VHS-to-DVD Conversion

I have priceless VHS tapes of my kids growing up over the last 25 years. I was going to take them to a company that converts VHS to DVD, but I read that the quality of these conversion services isn't that good. I also read that the USB conversion programs like Roxio don't do the job either. I cannot find a PCI card solution with software. Is there a solution that you recommend? Can you shed some light on this?

Keith Brown

I'm afraid you won't get very good results no matter what you do, because the source material—VHS tapes—are so poor-quality to begin with. I've never availed myself of these conversion services, but I suspect that the best of them can probably do a better job than I ever could—after all, they're much more experienced, and they have tools I don't—so that's the route I would take.

If there is more than one such service in your area, have each of them convert one tape—the same tape in all cases so you have one basis for comparison—and see if there's a difference in quality between them. If so, take the rest of the tapes to the one that did the best job. Just keep in mind that they are not miracle workers, and the end result is going to look pretty bad compared with HDTV, Blu-ray, and even DVD.

Another option is to get a VHS-to-DVD dubbing deck, which is probably the easiest way to do it yourself. We haven't reviewed any such decks in quite a while, but Robert Silva maintains a list of currently available and recommended VHS/DVD dubbing units at About.com.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askhometheater@gmail.com.

jtokach's picture

TV tuner PCI cards often have composite and s-video inputs, along with RF inputs, which allow you to record from a VCR to MPEG2. Once imported, you can edit and export to file or DVD with any number of free software tools.

I own the Hauppauge 2250 and have had great success importing our VHS and HI8 tapes. The quality is as good as what you'd see playing through your VCR to your TV, so unless the businesses have some sort of magic wand, I recommend doing it yourself, saving the money, and in the end, you have a HTPC/DVR too.


gto127's picture

I was a VCR tech for years & wanted to throw this in to the VHS to DVD conversion. If you have the original recording device such as camcorder and it's still in alignment and good condition. I would use that instead of another machine to be my source. You can get a good idea if machine is still in good condition by playing it back and making sure the sound is at constant speed(no dragging or wavering) and the picture doesn't have thick lines lines at top or bottom or thin lines across screen. The reason you want to use original source if possible is because the internal tracking & audio azimuth is probably much closer to tape than another deck you would record from. If original source is not in good condition I would get a deck with a manual tracking & fine tune to your tape for best pic and best sound if possible(some tapes cannot be fully tracked if bad condition).Hope this helps- Donald

Steve Caliendo's picture

I just got done converting all 52 of our VHS-C tapes to my hard drive using the Canopus ADVC110 from ebay for about $150, a firewire card I got from monoprice.com for $8, my original video camera used to make the videos, CyberLink PowerDirector 9 (just about any video editing software will do including the free Windows Live Movie Maker) and about a weeks worth of converting--with great results.

Since my video camera only has a mono microphone, I used a Y RCA cable to split the audio from the camera into the Canopus so at least I'd have audio from both left and right speakers. I could have done this post conversion but this was much easier.

I considered using a service but the prices I found were around $30 per hour which would really add up with 52 30-minute tapes. Yes, like Scott said, a service would probably have done a better job with the conversion, adding menus and cleaning up the video, somewhat, but it is VHS we are talking about here and I'm pleased with the result.

Plus, the services frequently only return the original tapes and your videos on DVDs in the mpg format which is a compressed format. At least with AVI, which is what I used, the converted videos are about as good as they could be.

Now all I have left to do is some minor cleanup and adding of menus. If I ever do want to show them on my TV, I can put a copy of them on a DVD with the originals still in there uncompressed state.

bbmaster123's picture

In my experience, the earlier on you convert the signal to digital, the better the picture quality. You can now find VCR's that have built in usb or DV ports. This way, the signal doesnt need to be "captured" by a card. Normally, the signal would go from the tape, through the analog cables, captured by the pci card, and THEN saved to a file. This way, it just gets sent straight from the tape, though the digital cables, to the file. Same thing goes for camcorders. You can get these off ebay fairly cheap now, some of which can output an HD signal, which will help with the editing part.

