What the Tech? Converting Videotape to Computer Files

Like a lot of people, I have dozens of old videotapes stored in boxes and on shelves in my house. Video of my children being born, their first Christmas, first time on a bike, first soccer game, and hours of dance recitals and school programs.

We can’t watch them. The technology from the 90s and 2000s is obsolete. We haven’t had a VCR connected to a TV in more than 10 years and many of those video tapes were shot with Hi-8 and mini-DV cameras.

In the past few months I’ve had several people ask if it’s possible to take old videotapes and put them on a computer so they can be enjoyed again. You can send them to a company and have them converted to a video file but those companies often charge $50-$100 per tape. I purchased a device that is supposed to make the process easy and it sounded like a cool weekend DIY project.

Dazzle is a device by Pinnacle Studios, a company that has made non-linear editing tools for years. It comes in an odd-shaped box and the device itself is sort-of teardrop shape. On one end is a USB to plug into a computer and the box itself has inputs for RCA cables, the cables that we connected to a VCR, yellow for video and red/white for audio.

I connected the cables to an old VCR to convert VHS tapes. The included software, which I installed on the computer before connecting the VCR, automatically ‘saw’ the device and I was prompted to “Start Capture”. I hit play on the VCR and the video began to record on the computer.

Once it was finished I could do some basic editing using the software. I was then able to export the video to an MP2 file with video and audio. The quality of the footage was about what you’d expect from a 25 year old VHS tape, but it was good.

Converting videotapes shot on Hi8 or mini-DV tapes is a bit trickier. In order to play the videos you must have a player, which will almost always be a camera. Fortunately I kept my old Hi8 and mini-DV cameras.

Neither camera has RCA outputs so I had to dig up those old cables that allowed me to watch the videos 20 years ago. Once I connected the camera to the Dazzle device, capturing them to my computer was easy.

MP2 files can be viewed on a computer or you can sometimes export them to an SD card or thumbdrive to watch on a larger screen. I uploaded the videos to YouTube so we have even more choices to watch them using a Roku, Firestick or Chromecast player.

It is a long process. Converting an hour-long videotape takes an hour to capture and then more time to do the actual converting. Pinnacle included easy-to-follow directions and the software prompts you at nearly every step.

The Dazzle device works well, the problem I ran into was connecting it to old camcorders. The VCR that had been gathering dust in a storage room ate one of the videotapes. All in all though, I found the actual process of converting the videos simple and it’s a lot better than spending hundreds of dollars converting them all.

Now my family will be able to sit and watch those old tapes and remember the good old days of Halloweens and Christmas’ past.

Categories: News Video, What The Tech