The past few weeks, since my husband brought a duffel bag full of VHS tapes into our house after a visit with his parents, I've been converting dozens of tapes to a digital format.
I'm no expert at this process, but I thought I'd share with you what's worked for me.
Most of these family tapes were recorded in the mid- to late-1980s, so they're on the upper end of their life expectancy. Most manufacturers of magnetic tape products such as audio and video tapes say they last an average of 30 years.
But the way these items are stored and how often they're used can cause that estimate to vary widely.
We've been able to capture our videos from the 1980s and 1990s to newer formats. But I can't say the same about my Steve Miller "Abracadabra" cassette tape from the same era, or the mix-tapes that my husband and I made for each other in our early courtship. Those, sadly, are warbly and no good anymore.
Time, as always, is of the essence.
How I Started Transferring Videos
Personally, I found the idea of mailing off our memories to a conversion service unacceptable. I feel the same way about my photographs. What if they got lost? What form would they be in when they returned? I wanted more control over the process - either by duplicating them myself or having someone local do it for me.
It's one reason I started scanning our photos myself, and then accepting scanning jobs for others. That of course has since turned into a business, but it started out of a personal need. I just didn't want to run the risk of them getting lost.
Several years ago, I discovered a local man who converts audio and video tapes to DVD, and I took a box full of tapes to him. I was thrilled with the results. But we had many, many more tapes to be converted. I decided I either had to pace myself and our budget by taking him a few tapes at a time to copy, or invest some of my time and some money to do it myself.
I thought about which option would be most likely to my end goal of getting all of our tapes converted while they still were in good shape.
If you're thinking through this question for yourself and you choose to have someone else do it for you, you can search "video conversion services near me" and see what comes up. Or you can visit an organization of which I'm a member, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers at APPO.org, and search for someone near you who specializes in this.
If You Choose to Do It Yourself
Several years ago, I used a software and analog-to-digital conversion kit to copy the rest of my video tapes to DVD, and that worked well. Time consuming, but effective.
But when I tried to use the same software program - now about 5 or 6 years old - on these tapes from my in-laws, it no longer worked. I had to upgrade.
What I bought - Elgato Video Capture - copies the videos from VHS format (using a VCR to play them) and records them to mp4 digital. I have them saved on an external hard drive, in the cloud, and backed up seamlessly a third way with Backblaze.
And I've decided my next step personally is to convert all of those home videos that now are on DVD to digital format, too, and save them as I described above. That way I don't have to worried about DVDs getting scratched, lost, or unreadable.
Please pass the popcorn!