Blog of Sara Jakša

Putting VHS Tapes on the Computer

I really need to learn, how to keep my mouth shut. As I was talking to somebody, I don't remember what we were talking about, but the conversation somehow came to the point of putting the VHS tapes to the computer. And I was, of course, a smart ass, and I was like 'sure, as long as it is on the television, it can be put on the computer' (yes, I had no idea at the time, what I was talking about). And then the conversation came, that I am always just talk (quite true) and that I should sometimes do something. So, leading this, I should digitize the VHS tapes, that were lying around.

Now, I am around 25 EUR lighter and a couple of hours of work wiser. Still, for the learning experience, it was worth it.

So the first thing that I needed to do, was find a VHS player (which I did) and television. And I put together all the old cables, that I managed to find. Also, I started googling, so I figured out, what was I supposed to do.

The first thing that I tried was putting a USB in the USB port. The problem was, that I could not find the function for recording on the television and the one of the remote did not work. Or maybe the remote simply did not work on my television. I did not spend a lot of time with this one. Knowing what I know now, I doubt that I would really work.

On the beginning, I was trying to connect the television with the computer. The main reason for this was, that the VHS player that I had available did not have many ports. Not counting the one used for power source, there was Belling-Lee (which in my head I call the antenna cable) and scart and nothing else (I also learnt a lot of names for different cables). I had no cable, that would be able to connect this to the computer. I had both cables, but none of them would be able to go to the computer. On the other hand, there were a lot of options, when I was looking at the computer.

A lot of articles talked about sort of convertor, that it is needed. In the pictures in the articles, it usually looked like a USB or a box. Thankfully, I was able to find something like this in BigBang. Though, this led to an awkward conversation in the store. I found it on the internet, but since I live close to the BigBang, I figured that I am going to just go there and buy it. As I was perusing the cables, the person came there. I had no idea, how to explain, what I was looking for, and on the end I got a recommendation to buy a HDMI cable or to photograph the ports on the television and computer.

I ended up ordering through the internet and simply picking it up in the store.

So, this had on one side a RCA cable and on the other side USB. I had a two sided RCA cable and there was a RCA ports on the television. So it should have worked, right?

Wrong. One thing that I did not account for it, that apparently there is a difference between the input and output ports. So, some are only able to send the information, and some are only able to receive information. Well, all the ports on television, that I borrowed, were input ports. At this point, I found out that I need to rethink my strategy a bit.

Thankfully, I remembered reading something during my research. In one of the Slovenian forums (I am pretty sure, it was on https://slo-tech.com). A person was discussing using their SIOL cable box for something. Well, I still had two different boxes, that were not used. One was from the satellite television and the other was from SIOL. So I took out the boxes, checking, if I can use them for something.

The satellite one looked promising. It had the RCA output, so as long as I connect the Belling-Lee cable, it should work. The problem was, that my VHS did not want to send the picture by this cable, neither to the satellite box, or to the television. So this one was a bust.

I tried the SIOL one next. This one had SCART port as input as well, so I had no problem getting the signal there. The problem was the output. I was able to get the audio signal with the audio part of the RCA cable. The problem was, that my cable had the composite video cable, but the SIOL box only had YPbPr ports. Simply putting my yellow composite one did not really work. So I could listen to the tape of Fellowship of the Ring, but not watch the video.

As I was looking at the YPbPr to RCA converter, I found the SCART to RCA adapter. Which was even better, as I go get rid of the boxes and simply connect the VHS player to my computer. Even better, I could return the television, as it was no longer needed.

And it worked. I did some small tests, but recording small segments of the tapes. And these works. Right now, in the background, there is my first full tape, that is getting digitized.

So in the end, I needed a VHS player, SCART to RCA adapter, RCA cable, RCA to USB converter and a laptop.

What were the main lessons:

  • Don't be a smart ass (but I think I will need to repeat this lesson a couple of more times)
  • Projects like this are a good way to learn
  • There is no way to capture something from television, it needs to be captured at another place, because of the input-output differences in ports