Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

How to convert your VHS tapes to DVD, Blu-ray, or digital

While DVD and Blu-ray dominate today’s world, VHS tapes ruled supreme in the ’80s and ’90s. It wasn’t uncommon for families to document birthday parties, holidays, sporting events, and other big moments in life with their handheld camcorder, recording the footage onto a trusty VHS tape. Unfortunately, playing those VHS tapes is challenging nowadays, as it’s unlikely that you still have your old VHS player (or that it’s even still in working condition).

That means you’ll need to look into converting your VHS tapes to DVD, Blu-ray, or digital formats to take a trip down memory lane. Even if you’re not interested in checking out the footage today, it makes sense to get the film converted – after all, those VHS tapes are slowly deteriorating, and if they go bad, all that footage will be forever lost.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to transfer your VHS tapes to other formats. Here’s a look at all your options, including DIY conversions and professional conversion services.

Disclaimer: It’s illegal to produce copies of commercial films and copyrighted content, but there are no restrictions on copying home videos.

Retail VHS-to-DVD conversion services

The front facade of a Costco store.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images / Costco

For those who’d rather forgo the technical hands-on process, many big-name retail corporations offer VHS-to-DVD (and in some cases VHS-to-digital) conversion services through their photo departments. Stores like Costco, CVS, Walmart, and Sam’s Club offer video conversion, and many of them use the same company for their conversion: YesVideo.

If you head to the YesVideo website, you’ll find conversion services starting from $30 per tape for the first two hours, and then an additional $33 for every two additional hours of converting. But the price you pay at Walmart or Target could be lower. These prices have been trending upward in recent years, so if you’ve been waiting to get your tapes converted, you might want to get on it.

Available transfer formats include everything from VHS to Betamax, and most services will allow you to transfer up to two tapes to a single DVD disc before charging you extra. Alternatively, there are a couple of great websites that offer the same service for a more affordable price if you feel comfortable shipping the VHS tapes yourself.

Companies like LegacyBox offer similar services. Simply mail your VHS tapes in, and they’ll provide you with DVDs, downloadable digital files, or a thumb drive filled with all of your memories, plus the original tapes in return. Prices start at $60 (they often have deals, though), which includes the conversion of two tapes. Have other analog media, like audio cassettes or 35mm slides? LegacyBox can digitize these, too.

Using a VHS-DVD combo or separate VCR and DVD burner

The Panasonic DMR EZ48VP K VHS to DVD recorder.

If you’ve got a ton of videos to transfer, you may want to take on the job yourself to save some cash. The best way to convert on your own is with a VHS-DVD combination player/recorder. Today, these are outdated and can be hard to find. You can find dinosaur models online if you look hard enough — try searching “combo deck” or “VHS DVD recorder” on sites like Amazon or eBay or even Craigslist — but these have gotten increasingly expensive over the years, some running upwards of $150 and up (and take forever to ship), worth it if you’ve got a sizeable tape collection.

You also can buy the items you’ll need piecemeal. If you don’t already have a VCR, you might be able to find one online for around $70 to $100, but again, it’s not the easiest task. With the last new VCRs rolling off the assembly line in 2016, used machines are likely your only option. You can try looking on Amazon , but you may need to resort to eBay or even your local Craigslist, though we recommend caution if you go those routes — always make sure your eBay seller has high review scores before proceeding. Then you’ll need a stand-alone DVD recorder, which can also be a challenge to find these days. Securing one will likely require the same methods outlined above.

Once you’ve got the goods, you can hook up the DVD recorder to the VCR by plugging a set of RCA audio/video cables from the VCR’s RCA outputs to the DVD recorder’s RCA inputs. On some models, you might need an RCA-to-HDMI converter to connect the two. This is essentially the same process you’ll need to use if you’re using a VHS camcorder as your playback device — simply connect the camera’s outputs to the DVD recorder via the RCA cables or, if necessary, the RCA-to-HDMI converter we just mentioned. With a combo player, of course, the process is simpler.

Next is the transfer process. Pop a tape into the VCR and a blank DVD+R or DVD+RW (some units only accept one of these formats, so double-check that) into the DVD player, then begin the transfer process. The method differs between models, but it should be relatively straightforward and generally involves starting the recording mode on the DVD recorder, followed by pressing play on your VCR or camcorder.

