How to Convert VHS to Digital

Edited by Carrie Marshall

September 6, 2021

Maybe it’s your wedding video or your home movies, your first ever on-stage appearance or your attempts at making your own Star Wars film in your shed. Whatever it is, if it’s on a VHS tape and you’ve got a computer then it’s easy to turn VHS into digital and convert a cassette to digital video that you can edit, share or just watch to bring back memories.

How to turn VHS into digital

To turn VHS into digital you’ll need three things: a computer with video capture software; a video capture device such as a TV tuner card, a video capture card or an external USB video capture device; and a VHS player such as a VCR.

In this article we’ll discover the best way to record into your PC, how to digitize VHS tapes, what hardware and software you need to transfer video to your device and what VHS-to-PC software you should try on Windows 10.

Here’s what you need:

A video capture device

There are lots of different options including internal ones that sit inside your PC and external ones that plug into your PC USB port. Different manufacturers call them different things, but you’ll usually find the word “capture” or “converter” in the name. For example, the listings on Amazon include “VHS to Digital Converter Adapter”, “Elgato Video Capture”, “Capture Card USB”, “Video Capture Card” and so on.

A VCR or a camera that plays VHS tapes

You’ll use this to play the VCR tapes that you want to digitize.

The correct cables

This depends on what ports you have on your VHS-to-digital converter. The two most common output connectors on the back of a VCR are S-Video, which is video only, and RCA, which has three plugs: one for video and two for audio. You’ll then need to plug those cables into your VHS converter. If it has the same connectors as your VCR, great! If not, you may need an RCA cable that has the three RCAs at one end but a 3.5mm audio plug at the other.

VHS-to-digital software

To convert from VCR to digital you’ll need quality VHS capture software. We like Movavi’s VHS Converter, which is ideal for converting VHS to digital, solving common problems and making sure the transfer and digital copy are as good as they can possibly be.

How to convert VHS to digital

Converting VHS to digital is straightforward. To turn VHS into digital you need to do two things first: connect your VHS converter to your computer, and connect your VHS-to-digital converter to your VCR. Download Movavi Video Editor Plus and follow the steps below.

Step 1. Connect your video capture device

For USB video cassette converters, it’s just a matter of plugging the converter into a spare USB port; if you want to convert a cassette to digital using a TV tuner or frame grabber card then you’ll need to open up your computer and install the device in a free expansion slot.

To convert VHS to digital, the software you’re using has to have special drivers. Drivers are little bits of software that tell Windows how to connect to and capture video from a VHS-to-digital converter. These are often included with your VHS-to-digital software but it’s worth checking the manufacturer’s website to see if there are more up to date versions.

Step 2. Connect your VCR

For VHS-to-PC converters, it’s a similar process. To connect your VCR to digital you’ll need to use an RCA cable or S-Video cable: the former transmits audio and video, but the latter only transmits video so you’ll still need RCA plugs for the left and right stereo audio tracks. To connect RCA plugs to the sound card on a PC such as a Windows 10 PC, get a cable with RCA plugs on one end and a 3.5mm audio cable on the other. That should pop straight into your PC sound card’s Line In port; the RCA plugs go into the Line Out on your VCR.

RCA plugs are colour coded. The red and white ones are the left and right audio channels; the yellow one is for video. If you’re using an S-Video cable for higher quality, leave the yellow RCA plug disconnected and put the S-Video cable into the S-Video sockets on your VCR and your VHS to digital connector.

Step 3. Insert your VHS cassette

Finally, switch on your computer (and if your capture device is an external one with a power supply, switch on your VHS converter too) and wait for the message telling you that Windows has found your hardware. Now you can insert the first of the VCR tapes that you want to digitize and turn your attention to your VHS capture software.

If you already have VHS-to-PC software, great. If not and you want to convert VHS to digital with software free of charge, we’d suggest the Movavi VHS Converter: it’s really easy to use but produces really high quality results.

Step 4. Install the Movavi VHS converter

When you need to change VHS to PC, the converter from Movavi will help you. Get Movavi Video Editor Plus, run the installer and follow the on-screen instructions. Now, open the app and click on Record Video. This enables you to record video from any source: not just VCR tapes but cameras, webcams and other devices too.

