Salvaging VHS tapes
Many of us have a collection of VHS videotapes, both personal and work-related; libraries and departments also have them. Unfortunately, videotape players are becoming hard to find. Classrooms at Notre Dame no longer provide a VCR as standard equipment; one must be requested ahead of time.
Our VHS tapes are also getting old. The material is relatively brittle, so we worry that our media will become physically damaged. The library at Notre Dame has a plan to replace its tape collection with DVDs where possible, but what do you do in the meantime? What happens if replacement media can’t be found? How do you convert your personal videotapes to a digital format?
Disclaimer: I’m going to assume you know the legal and ethical issues that may be associated with copying media. At a minimum, copying copyrighted media purely for convenience is a bad idea.
One way to preserve a VHS tape is to digitize it – that is, convert it from analog format to something a computer can use. The process requires two kinds of technology:
- Hardware that feeds video from your VCR into your computer – this means cables and some kind of “black box”
- Software that captures the incoming video feed and saves it as a computer file
I have used an analog-to-digital converter box to connect a VCR to a Mac through a firewire cable. I then capture the video feed with an old version of Apple’s iMovie software. This does the trick nicely, but newer and snazzier systems are available. For example, the “Elgato Video Capture” system (Mac and Windows) costs $85 at Amazon and gets good reviews there (here’s a YouTube video on the Elgato device).