You may need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but most manuals can be found through a Google search if your components didn’t come with them. Keep in mind, most DVD recorders have two stages: Recording and finalizing. While in recording mode, you can keep adding footage to a single disc as long as you haven’t run out of storage capacity. Finalizing “locks in” the recordings and then makes the disc playable on any DVD player. Once finalized, a disc cannot be used for any further recordings.

Pro tip: It’s always smart to clean your equipment and the tapes you’ll be transferring. The efficacy of different cleaning methods is a point of contention, but the simplest way is to open the cassette’s protective door and carefully remove any visible dust or dirt using a soft cloth or cotton swab. You might also consider cleaning your VCR’s heads by using a VHS head cleaner.

Transferring to DVD, Blu-ray, or digital file on Windows and Mac

Panasonic DMP-BD91 BD blu-ray player tray.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This process is more involved and requires a few additional materials, but it has its benefits. Specifically, you’ll be able to transfer your tapes directly from a VCR into digital files as opposed to another physical format, allowing you to preserve them on a hard drive, USB drive, or even in the cloud. You can then copy and save the files wherever you’d like and transfer them to DVDs or Blu-rays.

Assuming you’ve already got a VCR, the first step is to buy an analog-to-digital converter if you don’t have access to one. There are many models out there that are made for both Mac and Windows computers, so be sure to choose the one for yours. These small devices are called “cards” because the original version was indeed a card that needed to be inserted into a computer, but these days they’re all plug-and-play USB dongles.

Digitizing

Once you’ve got one, connect the analog-to-digital converter to your computer and your VCR or camera. Most 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 it 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.

As with the previous method, we suggest giving your tape and VCR a look-over to make sure each is clean. Particles on the tape can cause blemishes in the video during the transfer, while dirty heads can ruin the entire project.

Now for the main event. Insert the tape into your VCR, and a blank DVD or Blu-ray into your computer (or external player/burner). The exact steps for conversion vary depending on which device and software you’re using for video capture. Digitizing will happen in real-time, meaning you’ll have to painstakingly sit through the entire length of footage (or go do something else for a while) before you can finish up the project. Once it’s done, however, the contents will be forever preserved in digital format.

You have the alternative option of employing a direct digital converter, which digitizes the VHS content onto an SD card, without the need for a computer. You can then insert the SD card into any device for viewing. Be aware, though — you might need extra cables and a bigger SD card (try 64GB).

Burning

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 disc, you’ve got another step to go. Most conversion software will have an option for burning a DVD or Blu-ray upon completion of digitizing the footage.

Asus BW-12D1S-U external Blu-ray burner
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If not, locate the resulting file on your computer and open it in iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, VLC, or a similar program that can burn your footage to DVD. You can also use these programs to edit the length of your videos. The burning process will vary depending on what software you choose, so consult instructions for further clarification.

VHS to Blu-ray

To convert old VHS to Blu-ray using a PC, you’ll need a computer with a Blu-ray writable drive and the appropriate third-party software. You’ll need an external drive if your PC doesn’t have one built-in. As far as software goes, we recommend the budget-friendly (free), albeit outdated, program ImgBurn for Windows users. If you want to pay for a better, more modern alternative, we recommend either Opencloner or BurnAware. Leawo Blu-ray Creator is the best and most user-friendly option for Macs.

Other than these differences, the process is the same as we described above for creating DVDs on your computer.

Quality in, quality out

Keep in mind, just because you’re transferring your antiquated VHS tapes to a more modern, digital format, you likely won’t see any appreciable improvement in image quality. The digitizing and burning processes rarely involve any tech wizardry that can create detail that has been lost to deterioration of time or that was never there in the first place. After all, VHS tapes are from the days of 3:4 ratio NTSC video, and you’ll probably end up watching the converted footage on a flatscreen TV with at least 1080p resolution, if not a 4K TV, which will likely make all of the grainy imperfections more noticeable, not less.

Still, as long as you set your expectations accordingly, you’ll have given your most precious memories a new lease on life — one that will hopefully keep them going for at least another 20 years.

What about digital videotapes?

If you’re sitting on a collection of Digital 8, miniDV, or the short-lived D-VHS, you’re probably wondering what can be done to make these recordings more easily viewable. Like their analog cousins, these formats will also degrade over time, so don’t let the word “digital” lull you into a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, if you want to preserve that digital information (without converting it to analog first), you’ll need some very specific products.

