I Have 1,000 VHS Movies To Convert: What’s The Best Way?

Jeanne from Sacramento writes:

I have heard that some are putting their VHS and DVD movies, copying them onto a hard disk drive and then access their library like a DVR to watch.  What do you need to this?  Any special software?  Hardware?  How large a hard drive?  I have about 1,000 movies and was going to start putting all my VHS on DVD, but if this is possible, it sure would be a lot easier!
Thank you so much for your help!

The question I think you need to be asking yourself is not can you do this, but SHOULD you do this. What you are talking about is a massive undertaking that may not be worth your time.

Now when we are talking about family movies and irreplaceable video, by all means find a way to copy them. They are very important. Wedding videos, baby’s first steps, that newscast where they featured your kid making a winning high school touchdown…save them all.

But if we are talking about movies…that’s a slightly different story. Yes, there are devices that allow you to copy from VHS to your computer where you can store them  or burn them to disk. But should you spend that amount of effort on this project?

Here’s why I have some doubts. VHS tapes do not last forever and by now any VHS tapes you purchased are starting to degrade. That will affect the quality of your copy. The quality of even a pristine VHS tape is not very good in comparison to digital formats and even the best copy is going to look pretty sad on a large television screen or high definition computer monitor.

 I will admit that I have an extensive background in the television industry, so I’m a little picky about video. What I would find an unacceptable level of video quality might be fine with other people.

The other factor is time. VHS tapes are an analog medium, so you have to let that tape play in its entirety to copy it. For 1,000 movies that’s 2,000 hours just for the movie to play! Conservatively let’s add an hour per tape to set up and finish the recording. We are looking at 3,000 hours of your time. That’s 3,000 hours of your computer being tied up. Because unless you’ve got a fast quad-core system in place, your computer may likely be too occupied with the video to allow you to do much else. If you spent 4 hours a day, every day, it would take you more than two years to complete the project. And that’s assuming that none of the conversions fail

A trick I use to determine if something is worth my time is to mentally pay myself for the effort. Let’s say your time is worth $10 an hour .(though it’s probably worth much more) Are those tapes worth $30,000 to you? Or could you purchase and download digital copies of the movies you really want to watch and perhaps sign up for services like NetFlix or Amazon Prime that allow you to watch them on demand for a much lower cost?

And one big warning! You may not have legal permission to copy those VHS tapes. Yes, it’s for your own use, but to the letter of the law, you are not allowed to duplicate them. Though I doubt the FBI will be busting down your door to check on you videos. But you never know.

But if this project sounds like something you’d enjoy, let’s talk about what size hard drive we’ll want. Depending on the rate of compression you choose, a terabyte drive should work for you, although it wouldn’t hurt to go to 2 TB in case you want to add to your video collection by downloading digital media. 

The idea of having a large hard drive to store your digital media at home is a good one. Many physical DVDs now include a digital download in the purchase price. And even though your digital movie purchases are usually available anytime in the cloud, I like having them close to home and not having to eat up too much bandwidth to watch them.

You may not need much in the way of hardware. You may be able to get by with a simple dongle hookup .And the hardware and software required aren’t too expensive. Your hard drive will probably be your greatest expense. You can learn more about exactly what you need to convert your files by clicking here.

Also, it’s not a bad idea to have a dedicated conversion station if you plan on undertaking such a large project. In fact, it’s a great use for an old XP computer that’s no longer safe to go online.

And don’t forget that you’ll want to back all of those files up! You went to all that trouble to convert them, you certainly don’t want to lose them if your hard drive dies. I’d suggest a second hard drive that you store at another location.

Good luck with your project!

~ Cynthia

0 thoughts on “I Have 1,000 VHS Movies To Convert: What’s The Best Way?

  1. I,too, wondered about converting VHS movies (we have quite a few of them) to DVD and this answered my question completely. Thanks for the information!

  2. People, think about it. Netflix etc offer tens of thousands of movies for just a few bucks a month. Even movies you have to rent online are usually only $3-6 each. You don’t have to copy old VHS tapes. You have no idea the time and hassle you will save yourself.

  3. I noticed in your story answers that you did not mention finalizing a disc. It is a must to finalize your dvd/cds if you want to use them in a stand alone home player or car. I am trying to make some for my Daughter’s teaching in her Church group. I didn’t have much success with most of the burners as they usually are a bit more concern than listed. I have an old vhs to dvd player/recorder which does have a finalize. I finally got this unit to accept direct video from the player to record direct to dvd/cds. However, at the end, you still have to finalze the disk or it will not play on anything other than the host burner!
    I would surely like to see some comment and advise on this situation, maybe I’ll learn something I need to know!

