Remember those VHS tapes filled with old home movies you took during the 80’s and 90’s? Are they collecting dust in an old box? If you don’t start converting those VHS tapes into DVDs or digital computer files, they’ll soon turn into dust themselves.
With old videotapes starting to disintegrate (literally), and working VCR machines becoming harder and harder to find, you’re running out of time to save those precious (hopefully) memories, with something like our Editor’s Choice for VHS to DVD conversion – Magix’ Rescue Your Videotapes.
Additionally, many of us present-day cord cutters have recordings of rare old TV programmes, which you can’t find anywhere else – it’ll be a shame to lose them forever.
In this article, I’ll look at the things you need in order to save those old VHS tapes, I’ll review the best converters you can buy, and things you need to consider before you actually shell out the money.
The Best VHS To DVD Converters 2020
Table of Contents
Converting VHS to DVD – What Do You Need?
Ready to feel old? The “Video Home System” (VHS) has been with us since the 1970’s. Some of you might even remember the video “Format Wars”, between VHS and Sony’s “Betamax” standard.
VHS won, and reigned supreme for about 15 years – until, in 1997, the DVD format arrived. Those discs spelt doom for the low-tech VHS format, and the video cassettes started disappearing. However, during the 80’s and 90’s we didn’t have smartphones to take videos with (can you believe that?) – so most of us have boxes and shelves filled with old VHS tapes, that hold home videos we filmed using camcorders.
Here’s the thing, though – those tapes are slowly falling apart, their magnetic tapes failing, and soon your home videos of Aunt Edna or your son saying “Pudding” for the first time are going to disappear.
That’s why it’s crucial to transfer those old analogue tapes into a digital format – either directly onto a DVD disc (a dying format in and of itself), or a digital video file on your computer.
One way to do it is to take your tapes into one of the high street speciality stores that offer this service. However, if you have a large number of tapes, this might prove costly, so a more cost-effective solution would be to do it yourself at home.
The things you need for a VHS to DVD home solution, are:
- A Working VCR
- A VHS-to-USB converting device
- Software on your PC to record and optionally enhance those files
- A DVD Burner, if you want to burn the files onto a DVD
Where To Buy A VCR
If you have a VCR at home, hidden in the attic, you’re in luck. You might need to get it cleaned – you can get a VHS Head Cleaning tape on Amazon – but if it works, count your blessings.
Another option is to look for your old camcorder – if it still works, you can transfer the tapes directly from the camcorder. Otherwise, it’s time to start hunting for a VCR – keep in mind the last one was manufactured back in 2016.
The best places to look for a video recorder are:
- Amazon – Click Here: You can sometimes find second-hand VCRs in their market.
- eBay – Click Here: There are usually quite a few used VCRs available on eBay, so have a look there as well.
One other thing you might need, is a VHS-C Cassette Adaptor – VHS-C camcorders were popular during the ’90s, with half-sized tapes. This adaptor allows you to use a VHS-C tape in a regular VCR.
VHS-To-USB Converter And Software
Once you have a working VCR, you now need a way to connect that old piece of machinery to your modern computer. Thankfully, there are devices that connect to the VCR (or camcorder) on one end, and to your computer’s USB port on the other.
Then, you use special software to record the video coming out of your VHS tapes. If you want to take an extra step, good software will also let you enhance the video you’re recording. Obviously, an old scratchy VHS tape won’t convert into a super high-quality HD video – but with a few tricks, you can at least improve the quality.
Finally, there’s the question of how to watch those newly recorded digital files – you can either keep them on your computer and watch them there (or use a TV streamer), or if you prefer you can burn them directly into a DVD with the right software and a DVD burner for your computer – you can find a good one on Amazon. (Then you will of course need a DVD player in your living room – see my review of the best ones here.)
Keep in mind, though – DVDs are going the way of the VHS, and in a few years they’ll be gone. So make sure you’re also keeping those video files on your computer, preferably backing them up as well.
How To Buy The Best VHS To DVD Converters – Things To Consider
Most VHS to Digital converters basically work the same – you get a small device with a cable that connects to your VCR on one end, and a USB to connect to your computer on the other end.
