How to Preserve and Digitize Videos

Easily convert 8mm film, video cassettes, and DVDs to digital files for sharing and archiving.

Photos, home movies, and handwritten letters — family memories come in all shapes and sizes, and digitizing them ensures they’re available for future generations to view and share. While preserving photos and documents is relatively straightforward, digitizing video cassettes and film reels often require specialized hardware beyond what you might already have in your house.

Luckily, once you know what you need, converting your analog video formats to digital files is painless. Read on to learn how to digitize videos from the comfort of your own home, as well as a few drop-off and mail-in services that can handle the hard work for you.

Read our guide, Everything You Need to Know to Digitize Photos, to learn the benefits of digitization, what kind of scanner you need, and how to use it.

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How to digitize videos yourself

While digitizing video was previously the realm of professional video equipment, there are now a wealth of consumer-grade options available to help turn analog and early digital video formats into digital video files. Once converted, these files can be easily compressed and shared with friends and family via email and social media or uploaded to video hosting platforms like YouTube.

First, you need to determine which format you’re working with, as each one requires unique hardware and conversion methods.

How to digitize video cassettes

If you have a stack of VHS or Betamax tapes lying around that you want to convert to a digital format, you’ll need the following:

  • A VCR with A/V-out ports. These are the yellow, red, and white plugs found on the back of the video player. While there are methods for digitizing video through an RF signal, conversion via A/V is more accessible and will result in higher-quality video.
  • A video capture device and software. Elgato Video Capture cables are one of the best options currently available on the market and include software that will record and digitize video as it plays. Avoid cheaper, no-name brands — these options may have high failure rates and sub-par video conversion quality.
  • A computer capable of running the conversion software. Check the software specifications to make sure your computer is compatible.

To begin conversion, follow these steps:

  1. Plug the video capture device (i.e.Elgato Video Capture) into your computer.
  2. Plug A/V cables into your VCR or Betamax player and connect them to the video capture device, ensuring all cable colors match.
  3. Start your video capture software (i.e., Elgato Video Capture software. Navigate through your video capture software to set the appropriate input and aspect ratio. If you use the Elgato Video Capture software, name your video, estimate how long your recording will be, choose the appropriate input (S-Video or Composite), and set the aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9).
  4. Insert your cassette into the VCR and press play. If you see video appear in the software and your audio is working, you are ready to press record and begin digitization.
  5. Once your recording is complete, you can use the the video capture software or other video editing software to trim the digital video file to remove any unwanted footage.

This process should work for any video format that outputs via composite video through A/V ports — VCRs, Betamax players, and even directly from handheld camcorders with A/V out built-in.

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How to digitize 8mm film

Digitizing 8mm and Super 8 film requires a custom film scanner, but many will digitize film within the device itself — no external computer necessary. You’ll need:

  • An 8mm to digital converter. Numerous brands have developed 8mm conversion kits, allowing you to convert individual frames or film reels into digital files and save them directly to an SD card. They often include a built-in screen for viewing film on the device.
  • An SD card. This card will store the digital file, which you can insert into your computer for further editing or uploading.

To begin conversion, follow these steps:

  1. Follow the included instructions to set up your film reels. An empty receiving reel will usually plug into the right side of the device, while your film reel will plug into the left side. Feed the film reel through the respective spokes and tabs to ensure the device can see the film frames and plays smoothly.
  2. Power on the device. If set up correctly, the included screen will display an image from your film reel.
  3. Set appropriate exposure and sharpness levels, then press record. The device will digitize the reel frame-by-frame and stop when it reaches the end.
  4. Remove and reverse the film reels, following the instructions to rewind the film reel onto its original reel.

How to digitize DVDs

While DVDs are already digital, there’s still a trick to converting their video files to a format that’s easy to view and share on your computer. You’ll need:

  • A DVD drive. These drives can be internally mounted to your computer or externally attached via a USB cable.
  • Conversion software. Handbrake is a free and open-source video conversion tool that can convert DVDs into a variety of file formats. Handbrake isn’t the only available option — another solution may better suit your needs.

To begin conversion, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure your DVD drive is attached to your computer and insert the disc you want to convert.
  2. Open your conversion software. If you use Handbrake, it will immediately ask which file you want to convert. You can point Handbrake directly to the DVD, and it will find all video files on the disc and prep them for conversion.
  3. You can set your video conversion options after selecting your source. The Fast 1080p30 preset in .MP4 format is perfect for most people — you won’t need to change anything else. Ensure the file title and output directory are correct by editing the Save As box at the bottom of the screen.
  4. If everything looks correct, click the green Start Encode button at the top of the program. If there is more than one video file on the disc, click the Add to Queue button, then use the drop-down menu next to the Title option to select the following video file. Once your queue is complete, click Start Encode.
  5. Once videos finish converting, they will appear in your selected output folder.

Video digitization services:

If you don’t have the time or resources available to convert your analog videos by hand, plenty of services will do the heavy lifting for you, providing high-quality digital video files via USB, DVD, or the cloud.

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Our recommendation: ScanSnap iX1600

We know you have no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a home document scanner. We pride ourselves on having spent the last 50+ years designing and developing some of the most beloved electronics in the world, including our line of award-winning, easy-to-use, one-touch ScanSnap scanners.

The ScanSnap iX1600 perfectly complements your video digitization efforts, offering a quick and affordable way to scan video labels, inserts, photos, and other paraphernalia. And when you’re done converting videos, digitize the rest of your photo collection quickly and easily with the 50-page automatic document feeder. Scan 4x6 inch photos in under a second, complete with auto-facial orientation and red-eye reduction. Click here to learn more and shop the full line of ScanSnap scanners.