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How to Convert Tapes to Digital Format

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/5/2011

Many of us have old VHS or Hi8 (or even Beta) tapes lying around, some with irreplaceable images. Here's one way to convert those old analog tapes into a digital format for future enjoyment!

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    How to Covert Tape to Digital

    A question recently came up asking how one would transfer some very important memories on Hi8 tapes into a digital format. My first response was to suggest taking it to a professional shop that offers this service and has the right equipment so as to not risk damaging the tapes and losing everything.

    But then I thought about it some more and I came to the conclusion that it can be done at home, if you are willing to take the time and effort, and are careful about the process. First, understand that, although this method will work, you may see some degradation in the quality of the video. Just like music, each time it is re-recorded, you lose some of the quality. If that isn’t acceptable, then take it to the professionals.

    In order to convert Hi8, VHS, and even Beta tapes to digital format, you will need to start with a VCR player. Basically, you are going to be “playing” your tape through the VCR and capturing the output in a mode that can be read by your computer.

    If you have a MiniDV recorder and tapes, look to see if it has a USB port, or preferably a firewire port. Most recorders do, and it is a simple matter of downloading from the MiniDV camcorder on to your computer, and saving the file in whichever digital format you prefer, then burning it to a DVD.

    So one way of converting your VHS or Hi8 tape would be by connecting the VCR to a MiniDV camcorder using the standard video output cable (the one that used to be connected to your TV), play the tape, and capture the output on the MiniDV camcorder, then downloading as described above.

    What if you don’t have a MiniDV camcorder? Well, surely you know someone who has one that will loan it to you for a day or two. You can also use this as a great excuse to buy one, although the MiniDV format may be dying out soon. The same thing goes for a VCR player. Most of us have one stashed away in the garage or closet. If this is something you may doing on a more frequent basis, then used VCRs and MiniDV camcorders can be found pretty inexpensively on eBay or at a local garage sale.