How to Convert Videotapes to a Digital Format

Do you have old videotapes with family videos and memories that you wish could be converted to a digital format? Do you want to preserve the content and play it back on a DVD, TV or media player. There are several ways this can be accomplished. Depending on the format you want to convert can be the challenging part. Back in the day, there were several different ways to record to tape. VHS, 8mm, U- Matic, Betacam, Betamax and DV Cam were the popular choices back then. I have done many conversions for friends and family. It can take some time, but in the end, it will last forever. All of these formats can be converted to a digital format and stored on a hard drive or memory card. In this article, I will explain how it can be done.

Converting Videotapes to a Digital Format

Finding a Playback Device

How to Convert Videotapes to a Digital Format

The first step will be to find a machine to playback the original tape format. If you are lucky you may already have one. If all you have are the tapes you will need to determine the format. Look at the original tape and the format will likely be labeled. You should look at the quality of the tapes and make sure they are functional. Once you determine the format, you will need to find a playback device. Ask friends or family if they have any old tape recorders, camcorders or VHS players. Many people may have one in the basement or attic. The other option is to look on eBay or Craigslist. Amazon also sells many aftermarket items. Remember these devices probably have not been used for a long time. You should make sure it is functional.

Common Video Tape Playback Devices


Panasonic PV-4021 VCR Plus Player Video Cassette Recorder 4 Head VHS Omnivision

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Sony Camcorder for 8mm Digital8 MiniDV Hi8 Tape Transfer to Computer USB and DVD

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Mini DV

Canon ZR700 Mini DV Camcorder

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Sony Compact Player J-3 Betacam SP Betacam SX MPEG IMX & Digital Betacam

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Tape Cleaner

You should consider using a tape cleaner to clean the playback machine. Many of these videotape players have been sitting dormant for a long time collecting dust. A tape cleaner will clean the tape heads to ensure proper playback. It looks like a videotape. Just place into the machine and press play.

VHS Tape Cleaner

VHS Tape Cleaner

8mm Tape Cleaner

8mm Tape Cleaner

Converting to a Digital Format

Once you have your video playback device you now need to buy a capture device to capture the playback of the tape and convert it to a digital format. There are several ways to this can be done. Basically, the capture device plugs into a computer, smartphone or tablet using RCA cables to make the connection to the playback machine. Then captures and converts the playback of the tape into a digital format. This can take some time because it is done in real-time. So if you have a 2-hour tape to convert it will take 2 hours. Many of these devices will allow you to convert into different formats like DVD, AVI, MP4, and H.264.

Video Quality

How to Convert Videotapes to a Digital Format

One thing to keep in mind is that the quality of the video will be how it plays back. If the tape is old and the playback is fuzzy that is what will be captured and digitized. Many of these capture devices come with editing software that allows for corrections like color or brightness. Listed below are some recommendations for capture devices.

Capture Devices

Elgato Video Capture Digitize Video for Mac, PC or iPad

Elgato Video Capture Digitize Video for Mac, PC or iPad

Roxio Easy VHS to DVD 3 Plus Video Converter for PC

Roxio Easy VHS to DVD 3 Plus Video Converter for PC

Storage and Labeling

Once the conversions are done. You will need to store and label the videos. If you converted them to DVD make sure you store them in a protective case to prevent scratching. When naming the video files give them descriptive names so you know what they are and they won’t get deleted by mistake. Digital files can be stored on a computer hard drive or backed up on a memory card or external hard drive.

Feature image courtesy of bigjom at


Converting videotapes to a digital format will take some time, but in the end, it will be worth it. Especially if they are images and memories of days gone by. I have done many conversions. If you have any questions or tips. Please leave a comment below.

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About Johan
I am the author of We Do Tech Reviews website. I have been in the high tech field for over 20 years, dealing with all aspects of technology. I have an extensive computer networking and audio visual background. I have worked on and maintained computers and networks for many large companies. I am a Microsoft Certified Professional and CompTIA Network+ Certified Technician. I am currently working as a freelance Audio Visual/Network technician. I hope you will find my articles and reviews helpful.

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