  • A Digital 8, miniDV, or D-VHS camcorder or cassette deck for playback (if you still own the one you used to film, that’s probably your best option)
  • An IEEE 1394 cable (also known as FireWire or i.Link)
  • A computer that has an IEEE 1394 input (most older Macs and some PCs have this built-in)
  • If your Windows computer can take additional cards, you can buy an IEEE 1394 PCIe card for very little money

Pro Tip No.1: Don’t buy one of the so-called IEEE 1394-to-USB adapters you’ll find by the truckload on Amazon, as they won’t work for transferring digital video from a camcorder to a computer.

Pro Tip No.2: There are several versions of IEEE 1394, including FireWire 400 and 800. Make sure the cable you buy matches the version on your computer, otherwise, you’ll end up having to buy an adapter too.

Once you have your gear collected, connect the camcorder to the computer using the IEEE 1394 cable and follow the instructions that came with your camcorder. Once the tapes have been transferred, they will be in uncompressed digital video files, which can be huge. Using a program like Handbrake, you’ll be able to compress them with virtually no loss of quality but with significantly smaller file sizes.

However, if you choose to burn them to DVD or Blu-ray, it’s best to use uncompressed video files.

Editors' Recommendations

Michael Bizzaco
Michael Bizzaco has been writing about and working with consumer tech for well over a decade, writing about everything from…
SiriusXM’s Taylor Swift channel is free if your car has satellite radio
Taylor Swift on SiriusXM in a Hyundai Palisade.

It's Taylor Swift's world — we're just living in it. That was true before today, which saw the release of The Tortured Poets Department. But it's especially true given that you'll now be able to listen to all the Taylor Swift you want, for free, for the next few weeks.

Sirius XM earlier announced that the previously open Channel 13 has been transformed to Channel 13 (Taylor's Version). That is, all Taylor Swift, all the time. All you needed was a SiriusXM account. But even that minor bit of gatekeeping has been lifted a good bit. If you have a car that has the hardware for SiriusXM — and SXM believes that 50% of all cars on the road are so equipped — Channel 13 (Taylor's Version) will be available for free, through May 6.

Read more
Best subwoofer deals: Up the bass for as low as $90
The Klipsch Reference Series 12 on a shelf.

A home audio setup isn’t complete without some bass, and whether you’re looking to add one of the best subwoofers to your arrangement or something more affordable, there are a lot of subwoofer deals worth taking a look at. Some of the best TV brands make great complementary audio equipment, so you’ll find the likes of Sony, LG, and Hisense among currently discounted subwoofers. But you’ll also find some more subtle brands with some impressive savings. We’ve tracked down all of the best subwoofer deals you can shop right now, so if you’ve been shopping the best TV deals and need something to pair with a purchase or if you already have a TV that needs an audio upgrade, read onward for more details on how to save on a new subwoofer.
Dr.J Professional 2.1 channel soundbar with subwoofer system -- $90, was $200

More than just the subwoofer, this surround system includes a versatile soundbar or dual-speaker -- it can be split in half -- offering a versatile audio system. It does featured Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, so you can connect a phone or tablet, for example. You can also plug your TV in via HDMI ARC, optical, or 3.5 mm audio. The 35W bass woofer delivers a nice little kick.

Read more
Best Sony TV deals: Save on best-in-class 4K TVs and 8K TVs
The Sony Bravia XR X93L 4K Google TV hanging over a media center in a living room.

Sony has been one of the best TV brands around the globe for decades, and it currently makes some of the best TVs you can buy. This is true whether you prefer 4K or 8K resolution, as well as OLED or QLED picture technologies. But despite its popularity among home theater shoppers, Sony doesn’t price its products out of range for most people. You can almost always find something by Sony among the best TV deals, and there are quite a few Sony TV deals worth taking a look at right now. We’ve tracked down what we feel are the best Sony TV deals among the current crop of sales. While there aren't currently any Sony 8K TV deals to shop, you’ll find a wide selection of Sony 4K TVs below, as well as some information on which may make the right centerpiece for your home theater.
Sony 55-inch X80K 4K Google TV — $600, was $650

Another TV that performs much better than its cost suggests is the X80K. Customers rate it near flawlessly for picture quality, which is enhanced by both the 4K HDR Processor X1 and Triluminos Pro, a system that allows over a billion colors to be used by the X80K's LED screen. You'll also get a 120Hz refresh rate enhanced by Motionflow XR tech to get even the fastest moving items on your screen a crisp look.

Read more