Toss out those VHS tapes

Save your home videos to DVD

By Matt Lichtenberg

About a year ago, my Auntie Donna gave me a VHS tape of old home movies that she had transferred from film. After digging through storage to find my dusty VCR and hooking it up to my TV, I sat down and watched the tape. The two-hour tape included video of my parents that was recorded over 35 years ago (before they became known as Mom and Dad). I thought they’d like to have these special moments (including their wedding) on a DVD to watch on TV. So that’s how my anniversary gift project started.

Perhaps you too have a VHS tape (or stack of them) that you want to transfer to DVD. If so, this column might help you out. It describes the steps I took to transfer the video from the VHS tape to my computer, edit the video to only include parts that showed my parents, and then burn the edited video to a DVD. I also include some time-saving tips that I discovered along the way.

Picture of a stack of VHS tapes and a DVD-Video disc
Transfer video from your VHS tapes to a DVD-Video disc

Before you start

Before you tackle a project like this, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need, including the right computer software and hardware, and the appropriate video equipment. Here’s what I used:

  • A computer running Windows Vista Home Premium, which includes Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker.

    (Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker are also included in Windows Vista Ultimate.)

  • VCR

  • VHS tape

  • Audio/Video (A/V) cable

    This cable is usually included with a digital video (DV) camera and often has red, white, and yellow RCA connectors on one end and a single Mini A/V connector on the other end.

  • DVD burner

  • Recordable DVD

  • IEEE 1394 cable (also known as FireWire or i.Link)

  • DV camera

  • DVD player

  • Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006

Welcome to the digital age

My first step was to transfer the video from the VHS tape to my computer. Because the video was on an old VHS tape instead of a newer digital video (DV) tape, I had to use a workaround to get the video onto my computer. My solution was to connect my DV camera to both my VCR and my computer. This way, I could import the video from the VCR through the DV camera to my computer using the Import Video feature in Windows Vista. (This process is sometimes called analog-to-digital conversion.) To learn more, see Import analog video to your computer by using a DV camera.

Even though I only wanted to use parts of the video for this DVD, I imported the whole two-hour tape. (I figured I should do it now while I had everything set up, and I wanted to edit some of the other video footage later on.) The time it takes to connect the different devices and import the video depends on how your computer and video equipment are set up at home, as well as the amount of video you want to import to your computer. For me, the process took about three hours.

As the video was being imported, I was able to see my parents when they were younger—in classic '60s and '70s style. Along with the fun of getting to see a time when plaid was really in style, watching the video was practical too. I wrote down the times (displayed next to Video imported in Import Video) when my parents appeared, so that I could find these parts quickly when editing the video in Windows Movie Maker. Noting key times is an easy way to help you find the video clips later on and speed up the video editing process.

Picture of the Import Video feature as video is being imported
Write down the Video imported time for the video clips you want to edit

From two hours to twenty minutes

After I imported the unedited footage to my computer, it was time to find the parts of video that showed my parents. In all, I wanted to have four scenes on the DVD—Dad fishing in Canada when he was “a few” years younger, Dad coming home from the service, Mom and Dad’s wedding shower, and their wedding. I used Windows Movie Maker to create four "projects"—each project is one scene.

First, I needed to import the video file into Windows Movie Maker (you will not need to do this if you start Import Video from within Windows Movie Maker). Next, looking at the times I wrote down earlier, I quickly found the first video scene that I wanted to include on the DVD. I split the video two times in the collections area—once at the beginning of the scene and again at the end of the scene—to isolate the video clip that showed my Dad fishing in Canada.

Though I split the video clips myself, Windows Movie Maker can automatically create clips for you. To learn more about how to split clips, see Work with clips in Windows Movie Maker.

