Edward from Lake Orion, MI writes:
You have been recommending no longer storing pictures on VHS tape. I have a few tapes from early digital days that I stored pictures on and set up an 8 or 10 second duration each to view them on my TV. I would like to move them to a hard disk so I am looking for your instructions on how to move the pictures to a disk or CD or DVD. I have a working VHS player. Can I plug this into the back of my computer and tell it to transfer the pictures to a disk or DVD? I have been a long time customer of yours and enjoy it.
First of all Ed, transferring the files is possible. But if you have these photos saved in any other format, I’d suggest going that way because of time and quality. So, if you have hard copies of those photos, consider using a scanner to capture them. If you have digital files somewhere, that would certainly be a better option.
But if VHS is all you have available, you can transfer it. You’ll need two things. A dongle that plugs into your VCR’s composite output and also into your computer’s USB port. But you will also need a program that can capture the videos and allow you to save them as particular file types.
In an article we did last year, we suggested Nero, but there are other products available. This process is going to take some time. VHS files are not digital, but analog. That means you have to play the VHS tape in real time to capture the files.
Now, once imported and saved on your computer, you can transfer the files to disc or to a hard drive. If you want them to be of the best quality possible, they will take up a lot of space. The quality still won’t be great. VHS just doesn’t store high-quality video, especially when viewed on modern screens.
My suggestion would be to find a place that does video transfer. Make sure they don’t just transfer the file to a DVD to watch in a home DVD player, I’d suggest getting a digital file for computer. You might even take in an external hard drive or large flash drive and ask that the files be transferred to that instead of a DVD or in addition to creating a DVD to play at home.
You might also look into having someone with a bit of video editing experience separate your photos into individual images once they are converted. If you’re interested in learning about video editing and have a lot of time to give, you might be able to do it, but there are probably college students (and even high-school students) with access to digital video editing equipment, who would be willing to undertake the project.
As a regular reader, you may have noticed that I often suggest going to a professional when it comes to transferring videos. This is because I worked as a video professional for more than 20 years and even to me projects like transferring video formats can be daunting. I cannot imagine the frustration to those without experience.
This is a chance to make two important points. The first is about VHS transfer. For precious family memories like photographs and weddings, it is worth the effort to convert irreplaceable images from VHS tape to digital files. For things like movies or TV shows that can be found on DVD or streaming, it’s just not worth the effort.
The second point is about photographs. Always keep copies of your original file somewhere safe. Keep the negative, keep the hard copy, keep backups of your digital copies somewhere other than your home.