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