While you might realize your video tapes have a relatively short lifespan, most people are driven to explore digitized video tapes because they can no longer watch those old movies.
The last VCR came off the production line in 2016, and few people have access to one these days to be able to play all their home videos from the 80s and 90s. But digital files can be accessed anywhere in the cloud or kept on your computer to enjoy during your downtime.
Unless you’ve kept those tapes in a climate-controlled setting for the past 40 years, you likely want to have the formats updated. Video tapes degrade over time so transferring them to digital ensures you don’t lose those precious memories.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to get them converted to newer formats.
Get Your Tapes Organized
Start by taking an inventory of what you have in your video tape collection. Note that commercial tapes can be replaced with DVDs or streaming versions and likely have protections that keep you from being able to copy or convert them.
What you want to be on the lookout for are the videos that can’t be replaced — someone’s fifth birthday party, a family reunion, or a high school graduation, as examples. If you’re lucky, someone took the time to properly label the original tapes so you can identify what’s on each one. You can then sort out what’s worth keeping from what might not be quite so important.
As you go through the tapes, be on the lookout for broken cases or torn tape. It’s not impossible to get footage off of these, but you likely need professional help with it. You also won’t be able to confirm what’s on the tape since it’s not playable.
Organize the tapes by format as well. While converting VHS tapes is a common service, not everyone can handle Betamax, miniDVs or Hi8 tapes.
Take a Look at What You Have
If your tapes aren’t well labeled, you might have to pop your tapes into a vcr and watch a few seconds to see what’s on each tape. (Its best not to run through the entire tape though, as this can cause the tape to break or become worn out.)
When you review the tapes, keep an eye out for signs of damage and degradation. (While you can add a VHS retro effect to a video to get that damaged look, it’s better if it’s because of an artistic choice!)
You’re watching for distortion, lines, or image jumps. Black around the edges can mean the tape has started to demagnetize. Flickering, color degradation, and tracking issues are also signs that the tape is losing integrity.
If you have the option, test the tape on a different machine to confirm the issue is with the tape and not the player. If it’s the tape, some damage can be repaired after the footage has been converted. Footage of your wedding might be worth making the effort, but family members sitting around talking might not be.
Choose a Transfer Service
If you have a large collection or a lot of damage, having a professional service do the conversion is your best bet. Start by ensuring they can handle various tape formats, which might include everything from VHS and Hi8 to miniDV and Betamax.
Ask about what kind of correction, editing, and restoration capabilities they have. Some damage can be cleared up with good software after it’s in digital form, and they should be able to help you with that.
The final file format is also important as you want to be able to play them on your computer and not just on a DVD player. Look for cloud storage options and formats that make it easy for you to transfer the video to a future playable format.
Want to Do It Yourself?
If you only have a few tapes, you might want to do the digitization yourself. The biggest challenge with that process is finding a VCR with video and audio composite jacks that works properly.
The at-home process basically involves playing the tape on the VCR and recording what it plays on your computer. Before you start, make sure the player is clean, and consider cleaning your tapes as well.
Along with the player and a computer that can handle the transfer, you’ll also need a USB-to-composite video converter and capture software. The software might allow you to edit the video a bit, but depending on the quality of the footage, you might need more editing power to fix color and clarity as well.
Make Back-Ups of Your Videos
One nice thing about digitizing your videos is that it’s super easy to make copies. And you should make copies, not just for family members who might be interested but also as backups. You don’t want to lose your precious new video because of a failed hard drive.
DVDs can easily be damaged over time, so it’s good to have copies of your video kept on a hard drive or in a cloud service. If you choose to get DVDs from your digitization service, ensure you can copy off that DVD to have extra versions of the file. Digital files give you the option to change the format and location as needed.
Get Those Video Tapes Digitized
If you remember your parents training a camcorder at you at every opportunity, there’s likely a stash of video tapes hidden somewhere recording important moments from your childhood. It’s doubtful they have been stored in ideal conditions for the past 40 years, so it’s important to pursue video tape conversion soon to preserve those memories.
Ready to convert your old video tape to digital formats? Start your online order with us soon to get those home movies transferred to DVD or digital files.