I’m not sure if there really is a way to encompass a complete guide to transferring VHS to digital, there will always be too many variables, but in this article I’m going to give you run down of devices that can still be bought and their capture results.
- VHS to DVD Recorders
- VHS to Digital EZCAPS/easyCAPS
- easyCAP For MAC Using OBS Studio
- High Quality VHS Capture Sticks
- VHS to Digital Capture Boxes
- Converting VHS to Digital Without a Computer
But first let’s get an obvious question out of the way: How do I transfer a video at home if I don’t have a VCR or don’t have a computer?
You need both devices in order to transfer any video into digital. If the only digital device you own is a phone or tablet then you are better off finding a video transfer service that can digitize the videos for you.
So with that said, this article will assume you are looking for the best VHS to DVD converter options out there at the moment using a composite connection.
VHS to DVD Recorders
When it comes to changing home videos to DVDs the VCR/DVD combo is the first option on everyone’s list. There are definitely some caveats to this method though.
The prices seem to be slowly getting higher (if you look at places like eBay). There is also the risk of the DVD/VCR device failing to work.
This happened to me recently with the Samsung (sitting on the top) test device I always used for convenience. When it came to getting this article together, the DVD drive decided it wasn’t going to work anymore. What do you do?
What if you bought this device second hand strictly for the purpose of copying over holiday videos only to find out the DVD won’t burn discs? You have wasted money and time.
PANASONIC DMR ES10
So let’s find out how to convert home videos to DVD if this is the method you want to use. One device I do think is great is the Panasonic DMR-ES10. It’s great as pass through device to a capture card as it can settle old VHS tapes that won’t play properly. But that also depends on the tape itself.
Finding a DMR-ES10 on eBay might be difficult so you could try FaceBook Marketplace, or trading forums. Other alternatives to this device can be the DMR-ES15 (might still be hard) or a Sony RDR-HXD870 DVD Recorder.
I wrote about a test using the Panasonic DMR-ES10 that has a comparison against a capture card.
This time around I’ll just be comparing two DVD recorders results side by side.
Using this method you will need to plug the composite cables from the VCR output into the DMR-ES10 input.
Another thing that is often missed when buying second hand is the inclusion of a remote. If you don’t have one this Panasonic recorder will let you choose the correct input by selecting the channel up/down arrows. That being said, you will need the DMR-ES10 remote for finalizing the disc at the end.
You can buy these second hand as well.
Hit play on the VCR when you are ready to begin.
Pressing the Record button will proceed to copy the tape to a blank DVD.
Once the tape has finished press the stop button on the recorder.
If your tape is 3 hours in length you may need to use two separate discs in order to maintain a decent quality. I’ll cover more on that a little further below.
The recorder will finish writing information to the disc. Once this is finished you could theoretically just use the DMR-ES10 to play back the DVD as is.
But it won’t work on any other DVD player device. It needs to be finalized.
In the Disc Management menu you will find the option to Finalize.
It will ask if you are sure, simply select yes and proceed.
Finalizing can vary in time depending on the quality, the length of the tape captured. For these tests I only copied a one hour VHS tape.
When the finalized disc is ready this will mean it can be played on any DVD player including PCs that still have DVD tray.
The second device is the LG RC689D DVD/VCR combo drive. For some reason buying one of these second hand can cost up to $500. My guess is because it can playback VHS via HDMI, which makes it easier to capture tapes with a more modern capture device.
Sometimes referred to a VHS to DVD converter machine (when you can’t remember the name) these devices offer the simplicity of placing in a blank disc, placing in the VHS tape and simply transferring the video.
The LG RC689D can copy from MiniDV to DVD using a FireWire connection so it does have that benefit as well.
As I mentioned earlier, choosing a quality for the DVD is essential. SP also known as STANDARD PLAY will record approximately 2 hours of footage.
If you were to choose LP (LONG PAY) you are reducing the quality of picture to fit more time onto one disc. And considering we are dealing with low resolutions already, I don’t advise reducing it further.
What’s that song? The only way is up.
Holding down the DUBBING button will prepare the transfer.
You will be prompted to proceed. Simply select yes and the LG RC689D will do the rest. All in one combo drives don’t usually require you to hit the play button.
The above picture is good example of the whole two hour limit. You can see the device indicates there is still 1 hour left of recording in standard play.
In order to make the disc playable on other devices, you will need to finalize the DVD.
Regardless of the DVD/VCR combo device that you may use, it is advised to finalize the discs in case said machine decides to break down.
