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Transferring VHS to Computer

Jack from Florida writes:

I need to convert a six hour VHS tape to my laptop with Win 7. I downloaded six video converter programs that only deal with videos that are already on the computer. I need free software that will capture the video on my VHS tape and move it into my computer.  Do you know of a freebie to capture video from my VHS player?

Hi, Jack.

The quick answer to this is “no, I personally don’t know of a freebie that will do what you want”.  The primary reason for that, however, is that most freebies are trial versions of a full program, and will typically only encode about twenty minutes of video before they require you to pay for the full version.  I downloaded a freebie video converter once that converted 2 minutes of the video, and then wouldn’t allow me to even watch that.  Apparently, I was just supposed to take their word for the fact that it converted correctly.  A lot of other “freebies” that are full versions of a program are usually riddled with spyware, adware and trojans.  Good, functional, free programs are nice when you trip across them (Audacity, Gom Player, Video Download Helper, etc.) but they are extremely rare.  You could check Cnet (http://www.cnet.com/ [1]) or some other reputable download site, but I think that most of what you’re going to find there for free are trial versions.

So, now that I’ve addressed the question that you asked, let’s see if I can address the one that you didn’t ask, which is “What do I need to do to get a VHS tape’s contents onto my computer as a video file?”

The first thing that you have to do, since I’ve personally never seen a computer with a built-in VHS drive is to figure out how to hook a VHS player up to your computer.  If your computer has yellow/red/white A/V inputs, then it’s no problem.  It’s a direct connection.  If it doesn’t – and most don’t – then one way that you can go about it is to get an A/V to USB cable.

The one pictured here is from Mygica and will set you back $25 at Tigerdirect.com (http://www.tigerdirect.com/ [2]), and the beauty of it is that it saves your video directly as MPEG video, so if that’s good for you then you don’t need a converter.  Ion also makes a VHS player that you hook directly to your computer for about $100, although you can get one refurbished for about half that price.

The next step, once you’ve transferred the video is to convert it into a file format that you like.  There are some good free video converters out there, such as the aforementioned Video Download Helper ( https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/video-downloadhelper/ [3]).  As far as I know, this is only available as an add-on for Firefox, but it is well worth the basic price of free.  The one downside to the free version is that it has their logo in the upper left of the video.  If you don’t want that, you can get the registered version for $28.50.  How obtrusive the logo is depends on the resolution of your video.  Big, high-quality video = small logo.  Small, low-quality video = big logo.

Hope that this helps!

~Randal Schaffer