How to convert videotapes to digital

Do you have old videotapes and would like to digitize them? All you need is a flash drive to transfer the content to digital and a little time on your hands

If you're a digital lover, but not exactly "native", chances are you have what is now to all intents and purposes a piece of modern antiques at home: the VHS VCR. And, if you do, then you also have quite a few old analog videotapes with your personal memories or old movies recorded from TV in them.

It's time to convert these old VHS tapes to digital, to prevent time from eating away at your childhood and teenage memories. The good news is that while in the past you needed complex and expensive equipment to digitize the audio/video streams from a VHS VCR, today you can do it all with just two tools: the VCR itself and a USB flash drive for video capture (which can be found online for less than $100).

Of course you'll also need a PC (or a Mac) with a free USB port and a lot, a lot of free time because digital recording of a video stream can only take place at the normal play speed of the VCR and, what's more, you'll have to be present and with your finger ready to press play, record and stop.

Preparing your PC for videotape recording

The first thing you need to do to digitize old videotapes is to buy the audio/video capture "key", connect it to your computer, install drivers and software necessary to make it work. When everything is ready, it's time to connect the PC to the video recorder via the key.

Most USB capture sticks have an S-Video connector and three RCA connectors: yellow, red and white. The yellow transmits the video signal, while the red and white pass the stereo audio signal. In the S-Video cable, however, the different signals travel on different pins and internal wires. Your video recorder will surely have at least one of these two connections and, in case it doesn't, it certainly has at least one old SCART socket. In this case, for a few euros, you can buy a SCART/S-Video or SCART/RCA adapter.

How to digitize old videotapes

Finished with the setup, we start with the digitization of VHS videotapes. We are in the analog era, so it is not possible in any way to control the VHS video recorder from the PC. We will have to launch the acquisition program included in the digitization key and manually press play on the VCR shortly after starting the recording on the PC. At the end, we will have to stop both play and record.

It is very likely that in the end we will get a "dirty" file, with a beginning and an end that do not correspond exactly to the beginning and the end of the video contained in the videotape. Let's get ready, then, to edit the file a little bit with a simple video editing software.