There are countless ways to remind your family members that you love them. Keeping your home videos stored on fast decaying VHS tapes by converting them to digital files is a thoughtful (and often jerky) way to do that. It is one of those gifts that is appropriate for all seasons, whether you celebrate Father's Day, Mother's Day, a birthday, or any other occasion.
If you want to digitize your home videos, you have some choices. If you do not have time to do this yourself, or if you need a specialist who can handle brittle, decades-old roll-to-roll tapes, the easiest way is to send your valuable tapes to a service that can , However, this is not the least expensive method.
What you need to digitally convert home videos.
If you dug up your home videos from a place they hid, you'll need some tools to get things moving:
You're likely to get good results with just about any VCR. It must have the video and audio composite inputs that most models have. However, make sure that this works before inserting a valuable VHS tape. In this manual, I used a small combination of TV and VCR that had The Verge in the office.
Note that you do not need a TV for the digitization process. The USB digitizer displays the tape content on the screen of your computer with or without a TV.
- A USB to composite video converter
There are countless video converting devices from $ 29 online to buy. For this guide, I used Elgato's Video Capture, which costs about $ 80 and is not the cheapest option. I chose it because in the past I enjoyed using the company's gaming hardware, and this model has received good reviews from people praising the ease of setup, quality workmanship, and solid software on Amazon.
- A computer with an available USB port
Note that each digitizer has its own requirements. To use the Elgato converter and its application, you need a device that is running at least Mac OS X 10.6.8 or Windows 7. (Since you probably have something more modern, do not sweat it.)
- Save several hours (less, depending on how many tapes you want to convert)
Prepare to digitize your VHS tapes  Once you've done all these things, it's time to make the connection. The first step is to make sure that you download the converter software and install it on your computer.
Next, connect your computer to your VCR using the USB video converter. Most USB-based digitisers for end users have a similar selection of connectors for the video recorder at one end. A set of composite cables (red, white, yellow) and S-Video. If your VCR has an S-Video connection, it is recommended that you choose it instead of the yellow composite socket to get better conversion video quality.
The Elgato software was easy to use. The UI took me through naming the file and made sure that the video and audio feeds were correctly transferred before I started the conversion process.
Starting the Process
Up to this point, the instructions were specific to Elgato's converter. The rest of the process should be the same no matter which converter you use.
Rewind the VHS cassette at the point where you want to start the conversion process, and then press the record button. The conversion process runs in real time, so you can do something else while you wait for the tape to reach its end. Personally, I would recommend watching it to make sure that tracking and audio do not get mixed up during the conversion. If you do not remember what tracking is or was during the heyday of VHS, you can use some VCRs to adjust the tracking (ie, calibration) of a tape during playback to correct a shaky, unclear picture.  You can and should crop your video file after conversion.
After the conversion is complete, it may be tempting to leave the file unchanged. But maybe it's better to cut a bit. (For example, it may be uncomfortable to give someone a record of their actual birth.) With Elgato's converter software, you can tailor the video to your liking. When you're done, an MP4 video file is automatically exported to your movie folder. You can also upload it directly to YouTube or export it to QuickTime Player or iTunes.
After that you are done. You can rest assured that your family videos are now securely stored on your computer. Note that you should back up these converted files to an external drive or cloud service so that they will not be accidentally deleted or disappear in the event of an unfortunate hard drive crash.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. For more information, see of our Ethics Policy .