Digitizing Your Family Movies

How to Convert Videotapes to DVD

Video cassette recorder and tape
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Somewhere in your house is a box or drawer full of videotapes —aging home movies full of birthdays, dance recitals, holiday gatherings, a child's first steps and other special family moments. You haven't watched the movies in years but, unfortunately, the years are still taking their toll. Heat, humidity and improper storage cause videotapes to deteriorate, decaying the magnetic particles that represent your precious family memories. By converting those old VHS tapes to digital form, you can effectively stop the deterioration in its tracks. It also allows you to use your computer to edit out the boring and blooper moments, add music or narration, and make extra copies for your family and friends.

What You Need

The basic requirements are easy—a computer and a camcorder or VCR which can play your old videotapes. Other important items you'll need include a device to get the video in and out of your computer (video capture), the software to edit it, and a DVD-burner to copy the video onto DVDs.

Video Capture Hardware
Transferring videotape to DVD is actually pretty easy to do yourself, but will require some special hardware. Depending on your computer setup, you may already have what you need. Three major options for transferring footage from old videotapes to computer include:

  • Transfer footage via a video card
    To transfer video footage to your computer you'll need the right cables and hardware. If you have a newer computer, you may already have what you need. Check the back of your computer and follow the cord coming from your monitor. If you see multicolored (red, white and yellow) plugs on the same card, then you're in luck. With a RCA A/V (audio/video) cable you'll be able to directly connect your video camera or VCR directly to your computer. If your video card also has a round S-Video jack, use a S-Video cable in place of the yellow RCA video input for superior video quality. If your video card doesn't have RCA input jacks, you can also choose to replace it with a new video card.
  • Transfer footage via a video capture card or device
    A cheaper and often easier alternative to replacing the entire video card in your computer is to add a video capture card. You'll need an empty PCI slot in the back of your computer to install one. Alternatively, there are some which will plug into an available USB slot, which is easier than having to open your computer to plug in the card. Video capture cards usually come with software on CD which will walk you through the steps of transferring video from your VCR or Camcorder to your computer.
  • Transfer footage via a video capture card
    If your computer doesn't have a DVD burner, then the best solution may be to purchase an external DVD recorder. These connect to the computer via a USB port and have built-in video capture technology, allowing you to capture video, edit it, and burn it to DVD with a single device.

Digital Video Software
In conjunction with the hardware, you'll also need special software to capture, compress and edit the video footage on your computer. The digital video software assists you with capturing the video from your video camera or VCR, and also allows you to cut/edit the footage or add fun special effects such as narration, transitions, menus and background music. In some cases, digital video software may have come with your video capture card or device. If not, there are a number of free video editing programs, such as Windows Movie Maker, that can perform some of these functions. If you want to get fancy, then programs such as Adobe Premiere Elements, Corel VideoStudio, Apple's Final Cut and Pinnacle Studio make it easy to get your movies on DVD with professional results.

Plenty of Hard Drive Space
It may not sound like a big deal, but the hard drive on your computer will need a lot of free space when you're working with video - as much as 12-14 gigabytes (GB) of space for every hour of footage you import. If you don't have that much space to spare, consider purchasing an external hard drive. You can get a 200MB external hard drive for less than $300 -- enough room for plenty of video, plus a place to backup your photos, genealogy and other files.

Working with such large files means that you'll also need a powerful computer. A fast processor (CPU) and plenty of memory (RAM) will make it much easier to transfer and edit video.

Transfer & Edit Your Video

Whichever video capture option you use—a special video card, a video capture card or a DVD recorder —the steps for capturing and editing the video from your camcorder or VCR are basically the same:

  1. Make the connections. Connect the cords from the output jacks on your old camcorder (if it plays videotapes) or VCR to the input jacks on your video capture card or DVD recorder.
  2. Capture the video. Open your video software and select the "import" or "capture" option. The software should then walk you through the steps necessary for recording the video to your computer.
  3. Save the video at the highest quality possible. Old videotapes are already of poor enough quality, without further degrading the footage more than necessary during the compression process. If you're short on space, then capture, edit and burn small sections of video at a time. Once you've burned the resulting video to DVD you can delete it from your hard drive, freeing up space for more video transfer.
  4. Edit out unwanted footage. Once you've transferred the video to your computer you can edit and rearrange the scenes into a nice finished product. Most digital video editing software will have already automatically separated your raw video footage into scenes, making it easy to shuffle things around. Now is also the time to delete the boring stuff and edit out dead time, like the 20 minutes of footage you took with the lens cap on! Generally, this process is as easy as drag and drop. You can eliminate choppiness in the final product by adding cool transitions from scene to scene, such as fades and page turns. Other special features you may want to play with include titles, photos, narration, menus and background music.

Create Your DVD

When you're satisfied with your edited movies, it's time to transfer them to DVD. Again the software will walk you through the steps. Just as with import, you'll probably be given a choice of quality settings. For the best image quality limit the video you save on a single DVD to an hour or less. Choose a high-quality DVD-R or DVD+R disk (not the rewritable version) on which to burn your video. Make at least one backup copy as well, maybe more if you plan to delete the digital video from your computer's hard drive.

Other Options for Transferring Video to DVD

If you don't have a computer, there are options available for transferring video to DVD, sans PC, using a DVD recorder unit. If you want to do any editing before burning to DVD, you'll need a DVD recorder unit with a hard drive. Fancy editing is still best done on a computer, however. Alternatively, you can pay a professional to convert your VHS tapes to DVD, although this service doesn't usually come cheap.

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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Digitizing Your Family Movies." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/digitizing-your-family-movies-1421835. Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Digitizing Your Family Movies. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/digitizing-your-family-movies-1421835 Powell, Kimberly. "Digitizing Your Family Movies." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/digitizing-your-family-movies-1421835 (accessed May 29, 2023).