Digitise all your old video cassettes for £30

Not many of us still keep a video cassette recorder under the TV in the lounge, yet there are plenty of houses with a loft or cupboard stuffed full of old tapes. The question is, whether they are still of any use.

Old video tapes can be converted to more up-to-date formats. Picture: Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

It depends, of course, what’s on them. Movies and classic TV shows are more easily accessed now – and in much better quality – on DVD, YouTube or a streaming platform like Netflix or Amazon Video.

But what of the personal memories that other media cannot reproduce: home movies, perhaps, or off-air recordings of your nephew’s appearance on Blockbusters? With a little patience, they can be transferred to a more up-to-date format and preserved for another couple of decades at least.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There are two easy and relatively quick ways to digitise old VHS and Betamax tapes to make them playable on a computer or DVD player, and if you shop around the second-hand stalls and websites you should be able to get your hands on the necessary equipment quite cheaply.

What you will need first, of course, is a machine on which to play the tapes. If there is one stashed in the back of a cupboard, use that; otherwise, you’ll need to borrow or buy one. New models are hard to find but there are plenty on Ebay – however, be aware that the tape heads can deteriorate over time if they’ve been stored somewhere damp, so read the description and check the condition before handing over any money.

You will then need a device on which to re-record the old footage, and here you have two options: a DVD recorder or a capture card that plugs into your computer. The DVD route is the simpler one: you simply connect the player and recorder using a standard A/V cable, then pop in a blank disc and press the record button at the right moment – exactly the way you used to do on your old VHS machine. Discs cost just a few pennies and once the recording is finalised can be played in any regular DVD deck.

DVD recorders have been superseded by hard disks, and new models are few and far between. But you can pick up a decent model for as little as £30 second hand, and if you have no further use for it when your transfers are done, you can sell it on again.

Video capture devices are more fiddly to set up, but you can get a brand new one for just £50. The principal here is that the device takes the analogue picture and audio signal from the tape deck and converts it to a digital stream that your PC can understand. It leaves most of the hard work to the computer, so only attempt this if you have a reasonably fast one to hand.

There are many capture cards on the market but none is easier to set up than the Dazzle DVD Recorder HD, which requires no access to the computer’s innards but simply plugs into a spare USB socket. You then fire up the included video capture software and the tape deck’s output appears on your PC screen. Once you’ve finished playing it, you can edit the results and save the final version to YouTube, Facebook or any other location, or burn it to a DVD.

Bear in mind that in either case, the transfer is done in real-time. So if you have two dozen old E180 cassettes to transfer, you can expect to be juggling tapes for 72 hours.

On the plus side, both transfer methods work for camcorder tapes as well as full-size cassettes – although if your old camera is a digital model you may be able to hook it up to your PC without any extra hardware. Just look for a USB socket on the camcorder or a firewire port (sometimes marked as IEEE 1394) at the back of the computer.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.