Step 5. Set your VHS capturing preferences

Now you need to tell your video capture application what hardware to use. In most cases when you convert VHS to PC, software will find the right devices automatically, but if it doesn’t you can do it manually:

Video capture device: This is your TV tuner, capture card or USB capture device.

Audio capture device: Most likely your PC sound card, unless you’re getting your audio from a different source.

Save files to: This is the folder where you want your captured videos to be saved.

Step 6. Start the VHS conversion

It’s time to rip the video to your PC. Don’t worry, it’s not as aggressive as that sounds. Simply click the Start Capture button and then press play on your VCR. When you want to stop, just click Stop Capture. Congratulations! You’ve converted your first video cassette to digital. It’ll be stored automatically in the folder you specified. And that’s how to convert VHS to digital on Windows or Mac.

Step 7. Edit, share and store your videos

Movavi Video Editor Plus makes it easy to edit and enhance your old analogue videos. You can improve the video quality, add special effects, give them new soundtracks, add titles, speed them up and slow them down and much more. You can then export the video in the format of your choice: MP4 is usually best, because it’s compatible with almost every kind of device or service. Once you’ve done that you can easily upload your video and share it on sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.

To store the videos you’ve converted from VHS to digital, save them on your hard disk / SSD or on an external drive. It’s always a good idea to have multiple copies, especially if the video has important sentimental value. We make backups of our videos to external USB drives and via online cloud storage: you might want to do the same on iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive.

Summary

With the right hardware and software it’s really easy to take old VHS video tapes, digitize them and then edit, store or share them with others. Movavi Video Editor Plus takes you through the entire process, connecting to your VCR to digital capture card or device, converting the VHS video to digital and even enabling you to add special effects.

It’s worth noting that no matter how good the video recording, VHS is not a very high resolution format; its resolution isn’t as good as 720p HD, let alone Full HD or 4K. That means you don’t need to spend a fortune on a very powerful video capture card capable of handling massively high resolution video: the quality you get will only ever be as good as what’s on the original VHS tape (although apps such as Movavi Video Editor Plus can help you make it clearer).

Carrie Marshall

Carrie Marshall is a writer, broadcaster, podcaster, and musician from Glasgow in Scotland. She has been writing and talking about PCs, Macs, and mobile for magazines, websites, and radio stations for 22 years, and she is the author of more than a dozen books on subjects ranging from PC building to internet safety. She’s a regular contributor to TechRadar, T3, MacFormat, and BBC Radio Scotland.

* The free version of Movavi Video Editor Plus has the following restrictions: 7-day trial period, watermark on the output videos, and, if you’re saving a project as an audio file, an ability to save only half the audio length. Learn more

Frequently asked questions

How can I convert VHS to digital without a VCR?

No VCR? No problem: all you need is a video camera that uses VHS tapes. You can connect that to the same video capture device that we’ve described in this article, enabling you to turn the VHS original into digital video you can then edit, store, burn to DVD or share.

What is the best format to convert VHS to digital?

That depends on what you want to do with the video. For the vast majority of people, the best video file format for turning VHS video into digital video is MPEG-4 (MP4) using H.264 compression. That’s the format used by massive video sites such as YouTube and iTunes, and it delivers very high quality without taking up too much room (although video files in any format are still pretty large, so if you’re going to digitize a lot of video tapes make sure you have plenty of digital storage space!).

The two other common formats are Microsoft’s AVI/WMV and Apple’s MOV. The rival formats have fallen out of favour now because while they offer high quality, they don’t have the clever compression of H.264 and MPEG-4 so their files are very big.

There are tons of other video formats but they’re best avoided unless you have a very specific reason to use them, such as because you want to use your video on a fairly old device that doesn’t know about more modern video formats.

What is the best VHS-to-DVD converter to buy?

We think Movavi Video Editor Plus is the best VHS digital converter to buy. As you can see from the steps above it’s really easy to use and contains all the features you need – and because it’s a video editor as well as a VHS-to-digital converter you can edit the VHS footage, improve its appearance and even add titles and effects.