs for stereo audio.

    Make sure the VHS deck is on, run the software, check that you’re seeing and hearing the tape on the window now presented on the desktop, then follow the directions. Hit record, wait for the tape to run out before you stop recording and then save the file to the hard drive. As easy as pie (hmmm, pie...).

    elgato There’s also ElGato’s video capture - physically it’s a bit bulkier in size (looking more like a half sized Wii controller), but functionally works the same way as Roxio’s does. The software proves just as simple to use too.

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    PC users aren't left out

    PC users don’t have it any tougher either. For one thing, Easy VHS to DVD also comes in a PC version, adding bonus software for transferring LP’s and audio tapes to CDs. It even cost’s $20 less than the Mac version, go figure. There’s also ION Audio’s VCR2PC which is basically a VHS deck with a USB port that does the transferring to the PC while the tape plays (and can be used as a converter by attaching other analog video/audio signals to it as well). Besides costing under $100 again, here you're getting a VCR as well.

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    Say hello to the digital file

    Now when you’re done, the resulting digital file can be kept for posterity, transferred to a DVD or even converted for portable players like iPods and PSPs. Elgato and Roxio include software for this, but you can of course use your own instead.

    I should probably point out that you’re not restricted to doing transfers only from a VHS deck. You could go directly from a VHS/VHS-C or Hi8 camcorder or pretty much any analog source instead. And no surprise that the quality of the finished digital file won’t be any better than that of the original input. But at least now those memories (good and bad) are as easy to watch as they are to store away.