Copying VHS to DVD: What You Need To Know

Convert VHS to digital before it's too late

What to Know

  • Connect the VCR to a DVD recorder, start the DVD recording first, then press Play on the VHS VCR to start tape playback.
  • Use a DVD recorder/VHS VCR combination unit, then press Record on the DVD side and Play on the VCR side.
  • Connect your VCR to a PC, record the VHS to the PC's hard drive, then transfer the video to DVD using the PC's DVD writer.

This article explains how to transfer a VHS to a DVD using three different methods.

Option One: Use a DVD Recorder

To copy VHS tape content to DVD using a DVD Recorder, here are the steps.

  1. Connect the composite (yellow) video and RCA analog stereo (red/white) outputs of the VCR to corresponding inputs on a DVD recorder.

    VCR AV Outputs

    Specific DVD recorders may have one or more video/audio inputs, which may be labeled in several ways, such as AV-In 1/2, Line-in 1/2 or Video 1/2 In.

    DVD Recorder AV Inputs
  2. Select the input on the DVD recorder that the VCR is connected to.

    DVD Recorder AV Line Input Example
  3. Place the tape you want to copy into the VCR.

    Loading a VHS tape into a VCR
     Collection E+ / Getty Images
  4. Place a recordable DVD into the DVD recorder.

    Inserting DVD into DVD player or recorder
    Tetra Images / Alamy Stock Photo / Getty Images 
  5. Start the DVD recording first, then press play on the VHS VCR to start tape playback.

    The reason you start the DVD recorder first is to make sure you don't miss the first few seconds of the video that is being played back on your VCR.

For more on DVD recorders and recording, refer to our DVD Recorder FAQs and current suggestions for DVD recorders.

Option Two: Use a DVD Recorder/VHS VCR Combination Unit

You can copy VHS to DVD using a DVD recorder/VHS VCR combo. This method is similar to option 1 but easier as the VCR and DVD recorder is a single unit. This means no extra connection cables are required.

Another way using a DVD recorder/VHS VCR combo is easier is most have a cross-dubbing function. This means after inserting a playback tape and recordable DVD, you select which way you want to dub (VHS to DVD or DVD to VHS) by pressing a Dub button.

If your DVD recorder/VHS VCR combo unit doesn't have a one-step dubbing function, press Record on the DVD side and Play on the VCR side (refer to the user guide for details).

Here are some suggestions for DVD recorder/VCR combinations.

Funai DVD Recorder VHS VCR Combo

Option Three: Connect a VCR to a PC Via a Video Capture Device

Here is a solution that is becoming more popular and practical (with some caveats).

This third way of transferring your VHS tapes to DVD involves:

  • Connecting your VCR to a PC via an analog-to-digital video capture device.
  • Recording your VHS video to the PC's hard drive.
  • Transferring the video to DVD using the PC's DVD writer.

Such devices come with a box that has the required analog video/audio inputs for you to connect your VCR and a USB output for connection to your PC.

In addition to transferring VHS tape video to a PC's hard drive, some of these devices also come with software that assists in making the video transfer more flexible with editing features that allow you do enhance your video with titles, chapters, etc.

The main things to take into consideration using the VCR to PC method are:

  • The amount of RAM you have on your PC
  • The speed of both your processor and your hard drive.

The reason these factors are important is that when converting analog video to digital video, the file sizes are large. This not only takes up a lot of hard drive space, but if your PC isn't fast enough, your transfer might stall, or you may randomly lose some video frames during the transfer process. This results in skips when played back from the hard drive or from the DVD that the hard drive transfers the video too.

Elgato Analog to USB Video Capture Device

Time May Be Running out for DVD Recording

VHS VCRs have been with us since the mid-1970's, but, in 2016, after a 41-year run, manufacturing of new units ceased. Since the introduction of DVRs, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and internet streaming, VCRs are no longer practical.

Although many VHS VCRs are still in use, finding replacements is increasingly difficult as remaining stock disappears. As a result, many consumers preserve VHS tape content on DVD. If you haven't yet, the time is running out.

Although using a DVD recorder, DVD recorder/VHS VCR combo, or PC DVD writer are practical ways to transfer VHS Tapes to DVD, in addition to the discontinuation of VCRs, DVD recorders and DVD recorder/VHS VCR combos are also becoming very rare and fewer PCs and Laptops are providing built-in DVD writers. However, although DVD recording options are decreasing, DVD playback devices are not going away anytime soon.

An illustration of the ways to copy vhs movies to DVD.
Lifewire / Robert Silva

Consider the Professional Route

In addition to the options discussed above is another method for copying VHS to DVD to consider that is widely available, especially for important videos, such wedding or other videotapes of family historical importance, is to have it done professionally.

You can contact a video duplicator in your area (can be found online or in the phone book) and have them transferred to DVD professionally (can be expensive - depending on how many tapes are involved).

The best thing to do is have the service make a DVD copy of one or two of your tapes. If the test DVD is playable on your DVD or Blu-ray Disc player (you might try it on several to make sure), then it might worth to have the service make copies of all the tapes you wish to preserve.

Also, if you have the budget, the duplicator can make adjustments that may improve inconsistent color, brightness, contrast, and audio levels, as well as add additional features, such as titles, table of contents, chapter headings, and more.

You can only copy non-commercial VHS tapes that you have recorded yourself to DVD. You can't make copies of most commercially made VHS movies due to copy-protection. This also applies to professional tape copy/duplication services.

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