What’s the best way to get old videos onto your computer?

If you’re still holding onto that VHS tape of your 30-year-old’s first steps, it’s time to act. Video tapes tend to disintegrate over time and you should move quickly to make sure that you save these important moments. The technology for putting that stuff onto your computer isn’t expensive, but it’s also not common. Now’s the time to do something.

How video capture works

In order to transfer something from video tape to your computer, you need two things: a video tape player and a computer. OK, you need three things. You’ll need something like the kit you see at the top of this article. This connects your video player and your computer and gives you some control.

So yes, you’ll need a VCR. If the tapes are from an old camcorder, you’ll need that. Whatever it takes to be able to play the video. If you don’t have what you need, ask friends and neighbors. Many people still have this stuff packed in a garage somewhere. All else fails, you can go to eBay, buy something old and you’ll probably be able to resell it on eBay when you’re done.

With everything hooked up, you run special software on your computer that starts recording the input from your VCR. You press PLAY on the VCR, and then sit back as the whole process unfolds in real time. I hate to tell you this but there’s no shortcut — If you have 150 hours of videos you’ll need 150 hours to capture it all. When you’re done you have a clean digital copy that will hold up forever as long as you keep it backed up.

This particular kit requires you to have a PC and a CD-ROM which is used to load the software. Yes, of course everyone tends to want to download software today but remember you’re dealing with technology that’s specifically designed to work with stuff from the past.

Once you have the file, it’s going to be easily playable on almost any device either with the device’s built-in player or you can upload to YouTube (and keep the file private) to be able to watch it from the cloud.

What you can, and cannot, capture

This process works great with anything you have recorded yourself. It doesn’t generally work at all with commercially produced stuff. If you have an old VHS copy of The Little Mermaid, sorry to have to break this to you. You’ll just have to buy it again if you want it. This applies to DVDs as well. Although there is software to rip DVDs, there’s some question as to how legal that actually is. That’s why SolidSignal doesn’t sell it.

Why you need to act now

The window is closing fast for this sort of technology. While it was actually pretty easy to get these parts five years ago, low demand for them has made it harder to get them and driven the cost up. I expect within five years it will be impossible to get this sort of video converter anymore.

And of course, as I said the videotapes themselves are disintegrating so if you haven’t moved to make sure that your memories are preserved, there really is no time to waste.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.