How to Improve Video From Old VCR Tapes (15 Steps)
By Timothy Smithee
Videotapes have a limited lifespan and recordings should be transferred to a computer file or DVD before the tape degrades so much that the recording is unwatchable. You can get the best possible image for watching and transferring recordings.
Clean the VCR
Unplug the VCR and remove the cover.
Locate the video head drum. It is a cylinder about three inches in diameter. The video heads are attached to the bottom of the top half. There may be two, four or six heads. Look around and between the video head drum and the tape holder for the tape guides and the smaller rectangular heads for audio, control and erasure.
Clean all the heads, rollers and guides, except the video heads, using cotton swabs dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Clean the video head drum, paying careful attention to the grooves on the lower half of the drum. Do not touch the heads with the cotton swabs, and rotate the drum to keep them out of the way.
Clean the video heads using using plain paper or cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. Gently wipe them from side to side (around the surface of the drum).
Replace the cover of the VCR and plug it in. Wait at least 15 minutes for the cleaning fluid to dry.
Prepare the Tape
Ensure the VCR and the tape are at room temperature. If either has been brought from a cooler area, allow several hours so there is no condensation in the VCR or on the tape.
Keep the area free of dust, smoke and grease. Ensure any sources of magnetism such as speakers are several feet away.
Wind the tape from the beginning to the end and then back to the beginning again. To maximize life and quality, tapes should always be rewound after they have played, never ejected unless wound to an end and stored on edge in a clean dry area.
Connect the TV or Recording Device
Select the best available output from the VCR. S-Video is better than the Video Out or Line Out, and Video Out or Line Out is better than using the channel 3/4 output.
Use good-quality connection cables that are no longer than necessary. Note that gold-plated connectors may be used on poor-quality cables; some high-quality cables do not use gold connectors.
Keep audio and video cables away from power cables. If this is not possible, avoid having the cables run together. Crossing them is less likely to cause interference than running them parallel.
Make a DVD Copy
The easiest way to make a DVD from a videotape is to use a VCR/DVD recorder combination unit. However, using a computer to create a video file allows additional fine tuning of the image and allows for re-editing. An older tape could be spruced up with new scene transitions and titles.
Connect the VCR to the computer's video card or video capture hardware.
Use the video software to clean up and re-edit the content if desired, once the videotape has been captured as a video file.
Burn the completed file to a DVD as per the software instructions. Note that making a DVD that can play a movie is not the same as copying a video file to a DVD.
- For commercially-available content such as movies, purchasing the content on a DVD is better than copying the content from a videotape. The quality will be much better, some videotapes have copy protection that results in poor-quality copies and copying the content to a DVD may not be legal.
- Never clean video heads with an up-and-down motion. This can break the heads.
Timothy Smithee is a technical writer specializing in internal operating procedures for IT and manufacturing support. He has written for diverse publications including "RV Lifestyle" and "Everyman." He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Western Ontario and a Bachelor of Arts in film studies from Carleton University.