How to Watch Your Videotapes in 2023
It’s 2023, and you still have videotapes. They’re taking up space on your shelves, filling boxes in your closet, and collecting dust in your attic.
It’s time to do something with your tapes.
You kept them for a reason. They hold meaningful moments in your life. Birthdays, weddings, vacations - memories worth reliving. But, it’s hard to know just what to do with them. I say, it’s time to watch them.
So, how are you going to watch your old videotapes in 2023?
The old school method: Buy a VCR
It worked then, and it can still work now: go out and get yourself a VCR. You can pick up VCRs cheaply at thrift stores, hook them up to your TV, and get a blast from the past. But, there are a lot of things to beware of.
Your videotapes degrade over time.
To get the best quality, you want the best VCR you can get, particularly one intended for professional use. If you plan on watching your tapes frequently, you’re going to end up causing additional damage to your tapes, even if it is only slight.
- Each time you play your tape, the quality will degrade slightly
- The more you play your tape, the worse the quality will get
The VCRs you get at the thrift store are usually consumer models
To watch your tapes more than a few times, go for a professional VCR instead of a consumer one. Pro models are sturdier and have handy features like time base correctors (TBCs) for better picture quality. Keep in mind that you’ll probably end up with a used VCR, so it’s important to clean and service it before using.
- Thrift store VCRs may need cleaning and servicing.
- Second-hand VCRs often lack quality-improving features.
- Some older VCRs may damage or eat tapes.
- Connecting older VCRs to modern TVs can be difficult.
What about camcorder tapes?
Camcorder tapes will require a camcorder or specialized player which could be additional costs, and you still have all the same potential problems as buying a VCR.
It’s also less likely that you’ll run into cheap camcorders at thrift stores and more likely that you’ll run into compatibility issues.
- Harder to find for cheap
- Some require specialized players or adapters
- Not easy to connect all camcorders to modern TVs
Modernize your collection: Digitize your videotapes
To prevent further quality loss, it’s best to digitize your videotapes, and do it as soon as possible. There are services, like ours , that will do it for you. But, you can always do it on your own. Here are three methods for digitizing your videotapes.
Buy a VCR / DVD recorder combo
These machines are both a VCR and DVD recorder built into one. They allow you to play videotapes and DVDs, but also allow you to record your tapes directly to DVD without the need of a computer. They are usually easy to use, but have their own issues. We rarely see them in thrift stores, but you can find them online. They will typically cost more than a standard VCR.
- They are harder to find than your typical VCR
- They are more expensive than a standard VCR
- The VCR component will have the same potential problems as a standalone VCR
If you do go this route and convert all of you tapes to DVD, you have additional issues to consider.
- Now your video is on a different outdated format
- And it’s not on your computer or easy to share
Buy a VCR and an adapter to connect it to your computer
There are a lot of devices for recording video onto your computer. They all work in a similar way.
- Plug your VCR into the device
- Plug the device into your computer
- Start the software
- Record your video
Once you’re done, you have a digital file that will not degrade over time, can be used to make as many DVDs as you’d like, can be uploaded to video sharing sites, or shared on thumb drives.
There are considerations to be made, though, when going this route yourself.
- You still have to buy a VCR if you don’t already have one.
- You still have to make sure the VCR is clean and operating correctly
- You still want to make sure your VCR has additional features to improve quality
And there are new considerations.
When we say there are a lot of devices, we mean it. You will have to find the right one to work with your computer’s operating system. You will also have to make sure that the software you’ll be using supports the device and your operating system.
We mostly use devices by BlackMagic Design, but they are typically more expensive than other options.
You will need to determine what codecs to use when recording your video. You want to avoid recording a video that is too compressed, while at the same time try to avoid making huge files.
All of these options require an investment. Buy a VCR or camcorder. Spend time researching and purchasing additional equipment. Determine which software will work best for you. And so on, and so on.
Have someone else do it: Hire a digitization service
When you compare the amount of time, money, and energy you will put into converting your own videos to the cost of a service that will do it for you, you’ll see that this is one of the things best left to the experts.
There are a lot of companies out there offering this service, so you want to make sure that you find one that you feel comfortable with. Here are some questions you’ll want answered before you hire a company to digitize your videotapes:
What is the real cost?
All fees and charges should be obvious to a customer, but the advertised price isn’t always truthful.
Some companies constantly run “limited time” sales to make it look like you’re getting a deal (kind of like those dishonest furniture stores that are always having a “going out of business” sale). These “sales” usually don’t include all the additional fees that you’ll be charged, or the cost to getting back your digital files. Some prices only include the digitization of the tapes, not the output.
- Minimum purchase such as requiring you send at least 2 videotapes
- Flat service fee not included in advertised price
- Additional cost to get something back
Choose a company that isn’t trying to manipulate you with fake deals or hidden fees.
How long will it take?
The amount of time it takes will depend on the amount of items you have. It will also depend on the company you choose. Some companies put all of their resources into advertising, instead of hiring enough staff to process the orders that are now piling up. In those cases, expect to wait 10-12 weeks or more.
If you need an estimate, ask the company how long it will take to process your order. If they can’t give you an estimate that’s unique to your order, that’s a red flag.
What impact does it have on the environment?
Shipping tapes to a company will have an environmental impact. It’s important to choose a company that limits that impact as much as possible. By reducing the number of shipments required for your order, you reduce carbon emissions.
Some companies ship you an empty box for your content. Initially, this seems convenient. But think about it - that is 3 shipments required to digitize your content:
- They ship you an empty box
- You ship them your items
- They ship your items and the finished product
The truth is, providing your own box is better for than environment and faster. No waiting for an empty box to arrive. Just pack your items and ship. And, the entire transportation process is reduced by 33% meaning less pollution and less time spent in transit.
How will you be treated as a customer?
Some companies only care about getting the next customer and care little for the one they currently have. Don’t be treated as a number
- What happens if you are dissatisfied?
- How do you get in touch with customer support?
- Who can answer your questions?
What is the quality of the digitization?
Some companies will rush through your order just to keep their numbers up. They should be taking their time to make sure the quality meets their customers expectations. Hire a company that will take the time to do it right.
There are a lot of ways to watch your videotapes in 2023, but the best option is to digitize them now. Either do it yourself with a VCR and a computer, or hire a company to do it for you. If you do hire a company, find one that:
- Has a process in place to ensure quality
- Takes the time to do it right
- Can get your tapes back to you quickly
- Is environmentally conscious
- Is honest about the true cost of their service
Looking for a reliable digitization service?
We started digitizing videotapes just for fun, not as a business. It began with our own tapes, then friends and family. Soon, more people started asking for help. Eventually, we became so good at it that we decided to open a business. Our process is designed to quickly transfer tapes with high quality and avoid the common issues of DIY projects.
Our small company is dedicated to preserving your precious memories. Whether you choose us or not, our goal is to help you relive the moments captured on your old tapes. It’s what matters most to us.
Ready to watch your tapes again? Check out our videotape digitization service or contact us for more information.