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How to convert VHS to DVD, Blu Ray, or digital files

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How to convert VHS to DVD, Blu Ray, or digital file using an analog-to-digital adapter

Converting VHS to DVD using a combo player is all good and fun, but it’s not the most convenient method given the significant rise in digital technology in the past decade. An easier option — not to mention a cheaper one — is to purchase an analog-to-digital video converter and connect it directly to your desktop or laptop. You’ll need a decent amount of space to store the newly digitized file, an hour of video can utilize more than 750MB storage, but you can always encode the files in formats like MPEG4 for memory-saving compression purposes or load them on to an external hard drive.

Step 1: Purchase a VHS player and analog-to-digital adapter if you don’t own both already.

VHS players may have been the bees knees of home entertainment once, but you can still typically pick one up on Craigslist or at your local thrift store for practically nothing. Picking up the adapter, the most crucial component of the process, is what typically sets people back. Fortunately, there are a handful of great analog-to-digital adapters available that will allow you to link your VHS player to your computer with little hassle and at a price point everyone can afford. Below are a few of our favorites.

ElgatoElgato Video Capture (PC/Mac/$100): The Elgato Video Capture is one of the few analog-to-digital adapters readily available for both PC and Mac. The bundled software looks relatively polished on both operating systems, especially on Mac, and includes step-by-step assistant that makes conversion a breeze even for a novice. The small device is also equipped with composite RCA inputs and a sole S-Video input, allowing video capture in universal H.264 digital format from VCR, camcorders and most other analog video sources. It’s not the cheapest converter out there, but it is a solid choice for any user regardless of whatever operating system you’re running.

RoxioRoxio Easy VHS to DVD 3 Plus (Windows/$70): Roxio’s flagship analog-t0-digital adapter is one the best reviewed converters on the Web and for good reason. It’s equipped with the same set of standard connections as its peers — composite RCA inputs and a single S-Video input — and includes versatile software with options for reducing video noise, improving the color balance and directly burning the resulting footage to DVD with only a few clicks. Unlike the Elgato Video Capture, downloading and installing the necessary drivers can be a hassle, but the software is easy to use once underway. Also, Roxio makes a separate converter for Mac ($80) with mirroring functionality and just as sleek an interface.

DiamondDiamond VC500 ($40): A low price tag is not always the hallmark of a poor product. Diamond’s VC500 is one of the most fully featured adapters available, loaded with tools for capturing still images during recording and basic options for direct-to-DVD burning. Whereas Roxio’s converter shines given it’s more complicated features, Diamond’s converter is known for it’s ease of use and sheer simplicity. It features standard composite RCA inputs and the usual S-Video input for capturing video from any analog device you could throw at it, while maintaining compatibility with most video editing software despite boasting its own. The support network and accompanying manual are also fantastic, but sadly, the device is only currently compatible with PC.

Step 2: Choose a VHS tape. 

Obviously you’re going to need to select the VHS tape you would like to convert before proceeding. Choose a video and fast forward or rewind to the beginning of the selection you wish to record to DVD. Preferably choose videos that lack noise and severe video degradation whenever possible to ensure the highest quality recordings.

Step 3: Clean the VHS tape and test the VCR.

Although not necessary, it’s a good idea to clean your video cassette tape and test your tape deck to ensure it’s not going to ruin your VHS. How effective the different cleaning methods are remains a point of contention, but consider opening the cassette encasing and carefully removing any visible dust or dirt using a soft cloth or cotton swab. You might also consider cleaning your VCR’s heads either by using a VHS head cleaner or doing it manually.

Step 4: Connect the analog-to-digital adapter to the computer and VCR.

RCA InputThere are multiple ways to connect your computer to your VCR depending on the available components. For most adapters, you will simply need plug the USB cable into your computer and the composite RCA outputs or S-Video output into your VCR. It should be fairly universal — the yellow connector corresponds to video while the red and white connectors respond to stereo — but some older VCRs are only equipped with mono. Don’t stress it too much though, we aren’t talking high-quality recordings anyway. Make sure the two are devices are properly connected before continuing.

Step 5: Install the necessary software.

Most analog-to-digital adapters come with software that walks you through the entire transfer process, including importing the resulting footage into a more comprehensive video editor or burning the resulting footage straight to DVD. Refer to the installation disc, instruction manual or manufacturer’s website for more information on installing the software and downloading the necessary drivers.

Step 6: Insert the VHS tape and a blank DVD. 

Make sure the blank disc you insert is compatible with your computer’s DVD burner. Some drives can only handle particular formats, such as DVD+R or DVD+RW, so it’s best to check your computer’s specifications before attempting to convert the tape.

Step 7: Convert.

It’s tough for us to say how exactly to begin the conversion process since it will vary depending on which device you’re using. If you’re using the Elgato Video Capture tool for instance, you’ll be asked to name the file and check your A/V connection before hitting the program’s record button and starting the VCR. Recording and digitizing will happen in real time, meaning you’ll have to painstakingly sit through the entire length of footage before you can finish up the project, or move on to the next VHS. However, once it’s done, the VHS’ contents will be saved as a video file on your computer. At this point, if all you wanted was the digital file, you’re done; you can edit, move, and name the file as you want. If you’re planning on burning the file to a DVD or Blu Ray, move on to the final step.

Step 8: Burn the DVD or Blu Ray

Most conversion software will have an option for burning a DVD or Blu Ray upon completion of transferring the footage. It may ask you in the beginning of the process, after all the video has been captured, or possibly not at all. If not, locate the resulting file on your computer and open it in iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or a similar program that can burn your footage to DVD. The burning process will vary depending on what editing software you choose, so consult the instructional manual for further clarification. As for a Blue Ray, you’ll need to be sure you computer

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