The “How do I digitize/transfer/capture video tapes” quick info thread (reddit backup)

FYI this post is a backup of my reddit post. Now that reddit is pulling a tumblr I figured self hosting is in order.

Why a “How do I digitize/transfer/capture video tapes” thread?

I see this question asked on DataHoarder a couple times a week, mostly with the same good and bad answers. Hopefully this thread will serve the purpose of providing basic and in depth info and options for digitizing common video tapes. Will be asking mods to sticky this. I’ll be making updates if anyone has strong opinions or things to add.

Who are you?

I frequent this sub and spend a lot of time transferring tapes for various communities, here’s my setup:


The way in which you digitize your tapes is going to depend on the tape format and the quality you wish to achieve. As with most things, you get what you pay for, and the higher the quality you desire the more you’re going to go down a rabbit hole of information.

This post will cover the common formats you’re likely to deal with: VHS, VHSC, HI8, Video8, Digital8, and miniDV.

Analog vs Digital tapes

These common tape formats can be split into two categories which will drastically change the way you capture your footage: Analog tapes and digital tapes. miniDV and Digital8 8mm cassettes are digital. VHS, VHSC, Video8 8mm cassettes, and HI8 8mm cassettes are analog.

How do I know if my 8mm tape is analog or digital?

If the tape was recorded pre-1999, it’s likely analog. Newer Digital8 camcorders will display the tape format when you play it. Some camcorders will only play either analog or digital tapes.

Digital tapes: Digital8 & miniDV

Congrats! These tapes tend to be easier to handle. With some luck your files will be 1:1 copies of the original footage.

Digital8 and miniDV camcorders write digital data directly to the tape. This means that transferring these tapes is less like “capturing” and more like a “file transfer”. As the tape plays, digital data is transmitted to your computer just like moving a file from a hard drive or tape backup.

Hardware (Camcorder + FireWire card)

The basic setup for transferring digital tapes is a camcorder/deck and a FireWire card. Because the tape content is digital, you want to keep the entire transfer chain digital. Do not go plugging in analog RCA cables and hooking up cheap EasyCap cards for digital tapes. You’re adding complexity that isn’t needed and won’t improve your end file.

Your camcorder requires a FireWire port. Ideally, if you have the original camcorder that was used to record the footage, it will be the best bet for playback. If this isn’t possible, just make sure you purchase a camcorder that has a FireWire port.

Many PCs come with onboard FireWire. If yours does not, pick up a good reviewed PCI FireWire card. I’ve had many over the years, they don’t seem to differ much.

Digital8 recommendations

If you’re not using the original camcorder, or the same model, I tend to recommend early 2000s Sony DCR-TRV Digital8 Handycams for transfer. Some of these camcorders can even play back analog HI8 and Video8 tapes via analog S-Video out and FireWire out.

Take a look at the “Analog recordings” section of the Digital8 Wiki to see a list of these versatile cameras.

miniDV recommendations

Again, try to get ahold of the original camcorder, or the same model. If that’s not possible, most miniDV camcorders will play back these tapes. On a budget check eBay for “transfer only” or “playback only” camcorders. Some people will sell damaged camcorders that only work for FireWire transfer.

If you’re doing bulk amounts of tapes, it might be wise to purchase a deck. My recommendation is the Sony line. The DSR25 and DSR45 are excellent decks with easy access for repairs and built in screens. The smaller and common DSR-11 is also a good pick. I have had several of these with good results. In my experience the Sony decks will have the best results playing back Sony recorded tapes and also tapes that were not recorded on Sony hardware. Check the drum hours on these units before purchasing.

Other deck options include:

  • Panasonic AG-DV2500
  • JVC BR-DV3000

I have both of these decks also, and the quality and reliability is not on par with the Sony.


The beauty of the digital tapes is that the software capture process is easy. Fire up ScenalyzerLive, WinDV, Adobe Premiere, or others, and simply hit “capture”. The program will play the tape and grab the digital content.

The resulting DV AVI file is FULL QUALITY. This is your archive file. It is a 1:1 copy of the content on the tape. There’s no need to convert this to anything to “gain” quality. This is it.

Common issues with digital tapes

Here’s some quick common issues that come to mind with digital tapes:

Digital noise / tape degradation

See a bunch of noisy pixels, blocky sections, big stuck horizontal lines? This sucks and is unfortunately common. Make sure your heads on your equipment are clean and try a few passes, or worse, try some other camcorders or decks. I have four decks because of this issue.

Multiple audio formats on one tape

If you have a tape that has footage recorded from multiple cameras, you might end up with slow/sped up audio and mismatched audio/video in your files. This is because some cameras recorded in 16 bit audio vs 12 bit audio. If you have a tape with both, the software often has issues matching it up. Best to capture in chunks as opposed to the whole tape at once.

LP mode tapes

If you have tapes recorded in LP mode, they are more susceptible to digital errors. This is because the head has to cram more data onto the same slice of tape, and often the original camcorder is the only one that can play this footage back correctly.

Analog tapes

VHS, VHSC, Video8, & HI8. Prepare to go down a rabbit hole of information when learning about properly capturing analog video tapes. I’ll highlight multiple tiers of options based on complexity and price range.

Intro tips

  • Your playback device is the most important part of your capture chain. It doesn’t matter how good your capture card or TBC is if you are using a junk or dirty VCR or camcorder.
  • Clean your heads! I mentioned this in the digital section too. Old analog tapes are dirty. Make sure to clean your camcorder or VCR head before you start or after batches of old tapes. Check youtube for some guides. Any instructions using QTips are garbage. Never use a QTip, find another video.
  • Use S-Video signal. Your deck and your capture device should allow for S-Video input. This is a higher quality connection than using an RCA cable and all further information assumes you’re plugging in S-Video.

