How to Digitize a VHS Tape – or Part of One

So, you find yourself with some old VHS tapes, like 10’s of millions of other Americans. Kids birthdays, parent’s birthdays, graduations, first steps, vacations – the list goes on. It can be confusing and overwhelming for just about everybody.

 VHS players haven’t been manufactured since 2016 (Forbes July 23, 2016). Every day there are fewer players available to recapture these memories EVEN if you know how to do it. The answer is to digitize your VHS tapes, the question is how?

A few things need to be considered in order to proceed from owning a VHS tape to watching digital video memories.

  1. Technology. What technology is needed both to convert and then watch your old VHS videos.
  2. Practical considerations. What are the tradeoffs.
  3. Steps to get it done.  

Also Read – Unlock the Time Capsule by Converting VHS to Digital

What Technology is Required?

If you are not a technology person, just skip this section and go to next steps. I get it. Some folks just don’t want to deal with it. I am a computer science major and spent a decade in the software industry.

Before anything else can happen, the magnetic information that represents the video on the VHS tape must be extracted. This is accomplished by a VHS player or camera. Currently there is no other way to extract video from tape. The quality of the digitized video depends not only on the condition of the tape itself and the quality of the initial recording, but also on the condition and quality of the VHS player used to extract your video. It’s like the difference between a flip phone and a smartphone.

Next, in real time as the tape is playing, the extracted video must be converted to an analog electronic signal that is transferred to wire – outputs on the VHS machine. The quality of the wires is also critical to the quality of the end product just like we used to worry about how good our speaker wires were.

The wires containing the analog VHS video signal must now be converted into a digital format – it needs to be “digitized”. The wires from the output of the VHS player connect to the input of a digital converter. This converter box is the most critical piece of the conversion process. It determines the quality resolution, format, and accuracy of the process. It is actually a small computer with one function: to interpret an analog signal from a VHS (or other tape) player and convert it into a digital representation of the same video frame and compile the frames into a digital video on a computer.

The output of the converter box (again through high quality connection) is to a computer – one that has the power and storage to save the captured video in real time in high quality, edit it, and produce a final video of the quality that is expected.

Practical Considerations to Digitize VHS tapes

In practical terms, the cost, skill, and experience required to digitize VHS well is not trivial. The cost of a high-quality VHS player, capable video converter, and the computer resources to capture and edit high quality video can be daunting. Cost can run into the thousands of dollars – per station.

Reborn Audio Video currently has over 2 dozen professional level capture and edit stations and over a decade of experience with new technology and old machines alike.  

When creating the best video possible, it must be edited. For example, good capture software captures the entire frame that is available. Most recorders don’t quite use the whole frame, leaving ‘flicker’ around the edges. The amount of flicker depends on the quality of the recorder (camera or deck). It is critical to check with a professional converter company that they eliminate this ‘rough border’ for a crisp, clean video. Many issues like ‘flicker’ on the video edges need to be addressed on every video. There is no way around a personal touch for this final step.

Even if you have the technology skills and the money to acquire the equipment, the final practical consideration is time. In order to digitize a VHS tape, it must be played in real time, up to 2 hours per tape or even longer. After that, more time is required to edit and then convert the captured video into the best format. For EACH tape. For a project with 20 tapes, that is 40 hours of capturing – before editing and final formatting.

Also consider how you are going to watch the new video and who else you want to share it with. Correctly digitized videos can be played on Windows, Mac, smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. This cannot be done with DVD. Furthermore, you can share digitized videos worldwide through cloud services without copying or mailing.   

What if I Want Just Part of a VHS Tape Digitized?

One wonderful thing about digitized videos is that they can be edited! Whether you do it yourself or have it done, the exact scenes that you want can easily be made into their own video segments. The key is that you still capture the whole tape, then edit the digital version. It is so much faster and cheaper than trying to capture just the part that you want up front.  

Next Steps

  1. Call or text Jamey (About Jamey) at 720 204-5464
  2. Set an appointment (every project receives my individual attention)
  3. Drop off your tapes (and records, cassettes, slides, or negatives, too)

In a week or less, pick up your new digitized VHS (and other).

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James Nordby

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