The first thing you must check is the available “Out” port on your VCR. Most will have RCA connections (Also known as Compositve – the Yellow/Red/White ones), and S-Video, while some VCRs will have a SCART connection. If your VCR has both, it’s usually better to use SCART.
When you buy the VHS to DVD converter, make sure it has the connections you need – most come with an RCA cable built-in, and some also include an RCA-to-SCART converter in the box, so you can use both. Note that some VCRs, and especially certain camcorders, also have an S-Video port, so look for that as well if you need it.
VHS Conversion Software
VHS to DVD converters need a piece of software installed on your computer, that will record the signals coming in from your VCR. Most converters come with a piece of software – but the simple (and cheaper) ones will only include software with basic capabilities, while the higher-end ones will give you more advanced options that also let you edit the videos, enhance them and improve picture quality.
Keep in mind, though, that the more the software can do – the more complicated it might look. So if you just want to plug-convert-and-forget, that’s also a consideration.
Video File Formats
If you’re just planning to burn the videos to a DVD, you shouldn’t trouble yourself with file formats too much (as the DVD burning software should take care of everything.) But since it’s a good idea to save the files on your computer as well – you should check which video file formats the software that comes with your converter offers – both for importing video files (when you’re editing), and for exporting the files you recorded.
Most will support at least MPEG2 and MPEG4 which are most common.
VHS Conversion Speed
Since your VHS tapes are an analogue medium, it would always take you AT LEAST the time on the tape for the actual conversion. So if you have a 120-minutes video of Aunt Edna, you will literally have to play it for 120 minutes while your computer is recording it.
In addition to that, the computer needs to process the resulting video files, especially if you’re burning to DVD. The speed of converting the video format and burning to a DVD will depend mainly on your computer hardware, but a bad converter and subpar software can impact conversion speed as well.
Best VHS To DVD Converters In 2020
“Magix Software” has been a very well-known name in the video (and music) editing business for more than 20 years. As such, they create excellent video editing software, which is why the software part is the main focus of this VHS-to-DVD conversion kit.
The box comes with the actual converter – a small dongle that can be connected to either RCA, S-Video or Scart on one side, and USB on the other. It also comes with Magix’ Video Easy HD software with a year of free updates, and a bonus – Magix’ Video Sound Cleaning Lab software.
The conversion process is quite easy, and the software takes you step-by-step through it. When you start editing the video, the software has some nifty video enhancement tricks with automatic image optimization and stabilization. Don’t expect any miracles – an old grainy VHS tape won’t turn into a 4K masterpiece. But the software can at least make your videos look more presentable.
The Video Easy HD software is a full-fledged video editing program – and as such, offers many options and powerful editing capabilities. That, however, comes with its own issue for some – it might end up being too complicated for you. Thankfully, you don’t HAVE to use all the extra features, and can pretty easily just transfer videos and burn them onto a DVD.
Do note that you MUST have a 64 Bit version of Windows for the software to work.
The cheaper VHS to DVD converters are all pretty similar, though this one has a lot of positive reviews from satisfied buyers, which is usually a good sign. As expected, you get a small widget with RCA/S-Video cables on one end, and USB on the other. It also comes bundled with an RCA-to-SCART adapter, if you need one.
The kit comes with a CD-ROM that includes the drivers and software. If you don’t have a CD-ROM drive, you can still download the drivers from the company’s website – but not the editing software.
While the device itself works well, the software it comes bundled with is pretty dated and limited – you’re better off using it for the basic video capturing, and then using different software if you want to edit and enhance the videos.
If you want a decent, basic VHS to Digital converter, at a great price, this will do the work – but the price cut means you’ll have to search for better software elsewhere. (This version is only for Windows – but they have a MAC-supported model here.)
Pinnacle is another very well known name in video capturing and editing devices and software, so at the very least you can expect excellent video editing software. With this kit, you get a special version of their “Pinnacle Studio for Dazzle”, which lets you edit, add titles and some effects to your home videos. It’s easy to use – but newbies might find all the bells and whistles a bit intimidating.
Unlike the other VHS to DVD converters, this device comes with ports (RCA and S-Video) instead of cables – so you would need an additional cable to connect your VCR to the widget. And if you need a SCART connection, you’ll need to get another adapter.
This is a good kit, with excellent software – but the price is rather high for what you get, which is why it’s lower on my list.