How to backup or convert your VCR VHS tapes to DVD for free – Instructions

If you’re like me, you’ve got someone in your family with a lot of old VHS tapes just laying around, waiting to degenerate and explode or something.  Being that I’m the only tech savvy person in my family, I took it upon myself to figure out how to take these old tapes and turn them into something that will last a lot longer.

The premise behind all this is of course to take the analog VHS tape and convert it to a digital file that can be burned to a NTSC DVD.  We’ll use a VCR connected to the capture card on our computer and then process the file it creates.  Once the media is captured, we’ll have to extract the audio from it, process the video to remove some junk, process the audio, and then prepare the video for a DVD. Then, in another article, I’ll show you how to make a DVD of it all.  So let’s get started.

  1. First and foremost, you must have a computer using Windows with a video capture card and a VCR.  I’m using an ATI TV Wonder 600 USB stick.  Basically, any capture card will do.  Note that according to the site, some capture cards work better with certain programs.  For instance, my capture card works better with VirtualDub, some cards work better with AviSynth.  Check their site, listed above, for more details.  Also note, some of the settings for my application may or may not be right (ie video format, etc) .  If you’re not getting the desired results, again, check to make sure you have set the programs up correctly – I will show you in this how-to where you might want to start looking first depending on the problem.
  2. Blow the dust off your VCR and plug the yellow RCA video out of your VCR into the input of your capture card.  If your capture card has a place for audio, you can use that, but the guides below say its better to use the input from your sound card.  I used my sound card with no problems.
  3. Consult for all your questions.  This site offers the net’s greatest knowledge in video format conversions.  If you’ve never been to this site, you’ll thank me later.  You’ll want to go here if you want to read up on what they say about this project.  We’ll be using their guide on how to capture analog TV, since that’s basically what we’re doing.  Since most of you are probably lazy and just want the simple, no-nonsense version, grab the conversion pack and extract it to a convenient location on your hard drive (I recommend a whole new folder).
  4. Now that we’ve got our bases covered, its now time to set up the programs.  This is the most important part and will take you a bit of time.  You’ll notice in the pack a file called “instructions.bat”.  This is just a windows batch file I made that will guide you through the process.  It doesn’t do everything for you, but it will help.  We’ll also use this as a guide in explaining the steps to set things up.  To edit this file, right click on it and click “Edit”.  Edit the file now by changing the paths of the video_file_path and the program_path.  If its not self explanatory, the video_file_path is where you will put the video file you capture from the VCR and the program_path is where you extracted this folder of programs.  It is highly recommended to leave the video_file_path set to c:\DVD – if not, you will need to manually edit other files in the constants folder that I will not discuss here.
  5. Setting up VirtualDub. Click here to see Doom9’s instructions on how to set VirtualDub up for your application.  Follow it’s detailed instructions, with pictures, unless it differs from what I say here.  Set audio capture format to 48000 stereo and make sure audio compression is none. In the Custom Video Format section I used 352×240 but you’ll have to figure out what looks the best for your application.  In the Capture Codec section, set to Xvid (you may need to install Xvid (included in the conversion pack) – unless you want to use something different and in that case you’re on your own).  Load vcr1.stats (a blank file located in the constants folder) in Xvid compression.  Set a stop setting if you want to stop the recording at a specific time (recommended).  It should now save these settings if you exit the app (and it should have these settings remembered since its using my settings).  If not, now that you’re familiar with the process, double check things when you’re ready to run it for real.
  6. Extract the audio. This also uses VirtualDub, but doesn’t require any special settings.
  7. Process the video. This is an optional step to remove the “garbage” from the bottom of the captured video.  You will most likely need to create your own post processing script by following the example here.   I only followed section 7.1.5 – remove garbage from bottom of clip – so unless you want to do more, you can skip to this partt.  If you changed the frame resolution, you will definitely need to change this file.  You can load the file in the constants folder of the conversion pack to get you close (or to see what I’ve done).   After you’ve made your settings, save the settings by going to File -> Save Process Settings and place the file in the constants folder under the name  Note: if you skip this process, you’ll need to edit out this section of the batch file.
  8. Process the audio. The next two lines in the batch file invoke BeSplit and BeSweet.  This is the nice automatic part of the script.  It will transcode the audio to something useful.  No need to mess with this.
  9. Prepare video for DVD. First, you will need to modify the vcr1a.avs file under the constants folder according to the calculations found on this page. This can be confusing, but I have faith in you.  They do a pretty good job of explaining what to do.  Once you have these numbers set, put them in your vcr1a.avs script file (edit file using notepad/wordpad). Next, you may need to set up QuEnc by following these the instructions.  Since you will be running the program from the batch file, if there are any changes to be made, you will have to manually do this through the batch file.  The settings in the file should be fine but, the biggest thing to note is to make sure the aspect ratio is set according to your project (ie 4:3 or 16:9).
  10. Now you’re ready for the first test run of the batch file.  Set everything up as if you were doing it from scratch and run instructions.bat.  As I said before, its not automatic, but just follow the onscreen instructions (they contain other helpful info not found in this article).  Important note: to have the batch file run correctly, the names must stay the same as the ones told you by the batch file.
  11. Congratulations!  If all went well, you should have a video and audio file prepared to put on a DVD.  From here you can consult to teach you how to join the two file and have a file playable by any media player or continue to the article How to use DVDAuthor(comming soon).

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1 Comment so far »

  1. howtostoptips said

    am February 14 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    I was really glad I found this article. I too have tried several method to convert my old VHS tapes to DVD, but for someone reason found it very difficult or tedious. Will be trying your method and posting results here

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