Hardware 101


Your VCR choice is probably the most important decision. Be careful on what you’re buying. eBay tends to be littered with untested units from bulk sellers. I like to ask the seller if they know the history of the unit before I buy. JVC VCRs are the common choice for a good capture. Head over to DigitalFAQ for a comprehensive list of the best VCRs to choose from:

If you’re on a budget, i’d opt for a JVC that doesn’t look beat to hell and has S-Video outputs. Anything with line TBC is a plus.

Video8/HI8 options

You have two options for analog 8mm cassettes: camcorders and decks. Some folks are of the opinion that for the cost, the expensive 8mm decks don’t provide any better quality than the camcorders.

I recommend the same camcorders for analog 8mm video as I do for Digital8 video: Early 2000s Sony camcorders like the DCR-TRV730 and 740. These Digital8 models will play back old analog Video8 and HI8 tapes and pass analog video to the S-Video output. Some of these Sony models also include line TBC which will help stabilize the image.

Take a look at the DigitalFAQ thread on camcorder options

The decks that I commonly see are Sony EV units. They tend to be expensive and complex, so be careful to get history on a unit before you go this route.

Time Base Correctors / TBC (optional).

TBCs are nice to have in your signal chain if you can afford it. With prices now approaching thousands of dollars for common units, these probably aren’t worth it unless you’re doing very important tapes or bulk. Datavideo units are common. Best to get a history on anything you buy and make sure it’s tested.

I would not bother even looking into TBCs unless you’re using a recommended VCR, as that is where your quality is originating.

Head over to DigitalFAQ for talk on TBCs and recommended models.

TBC hacks / DIY

Some DVD players can be used as a DIY TBC by passing your video signal through it. Folks have caught on, and even these are shooting up in price. But this may be an option if you’re on a budget. Look for info on models like the Panasonic DMR-ES15 for this. Your mileage may vary.

Check out this page on using an old converter as a passthrough TBC

Capture setup: Garbage

I’m adding this tier of setup just as a warning. There’s a post every couple weeks about someone having issues with the cheap, off-the-shelf WalMart “video converter” cards. These include the cheap Dazzle boxes and EasyCap USB cards. People get crazy video signals, bad colors, and dropped frames with these. Don’t bother.

Also, if the card you’re looking at has built in codecs, like “Converts directly to h264, DVD, mpeg2, etc etc”, stay away.

Capture setup: Budget DV via Canopus & FireWire

I recommend this setup to folks who don’t want to deal with the complexity of raw capturing into VirtualDub. Pick up a Canopus ADVC-100 or ADVC-300 or similar. These units will plug in to your computer via FireWire and will capture to a DV codec AVI file. Just like a digital transfer, you can use these with common DV software like ScenalyzerLive or WinDV. Hit play on your VCR or camcorder and hit capture on the PC.

The resulting DV AVI file is “good enough” for most people wanting to digitize their home movies. DV isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot higher quality than the kind of video you’ll be getting out of the cheap dongle units, and much better than DVD quality or many x264 encodes.

These units are on eBay in the couple hundred dollar range usually.

Capture setup: Budget DV using Sony Handycam as passthrough (Bonus if you’re transferring 8mm cassettes)

This option is similar to the Canopus DV setup above, but with some added bonuses.

Use a FireWire camcorder as a passthrough A/D converter and transfer to DV AVI. Many FireWire capable camcorders allow passthrough of an external video signal to the FireWire output. So you can connect your VCR to the input on the camcorder, connect your PC via FireWire, hit play, and hit capture in ScenalyzerLive or WinDV capture software. Just need to make sure the camcorder supports it. Check out the previously mentioned Sony DCR-TRV (730,740,840) Digital8 camcorders for good examples.

The resulting DV AVI file is “good enough” for most people wanting to digitize their home movies. DV isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot higher quality than the kind of video you’ll be getting out of the cheap dongle units, and much better than DVD quality or many x264 encodes.

With this setup you also have the capability to digitize Video8, HI8, and Digital8 tapes via FireWire, as long as the model supports it.

Capture setup: More complex lossless capture via capture cards

This setup isn’t more expensive, but it is more complex, as you’ll be capturing via VirtualDub.

Pick up a well supported analog capture card. Common examples:

  • ATI TV Wonder 600 USB. (driver support can be rough, but people have run it on Windows XP, 7, and 10)
  • Blackmagic Intensity Pro (or 4k version, whichever has analog input cable)
  • Hauppauge cards (WinTV-HVR-1250 comes to mind)

Using these cards, you’ll capture to VirtualDub capture mode to a codec of your choice. Most people running this setup choose lossless codecs like HuffYUV and UTVideo. This lossless video amounts to about 30gigabytes an hour. It has twice the color content of DV AVI. These codecs are suitable for archive copies of video.

Check out this DigitalFAQ settings guide for VirtualDub capture:

Your analog audio and S-Video outputs from your VCR or (analog capable) 8mm camcorder will plug in directly to the capture card.

Adding a TBC between the video source and the capture card results in high quality, time base corrected, lossless video captures. This is the setup I use.

The future capture setup: RF decoded captures

If you want to see the future of analog video capture, check out the VHS port of the popular Domesday86 project, where folks are working on ways to capture the raw RF signal of a video tape directly from the video head, and decode the video output in software:

Further reading and resources

  • DigitalFAQ forums, tons of information on proper digitization
  • VideoHelp forums

Popular previous threads (take comments with a grain of salt, but there’s some good info in these)

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