Finalization can take up to ten minutes depending on the length of the copy.
Above is a sample videos from both the DMR-ES10 and LG RC689D side by side. If you check the 1:30 second mark you’ll notice tears in the VHS quality where the Panasonic was able to maintain some quality.
Any VHS jumps and degradation will copy over onto the disc regardless. That’s a given.
VHS to Digital EZCAPS/easyCAPS
The various named easyCAP USB capture sticks are generally what everyone thinks of when it comes to transferring VHS to digital.
I have an article called 7 Video Capture Devices Tested On Windows 10 that also points out USB driver issues that can happen when connecting these devices to different Windows Pcs.
I have chosen two USB capture sticks to compare being the easyCAP and the ezcap 159. Both of these come with their own software to capture with, but to be honest, the software is usually sub par.
easyCAP Video Capture
The easyCAP is a USB 2.0 capture stick that you can find on eBay or Amazon for very cheap. You will need to connect the matching colored composite cables from your VCR to the easyCAP.
When connecting the easyCAP for the first time it will need to install its drivers.
If you don’t wish to buy a video editor, there is the amazing VSDC Video Editor (which is free also has a great capture tool) and works with the easyCAP without issues. It does only appear to be for PC only though.
Simply select the Video Capture in the top menu.
A new Capture window will open.
VSDC Video editor will display the name of the driver being used for the easyCAP. Before commencing select the Settings just to tweak some finer details.
Amongst the Settings, you can change numerous inputs such as the resolution (720×576 in this example), the framerate, and audio quality.
Once you’re happy with the settings select OK.
Press play on the VCR and record on the VSDC editor software (in the lower left hand corner) and the editor will begin the capture.
When finished simply click Stop Recording on the software.
The ezcap 159 is a little more expensive but it does come with an improved (somewhat) software. That being said I still decided to use the Magix Video Editor to do as a better comparison to the VSDC Editor.
Connection to your computer will be the same as the easyCAP. Connect the composite cables by their matching colors (Yellow for video, Red/White for sound).
Connecting the USB into the computer will install the ezcap drivers.
A full review can be found here to give you a better idea of the software and capture cababilities.
Using the cheaper alternative, the easyCAP mixed with VSDC Editor, is not a bad option if you were really trying to capture old videos without paying a cent. The ezcap 159 does look a little washed out, but that can be corrected in the editor.
Are either a sure win?
easyCAP For MAC Using OBS Studio
Keeping with the cheaper USB capture but this time over onto the Mac. It can be done, but the current updates of MacOS seem to have given up on 32bit devices.
If you’re still running an older OS (High Sierra in this example) then you can still capture VHS tapes from the easyCAP using an older version of OBS Studio. You can use QuickTime to capture as well.
When it comes to connections as Apple keeps changing their minds with each new product they release, you may need a USB-C to USB hub.
Unfortunately it all depends on what year model you own and if it still has ports on it. On the plus side, you can at least still purchase second hand MacBooks on eBay or Amazon.
I have to say the MacBook capture through OBS Studio is still quite good. The AVerMedia C875 connected to an older MacBook may give a slightly better result, but only slightly.
High Quality VHS Capture Sticks
So what do you get when you pay a higher price for essentially a USB capture device? You do get an actual proper video editor that will allow to burn to a DVD or export the footage into a different format.
Both require the drivers to be installed before commencing to plug in the device.
The Diamond VC500 and the AVerMedia DVD EZMaker 7 are extremely similar devices, so close in fact it’s hard to see any difference in the final result.
They come supplied with an older version of PowerDirector for capturing. They both capture in Mpeg at the video’s framerate (50fps in this example).
AverMedia DVD EZMaker 7
I do own a few AVerMedia devices so I suppose I fall into the fan boy status (I use to be a Sony fan boy until Joel went golfing).
I find their products are reliable. The EZMaker 7 does appear to be the only product that relies on licensed software.
As mentioned earlier the software and drivers are supplied on disc. The drivers can be downloaded directly from their website but if your computer doesn’t come with DVD drive you will have issues with installing PowerDirector as I’m sure they don’t have a download for that software.
The Diamond VC500 is considered the more popular of the two devices according to Amazon’s customer ratings. Price comparison is negligible as they both are priced equally.
Connection is simply via the USB 2.0 port and this is where the VC500 has an advantage over the EzMaker 7. The length of the USB cable on the VC500 is long enough not to dangle off a USB port. It may not seem like a big deal but at least you know the device will not fall out.
