How to Convert VHS Tapes to MPEG Files

By David Secor

Many people have old home movies or other videos lying around on VHS tapes. As time goes on, the quality of the video and audio on the tapes will degrade, because they employ magnetic storage techniques that are susceptible to degradation from repeated use and from outside magnetic sources. It can be quite easy, however, to convert these videos into digital files on your computer. As digital files, the quality of the video will remain the same as when it was originally copied into the digital format.

Obtain a video capture device for your computer. This can be a TV tuner or a standalone video capture device. The easiest devices to install are the USB TV tuners and capture cards, but due to the technical limitations of the USB bus, the quality of the resulting files may not be as good as the results from an internal card. A PCI or PCI express TV tuner card or video capture card is the best option for quality video, as it operates over a direct connection to the computer’s system bus. Installing an internal card is as easy as inserting it into an empty slot, securing it with a screw, and installing the included drivers.

Connect the VCR to the computer, using RCA video and audio cables. The video cable will connect directly to the video capture device. The audio cable may be connected to either the sound card on your computer, or directly into the capture device, depending on which capture device is used. An adapter may be necessary to convert the RCA plugs from the VCR to be compatible with the 1/8-inch jack that may be on your sound or capture card.

Open your video recording software. Set the capture options to MPEG video. If you intend to burn the video to CD or DVD, choose the appropriate MPEG video type for that format. Otherwise, choose the MPEG resolution that will offer you the best balance between video quality and file size. A video recorded in a higher resolution and frame rate will require more storage space than a video recorded with lower quality settings. If you are using a TV tuner for video capture, ensure that it is set to use the composite video input.

Insert a tape into the VCR, and power it on. Press record in the video software, and press play on the VCR. After the video is done recording, save the file and give it an appropriate name.

Play the converted VHS videos directly from your computer, or burn them to CD or DVD to play the videos with an external player.