Your old VHS tape collection is dying: Here's how to save it


The quality of your old video collection at home is steadily decreasing, as the analogue materials tend to deteriorate over years. — dpa

The quality of your old video collection at home is steadily decreasing, as the analogue materials tend to deteriorate over years. — dpa

An old Western, a Bond blockbuster with Sean Connery or some holiday footage you've long forgotten. If you were around before the DVD era, there's a good chance you still have a stock of old VHS tapes gathering dust at home.

But the quality of your tapes is steadily decreasing, as the analogue materials tend to deteriorate over the years. If you value those films, you should probably preserve them – but in this digital age how do you transfer them to your PC or a DVD? And is it worth all the effort?

If you don't want to do the work yourself, you can send your old video tapes to a professional service that transfers films to a DVD for you.

The cost depends on the amount of material and also whether it's to be transferred in SD or Full HD quality. Some services also offer the option of Blu-ray, MPEG or DV-Avi.

These services are best when you're dealing with family material such as a wedding video or holiday footage. The professionals can get the maximum out of a VHS cassette, says video enthusiast Ulrich Hilgefort.

In the case of a movie on video you're better off trying to find it on DVD or Blu-ray, as digitising it will just be too much effort, Hilgefort says.

If you want to digitise old recordings yourself, you can use a video recorder connected via the Scart socket with an intermediate device called a digitiser or video grabber.

That device is then connected via USB to a PC. The main work is done by the software that comes with the digitiser and which runs on the computer.

The digitisation process creates an AVI file. "Users should convert these into an MPEG file to make sure that the format is playable everywhere. There are free programs available that do the conversion," says video specialist Andreas Hentschel.

However, video to digital conversion is a time-consuming process. Hentschel estimates that four hours of footage on video cassette takes about ten hours of work to convert and process.

Another option is to get a combination DVD-VHS recorder. These can transfer a video recording onto DVD. However, you should check the DVD output format in case further processing on the PC is required, Hentschel advises.

The cheapest, simplest method of capturing your old videos and also the least effective is to simply film the screen as they play with a camcorder or smartphone.

This requires a canvas and a dark room. However, the sound quality will be poor and the picture is prone to flicker and poor exposure. – dpa