You should save VHS tapes

hardware Digitize old VHS tapes


Anyone who was tech-savvy in the 1980s and 1990s could not do without one utensil: the video camera. The large, widespread video home system cassettes (VHS) were popular media at the time, which is why many home videos ended up on such cassettes. VHS wasn't the only format at the time: in addition to the higher-definition Super-VHS and the compact VHS-C, there were a few other systems, including Video8 and the compatible Hi8. Those who got on board very early may even still have VCR, Video 2000 or Betamax tapes in the basement. However, after well over 30 years, some ligaments will slowly dissolve on their own. Therefore, the highest railroad is: digitize your precious memories while there is still time for them!

Digitize analog videos

First of all, some good news: It does not matter in terms of digitization which format your tapes are in. What all formats have in common is that they are analog - and can therefore be copied to the PC or Mac in the same way. All you need is a video grabber such as the Elgato Capture: devices of this type digitize material from analog sources such as SCART or composite. On the software side, these devices usually offer the necessary tools to copy videos to the computer. Otherwise you only need a player for your old video cassettes. Depending on the system, that's the hardest part.

The problem is with the playback devices

While getting a working VHS recorder with composite or Scart output should not (yet) be a problem, it will be more difficult with the more exotic relatives. The mechanics of video cameras and recorders are fragile, the sensitive technology, for example, does not like being dusty or being roughly treated. In addition, the devices can no longer be used meaningfully even by today's standards. As a result, the inventory of functioning devices is melting like ice in the sun. It can therefore be really difficult to get hold of a player, especially with rare formats. Here are a few tips:

  • Check out the classifieds, eBay and other platforms regularly.
  • Take a look at video forums and ask if anyone still has a working device.
  • Important: You don't necessarily need a recorder - the cameras themselves could usually output composite signals, which is all you need for digitization.
  • With a bit of luck you will find a later, higher quality device for VHS or Video8 / Hi8 that already has a digital Firewire interface for output. In this case you only need a Firewire interface on your PC / Mac, the transmission is digital.
  • Even if the device is expensive: Just buy it, digitize your material - and then sell it on for the purchase price. Because there are many users like you.

Digitize VHS and Co.: That's how it works

As soon as you have a player for your old video tapes, you're good to go. The process of the actual digitization is child's play:

  1. Close the Video grabber on your PC or Mac and start the associated software.
  2. After that, close that analogPlayback device to the appropriate connections on the video grabber. Depending on the entry and exit situation, you may still need it adapterthat you have to switch in between.
  3. In the software of the video grabber you can now see the image that comes from the camera / recorder. In the computer software, press "admission“And start the reproduction the video on the camera.
  4. The video grabber does the rest: the analog signal is digitized and ends up as a video file on the hard drive. Then, depending on the grabber, you can still use simple video editing functions.
  5. to save The video after it is recorded. Important: Be sure to use a modern, compatible format such as MPEG-4so that in a few years you will not face the problem that you can no longer open proprietary video formats of the video grabber.
  6. The MP4 file is now a completely normal video file with which you can do everything that you can do with native digital formats (e.g. from your smartphone). Of course, the quality is significantly worse, which is due to the original analog format.

Post-processing of digitized videos

When the videos are on the computer, you can of course edit them. For this purpose it makes sense to use a video editing program. There are many of them, in addition to the free iMovie on Mac, PC and iPhone, there is a whole range of video editing tools for Windows and macOS. Here you can find out more about various video editing programs. However, we recommend the free DaVinci Resolve. Although this is not completely free of hurdles for beginners, it has the advantage that it offers professional functions directly and the paid version is used in the film industry. The restrictions compared to the professional version are limited and as a rule should not put any hurdles in the way of users in the private sector.

Archive video for the future

But no matter which editing program you use, make sure that you then export the finished video in MPEG-4 format as well. This is the only way to ensure that the files can still be played back many years or decades from now. Because MP4 is the quasi-standard for digital videos, just like MP3 is for digital music. As with all other files, the only thing left to worry about is that you make a regular backup so as not to lose the data. With permanent archiving, however, refrain from creating classic video DVDs: These reduce the quality again, and the end of the format is already foreseeable, which will sooner or later lead to a bottleneck in playback devices. In addition, video DVDs you have burned yourself cannot last forever. It is better to simply leave the files as MPEG-4 on the PC, NAS or in the cloud, back them up regularly and take them with you when you move to a new PC. You can then create Video DVDs (or related formats) from the MPEG-4 files if necessary.