Once you have connected the composite cables from the VCR hit play and simply select the Capture tab in PowerDirector. The video will appear.
The record button is in the lower left side. When the video is finished simply click the record button again to stop.
I have to say between these two devices I cannot see any major difference. They both are equally good.
They do capture in an MPEG format which is quite large and will need to converted to MP4 to be more user friendly.
If you were choosing between these two capture devices, it could only be based on price.
VHS to Digital Capture Boxes
These next two capture boxes will transfer your videos into a MP4 format straight off the bat saving you space on your computer.
While one requires its own software to capture the other can be used with OBS Studio or even without any software at all.
VIDBOX Video Conversion
The VIDBOX Conversion Suite 2020 will work with both Mac and PC. There does appear to be three versions, but the device is exactly the same in all three versions.
The version I have here did have a CD Rom containing the software and drivers. Now you receive a card with the download links to the software. I have to say this is a better option and at least VIDBOX is keeping up with the times.
The device is powered through USB connection as well as capturing any footage to a computer.
Connection to the VCR is easy as matching the corresponding composite colors.
The software itself is quite basic giving you a start/stop type of recording mechanism. It does record as MPG format but you can convert the video into MP4 or burn to a disc. Converting can take a while, with the one hour test example taking up to half an hour to convert.
Ezcap continuously create new devices frequently to keep up with the competition. The ezcap 284 is very similar to the AVerMedia C875 which I still think is an exceptional device to capture old VHS videos.
The ezcap 284 has three recording options : record to SD card, USB thumb drive or connect to a computer and record through OBS Studio.
Its best recordings are from HDMI and composite. It can record from component as well (but it’s terrible). The device does need to be powered via the USB cable.
As far as recording a video, connect the VCR cables into the composite connections on the ezcap284 and wait for the green lamps to acknowledge the connection.
Slide in a USB thumb drive (or SD card) and start the play back on the VCR.
Hold down the center button until the red light proceeds to blink. To finish recording you will need to press the center button again. The device needs approximately eight seconds to finish writing data to the USB.
The files will be completed and easily watchable in the MP4 format. The caveat is the recordings are split into 3.96GB files, so you will need to splice the together using an editor.
The VIDBOX on the other hand will keep the file complete as one continuous video.
Between these two devices I prefer the VIDBOX for its convenience but the ezcap 284 does have advantages with recording possibilities and MP4 format. Downside to the ezcap 284 is the splitting of the files. Still both good devices.
Converting VHS to Digital Without a Computer
Recording your home videos to digital without a computer can be achieved with either of these two devices.
The Clearclick Video2Digital 2.0 caters to the VHS, Video8 market and will record the full fps from composite connections.
The ezcap 283s will record from composite and HDMI and can record full 60fps as well.
Clearclick Video2Digital 2.0 – Still a fantastic device
The great thing about the hand held capture devices are the built in screens giving you a clear view of what is happening with the transfer.
Clearclick’s device can record to USB and full size SD card. The package includes a power supply as it doesn’t run off any battery.
It has a built in composite adapter for connections from a VCR or older video cameras. During recording volume can be lowered or raised.
To record from the VCR click on the REC/STOP button. When the video has finished, click on the same button to stop the recording. I will point out, you do need to stop the recording manually, otherwise it will continue to record a blue screen.
The file will be ready instantly and can be played back via the device itself or however you wish. A recorded video will remain as one file.
Ezcap 273a – A good runner up
I’ll be honest the ezcap 273a has similar issues to the ezcap 284. It is a great device in its own right, but it’s more catered for HDMI game capture. The fact that it can record from older composite sources is a plus but you will need to resize the video to its correct proportions.
The ezcap 273s can record to TF cards. There are no options for USB.
Connection to the VCR is through a 3.5mm jack to composite connection. Again following the matching colors for video and audio.
To record from the VCR simply click in the top right corner and the ezcap 283s will indicate its recording. This device also splits the files under 4GB, meaning you have to join them together in an editor.
The sample video shows the ezcap’s stretching when compared to the Clearclick 2.0 correct 4:3 format. As I said earlier the ezcap 273s is a good device but really catered to more PC capture.
As far as old VHS tapes the Clearclick Video2Digital 2.0 is my recommendation.
There are a few more options out there like the AVerMedia C875 which isn’t made any more and seems to be at absurd prices and I cannot recommend buying something where it could be cheaper for you to get a professional to transfer.
I hope this article at least inspires you to know what options you do have when it comes to transferring home tapes.
Just know that some options are better than others and some prices are definitely better than others.