How to Watch a VHS Tape On Your Computer

VHS tapes were an integral part of home entertainment in the 80s and 90s. Anyone who used them can still remember that satisfying click you’d hear when you slipped the tape into your VCR and waited for your favorite movie or self-recorded video to start playing. Though it’s been years since the VCR was the primary medium of home entertainment, many homes today still have a sizable collection of irreplaceable family memories and home movies locked in VHS tapes.

With the VCR now obsolete and no longer present in the overwhelming majority of homes, the tapes are confined to attics and basements. Yet, there’s so much movie and family history in these tapes. You’d have fun watching them. Wouldn’t it be exciting if you could do that on your computer?

Unfortunately, you can’t slot your VHS into your PC. There is only one means of watching a VHS tape on your computer—digitization. Digitization is the process of converting VHS tapes and other analog media, into digital form. Here are three ways you can digitize tapes.

Leave It to The Pros

Several retail stores and large corporations offer VHS digitization. There are also specialized VHS to DVD conversion services that could do the same for you. The advantage of using a conversion service is your involvement is reduced to just mailing or delivering your tapes. With that, your VHS is converted to digital format and stored in a DVD, thumb drive, or even the cloud. It will certainly cost you, but the convenience makes the price worth it.

Use a VHS-DVD Combo

If you are going to do the digitization yourself, this is the simplest way. As the name implies, a VHS-DVD combo player comes with both a VCR and a DVD burner. You slot the tapes into the VCR and you are ready to move your movies to DVD. The way you do that will vary from model to model, so you have to pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions.

From the DVD, you can watch the movies from the disc directly or transfer the files to your computer’s hard drive. Your main headache here is finding a VHS-DVD combo. If finding a second-hand VCR is difficult, locating a VHS-DVD Combo player is harder.

Use USB-to-Composite Video Converter

For this, you need a VCR with composite video and audio jacks. Fortunately, this is standard with most models. Next, get a USB-to-composite converter online. You can find these on Amazon. Just make sure you pick the ones that have a substantial number of positive reviews. You’ll have to download and install the converter software on your computer.

As its name implies, the converter will connect to your computer’s USB port. Most converters will have the same types of plugs on the end that go into the VCR. That is – composite red, white and yellow cables, as well as an S-Video plug. Opt for the S-Video plug instead of the yellow jack for better video quality.

With all hardware connected, rewind the tape on the VCR until the point you want the conversion to start. Launch the conversion software on the computer. Press record on your computer at the same time as you hit play on the VCR. Conversion occurs in real-time and this is the main drawback of using this method. So if the VHS movie is an hour-long, that’s how long the digitization will take.


Whatever method of digitization you choose, everything begins with preparing the tapes for use. Since you haven’t used them for a while, chances are your tapes have been gathering dust and are likely not ready even for VCR play. Clean the cassette and get rid of the dust. The spindles may also have seized up due to disuse, so get them moving by hand, so they do not jam when you insert them in a VCR before the digital conversion.

Overall, the good thing is that once your tapes are in digital format, you have various options for viewing them. Not just your computer but your smartphone, tablet, and digital/smart television, as well.