Well, Technically, VCR Can’t Be Converted to Digital!

I know, lots of folks call their tapes VCRs, but they just aren’t. VCR stands for Video Cassette Recorder. It is a machine – a machine that records video onto a videotape. While the tapes could be called VCR tapes, it makes more sense to call the various tapes by their own name than by the type of machine that used them.

VCR Tapes  ARE Digitized All the Time

Many types of VCRs were manufactured to accommodate the different types of videotape being sold. Several types of videotape for which VCRs were also created (a different VCR model for each different type of tape) that can now be digitized include (in order of market appearance).

  1. Convert VHS to Digital (VHS to Digital)
  2. Convert VHS – C to Digital (VHS – C to Digital)
  3. Convert Video8 to Digital Video8 to Digital)
  4. Convert Hi8 to Digital (Hi8 to Digital)
  5. Convert Digital8 to Digital (Digital8 to Digital)
  6. Convert DVCam to Digital (DVCam to Digital)
  7. Convert miniDV to Digital (miniDV to Digital)
  8. Convert micro MV to Digital (microMV to Digital)

(warning: techno rabbit hole) It is not widely recognized that several of these tapes are already in Digital format!!! Digital8, DVCam, MiniDV and microMV already contain video in Digital format. Each frame of a video is represented digitally and then stored on a magnetic tape. This means that the representation of the video is stored as a digital code rather than an analog code for higher quality and more accurate recording and playback.

No, it is not possible to just copy the digital data to a hard disc and play it. Each type of videotape had to have its own VCR (or camera that also played the video) in order to decode the different digital video as it raced by the VCR heads. Once read, the signal could be transferred to outputs on the VCR in two different formats: DV/HDV (Digital Video/ High Definition Video) and analog. In other words, a digital format can be sent directly to a computer as well as an analog signal to a converter box.

The catch is that many cameras and VCRs, also commonly called ‘decks’ such as a VHS deck or a MiniDV deck, were built with firewire outputs for the digital form. In order to transfer to a computer, the computer also had to have a firewire port and software to understand it. So far so good. Unfortunately, the manufacture for firewire computers first changed firewire formats several times and then discontinued support for firewire altogether. Today, while playback cameras and decks are still required for videotape capture, there are no (very, very few) modern computers that have firewire ports, let alone software that still supports DV/HDV formats. So, yes, even tapes with digital information on them must be played using the analog output from the camera/deck, fed into a converter box and digitized all over again! Phew, long story, I know. The good news is that the quality of the video is very good for those digital tapes that will still play and the better news is that the captured quality is higher than either DV or HDV by about double. The bad news is that there are fewer and fewer cameras/decks to play these tapes – a vital step in order to digitize videotape.

Also Read – If My Tapes Are Broken Can I Still Transfer VCR to DVD?

Digitize VCR Tapes: DVD or Digital Files, That is the Question

These are the vast majority of consumer level videotape formats. Each of them can be converted to digital so that their video can be viewed again. But there is one more choice to make. Do you want to watch your digital video on DVDs or through digital files.

DVDs are a well known, but aging technology. Rember Blockbuster after they converted from VHS to DVD? That pretty much tells the story of DVDs. They are rare and getting more rare by the day. Yes, there are still some people who only know DVDs and we serve them gladly.

The format that has taken over the digital video market, however, is mp4. mp4 is the name of a digital format for video files. It is the most widely use format for video worldwide. Youtube, Facebook, and many many other companies use mp4 (or convert your video to mp4 as you upload it). It is more compact (uses less storage) than other formats, and has options for many different uses and resolutions).

Digital files are usually delivered on a hard drive, USB/Flash drive, via email, or linked to the cloud. The best solution depends on your specific needs. The hard drive/USB option is most common – they hold a large amount of high quality video and are immediately available when you pick up your project.

From time to time, a customer requires both DVD and digital files. DVDs for their parents, and mp4 files for the kids. One tidbit: if you get digital files, they can always (for now) be used to create DVDS. So, digital files serve as a backup for DVDs. If you get both formats, make sure that your conversion company gives you a break on the price!

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

James Nordby