jayfarder's picture

iMemories is a great web based service. You send them all your tapes (can be VHS, SVHS, 8mm, Betamax and even film reels), then they upload them to their website. You log in and put what you want on dvd. You can even put multiple tapes on each dvd if they fit (each dvd will hold 2 hours), or edit out parts you don't want. They then send you that dvd in the mail for $10. They even label the dvd and the case for you. Not a bad deal when you consider that you just have to mail the tapes to them and they do the rest of the work for you! Then they ship the tapes back to you.

kelsci's picture

I use the Mygica Easygrabber 2 from Meritline. It has worked very well and sells on sale for about $14. The most important thing about this device is to be sure you download the drivers for Windows 7 otherwise it will not work on your computer that has Windows 7. The vhs reproduction IMHO was as good as the originial recording when played back on a burned disc. The only thing I noticed at times was some tearing of the image depending on the type of tape, recording and the age or condition of the tape.

D72543's picture

I've Found Using A VHS/DVD Dubbing Unit Is The Best Way To Go When Transfering VHS Over To DVD. I Used A JVC Camcorder To Make Recordings Of My Mother And Father Before Their Passing, And They Were Transfered Over To DVD Using A Samsung VHS/DVD Dubbing Unit And The Sound Was Excellent, While The Picture Was OK. It Did Not Look Like HD Or DIGITAl, But It Was Good Enough. Plus It's A Cheaper Way To Go To Do It By Yourself. Considering The Age Of The Recordings I Made And The Condition Of The Tape, The Picture Turned Out OK.

bhobach's picture

I have done this several times with old tapes and by using a good recorder ( I have a Panasonic DMR-ES45V )the results have been very good. With the DVD players today that have up-conversion and the Hi-Def TVs you get a picture that is very good.

Bill H

John A. Mozzer's picture

I've used the Canopus ADVC110 to digitize VHS videotapes to the DV format extensively, capturing over FireWire into an old version of iMovie (6.0.4), and later into Final Cut Express, with a MacBook Pro. The particular application used determines whether the resulting video files are raw DV Stream files (.dv extension), DV in an AVI wrapper (.avi extension), or DV in a Quicktime wrapper (.mov extension). In any case, my understanding is the DV data coming from the Canopus ADVC110 is bit-for-bit over Firewire, and into the application.

After digitizing, I'll close the application and look for the resulting media files. For example, I'll right click on the iMovie project icon, select Show Package Contents, open the Media folder, and copy the DV file(s). (Or even move the DV file(s) out of the folder, and subsequently delete the iMovie project.) If I am using Final Cut Express, I'll find the Quicktime movie files in the Capture Scratch folder, and do one or the other of the same thing. Then I can rename these master files to anything I want, and keep them organized with the Finder. (I can always import them into an applicable application later.) Also, by doing this, I can be certain that I have not re-encoded the original DV data that was created during the digitizing process.

In my experience, for most VHS videotapes, the ADVC110 works splendidly. I did run into one problem that was very specific to particular videotapes, skipped frames in the resulting digital video. After researching the problem, my best guess is that it was due to something called horizontal time-base errors in the VHS world. Per VCR Troubleshooting & Repair by Robert C. Brenner and Gregory R. Capelo, Second Edition (1992): "With the introduction of VCRs, American TVs needed HAFC circuits that provided faster compensation time. Because older TVs are not able to respond quickly enough to the horizontal time-base errors introduced from the VCR, a VCR connected to an older TV may cause severe bending or flagging at the top of the picture yet appear to operate normally on a newer TV set."

I believe that instead of bending or flagging in the video, I was getting skipped frames when using the ADVC110. Flagging occurred when I experimented with using the AVToolbox AVT-8710 time base corrector between the VCR and the ADVC110. My only successful workaround for digitizing the problematic tapes was copying them to MiniDV tapes first, then capturing the MiniDV tapes, using a Canon ZR200 MiniDV camcorder. Skipped frames or flagging never occurred when I used that workaround.

The ADVC110 has a dip switch for the IRE setting, and I've kept it set to the default setting for the U.S.A. But I don't know what this means regarding the black levels when I digitized by transferring to MiniDV tape. Scott, can you help with that?