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

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

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If you’ve got a ton of videos to transfer, you may want to take on the job yourself to save some green. The best way to convert on your own is with a VHS-DVD combination player. Today, these are outdated and can be hard to find.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 player” on sites like Amazon or eBay, or even Craigslist — but these will typically run you $100 or more (and take forever to ship), so it’ll only be worth it if you’ve got a sizable tape collection.

You can also by the items you’ll need by piecemeal. If you don’t already have a VCR, you might be able to find one online for around $70-100, but, again, it’s not the easiest task. Here too, you can try looking on Amazon (most options there will be secondhand), 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, etc. Then you’ll need a stand-alone DVD recorder, which are also a challenge to find these days, and will likely require the same methods outlined above.

Once you’ve got the goods, you can hook up the DVD player to the VCR by plugging an RCA audio/video cable from the VCR’s RCA output to the DVD player’s RCA input. On some models, you might need an RCA to HDMI cable to connect the two. This is essentially the same process you’ll need to use with an older video camera that uses tapes — simply connect the camera’s output to the DVD recorder via the RCA cable or, if necessary, the RCA to HDMI cable 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. 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. 

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 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 by using a VHS head cleaner.

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