Picture of Windows Movie Maker with a highlighted video clip
The highlighted video clip is the first video scene I included on my DVD

I now had one video clip, which I copied into a new collection folder called Dad Fishing. I did this because you can use collections folders to help organize and find your clips in Windows Movie Maker. For example, I was able to quickly find the clip that I wanted to use in Dad Fishing, and then drag it to the storyboard. Then I added a title, transition, and two basic effects before saving the project. To learn more about the different features I used in Windows Movie Maker, refer to the See also list at the end of the column.

Picture of the storyboard for the first project with a title and video clip
The storyboard for my first project shows the title and first video scene

I knew I needed to repeat the same basic steps for the remaining three scenes of video that I wanted to include on the DVD. So, I saved myself some time by using my first Windows Movie Maker project. After isolating the video clip for my second scene (Dad Coming Home), I opened the first project, replaced the existing video clip with the new one, edited the title text, added a transition, and then added a Fade Out effect to the video before saving the project with a new name.

Picture of the storyboard for the second project with a title and video clip
I used the first project to create the second project

I did this two more times, so that I had a total of four project files. Before closing Windows Movie Maker, I took a few pictures of different video frames (by clicking Take picture from preview on the Tools menu). I wanted to use some of these pictures on the DVD menu, as well as on the DVD label and jewel case cover. To learn about taking pictures from video, see Take and use a picture from a video frame in Windows Movie Maker.

A burning issue

My edited video was complete, but I still needed to get it onto a DVD. So, I turned to Windows DVD Maker (a feature available in Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate), and then added the four Windows Movie Maker project files that would appear as four scenes on my DVD.

Then I customized the DVD menu (by using the pictures that I took in Windows Movie Maker) and the menu text. I also added a quick note to my parents on the DVD that read “Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!” If you want to learn more about using these options in Windows DVD Maker, see Burn a DVD-Video disc.

I was eager to start burning the DVD, but I knew from doing this before that I should take the time to preview my DVD first. I was glad I did because I found a typo in the note text. I fixed it and saved myself the aggravation of wasting my time and a blank DVD.

Picture of DVD menu preview in Windows DVD Maker
A preview of my customized DVD menu in Windows DVD Maker

Thinking ahead, I saved all the work I’d done in Windows DVD Maker as a project file in case I wanted to burn another copy of the DVD later on (for example, if my sister wants a copy). That way, I can open the project file anytime in Windows DVD Maker, make changes (if necessary), and then burn another copy of the DVD. To learn more, see Work with projects in Windows DVD Maker.

It was now time for one of my least favorite parts (because of the time it takes)—burning the actual DVD. Burning the DVD can take awhile, depending on different factors, such as how much video is on the DVD, the available system resources on the computer, and the speed of the DVD burner. For me, this was a good time to take a break, make some lunch, and get some things done around the house.

The final touch

My typical DVD labels are a mess. I usually quickly write some barely legible text on the disc, and then put the DVD in an old scratched jewel case (assuming that I can find one lying around). However, I wanted this DVD to look a little bit nicer.

I decided to use Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 to make a DVD label and jewel case cover. I picked a DVD label and cover template, added my own text and pictures (that I took earlier on from the video), and then printed an adhesive label and jewel case cover on regular paper using my photo printer.

Picture of DVD with a custom label and cover
The final DVD with the label and cover that I made

Note that Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 has been discontinued, but you still might be able to find it in stores or online. The good news is that there are lots of other graphics editing and DVD/CD label making software programs available. To find some of these programs, go to the Windows Vista Compatibility Center website. This website contains a comprehensive list of programs that work with Windows Vista, as well as compatible hardware. You can search the Compatibility Center website by product name or browse many different categories of software and hardware.

I can now say it’s done, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Now it’s time to put the DVD in the mail. I am not sure which will surprise my parents more—the DVD or the fact that I actually remembered their anniversary this year.

About the author

Picture of columnist Matt Lichtenberg

Matt Lichtenberg is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. Before joining the company in 2000, he worked as a computer trainer and then attended Miami University (Ohio) where he received a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. In 2006, he and his colleagues won the Society for Technical Communication’s International Online Communication Competition for their work on the Windows Media Workshops.

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