  4. Also another important tip that I didn’t see mentioned. It is a good practice to play the vhs tape through before burning it to a cd/dvd. Some of my old tapes from the 80s and later are getting some dried out spots or possible the oxide is sticking. It may not cause too much skip but the delay when the sticking part comes off may cause a blip in the outcome. This loosens them prior to burning and does help some.
    If you choose other than a new player for the vhs tapes, it is a good idea to clean the heads prior to use. You may be able to still find some excellent cleaning cartridges to do this function.
    After running my old tapes a time or two, they did appear to have some less noise as it was music from a family Country Band.
    Good luck.

  5. I have tried this and the files are so large they won’t fit on a DVD. Should I be converting to a certain type of format or is there a way to compress the files?

  6. I have to respectively disagree with you. While I agree that 1,000 VHS tapes are a huge amount, I would think that not all of them need to be converted.
    That being said, there is a very inexpensive way to convert VHS tapes directly to a CD or DVD without using a computer. The device is a Panasonic DMR-EZ48V or similar unit. You just insert a VHS tape and a CD or DVD and let the machine do the job. You do not have to be present, it will do this automatically. I have this unit and have converted hundreds of tapes to disks. This unit is available on the internet for about $100.
    I also highly recommend this be done for preservation purposes. VHS tapes deteriorate rapidly. Disks don’t.

    1. Great suggestion and u don’t want to wear out your computer’s drive. But I think u will need to double your budget even at ebay. One of my favorite online sites says the EZ48V not in stock but suggests Toshiba DVR620 DVD Recorder/VCR Combo for $190 and there are sure to be dozens of VHS/DVD record units available under $300.

  7. It’s really good that Cynthia has taken so much effort to explain this issue in great detail. And, she has also written it well.

    Thank you Allan & JJM. It’s nice of you both to have shared your valuable information. I wish Cynthia responds to all our replies too.

  8. I would go with a professional that can copy all the content off of your tapes and back up all the data per your instruction. You can get the guys at VHSrescue right on the phone and go over specific instructions with them directly.

  9. David,
    Great idea, if paying around $25 seems like a good deal to you.

    Assuming $25 per tape, if you have them convert 4, you will have paid them enough to buy your own VHS to DVD convertor.

    No thanks, I don’t need a professional to rip me off.

  10. Correction:
    I see the VHSrescue website charges $10 per VHS. (not including shipping)

    So, if you have them do 10 or so conversions, you could have purchased your own VHS to DVD recorder.

    The service is a little better deal than I originally thought, but it still is nowhere near as good a deal as owning your own convertor.

  11. I didn’t have anywhere near 1,000 VHS tapes, but I did have a lot and I wanted them converted. For my money (and time savings) I sent everything off to ScanDigital and was very happy with the quality and turnaround time. If you’re interested, they typically run specials –

  12. You make a great point about considering copyright laws if you are converting movies to DVD. However, if these are home movies, I would highly suggest that you have a physical backup for these precious moments. Data corruption is quite common with computers. If you have an external backup of these videos you won’t have to worry about losing the video of your kid’s first birthday if you have computer problems.

  13. I’ve always wondered if there was a way to transfer VHS to DVD. My mom has tons of VHSs from when I was a baby. My husband always wants to watch them but it’s hard to when yo don’t own a VHS player.

    1. I am presently using my Panasonic DMR-EZ48V that I purchased at Costco a few years ago. You just insert a VHS tape and a DVD and let the machine do the job. You do not have to be present, it will do this automatically. If you press ‘COPY’ then the DVD is finalized and usable on computers. The instruction booklet is lengthy; however, you can do this. Perhaps you might purchase a Panasonic DMR-EZ48V and give it a try. Good Luck.

  14. Im looking at a collection of approx. 1000 movie titles that my grandfather and mother had copied over the years; alot of Errol Flynn and John Wayne movies as well as titles from the 70s and 80s. To me their valuable but this may be just a semtimemtal stance. Ive watched them in my working player over the years and seeing that Im not interested in today’s tv shows movies and remakes;Im inclined to keep them. Would anything like this be of value to anyone else or should I consider chucking it.

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