Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Converting VHS tape to DVD

My friend, Peter Chan, heard that I know how to convert VHS tapes to DVD using my VCR and DVD recorder and so he asked me to do him a “small favour”. Oh no! I thought to myself. This is going to take hours because I haven’t used my VCR for ages and the RP (Record-Playback) head was probably covered with fungus. Likewise his old video tape. I tried to stall, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so here is my report.

This is my VCR. I bought it a few years ago from a small shop in Boon Lay Shopping Centre after trying in vain at the big departmental stores like Courts and Harvey Norman. I used it to convert my collection of VHS tapes to DVD. When my children were young, I shot many hours of video of them using a video camera that recorded the video onto small VHS tapes. To play the tape on a normal VCR, you need to use a special adapter. I also have some expensive training videos from my work.

Just as I had expected, Peter’s video turned up a blue screen when I inserted it into my machine. Either his video was dirty with fungus, or my video head was dirty – probably both.

Next I searched for my tape cleaner. This machine cleans the mouldy VHS tape by spinning it at high speed both forward and reverse. Keeping my fingers crossed, I inserted Peter’s precious video tape into the machine and pressed the Forward button. Hallelujah, it works.

After spinning the tape a few times, each cycle taking several minutes, I tested it again on the VCR. Just as I had feared, it still produced a blue screen, but at least this time, there was some audio. And so came the tedious part of cleaning the video head. Without a cleaning tape, (what nut keeps a VCR cleaning tape in 2013) I had no choice but to do it the old fashioned way; by unscrewing the cover (just finding the Philips head screwdriver was a challenge) and cleaning the head manually with cleaning fluid and cotton buds.

After another frantic search I managed to find my bottle of video head cleaning fluid, only to discover that all the alcohol had evaporated. But thank God for a super-efficient wife who brought out a PC cleaning kit complete with alcohol, cotton buds and even an air brush; courtesy of a colleague from her school’s IT department.

After painstakingly cleaning the video head several times, I was confident that that Peter’s video could finally be played. After so much trouble, it’d better be good, I told myself as I inserted his precious video one more time into the VCR. I was expecting to see some romantic footages from his courtship days, but what eventually played was an episode of Money Mind featuring Martin Soong and a panel of business honchos. What can possibly be more boring, I ask you.

Anyway, the rest of the exercise should be relatively straightforward. Connect the VCR to the DVD recorder, record the programme on the hard disk, and then burn it onto a DVD by a process called dubbing. That’s what I thought, at least. But, for an oldie like me, with 老花眼 (presbyopia),  just connecting the audio-video cables to the Audio and Video Out ports was a hassle; requiring the aid of a torchlight. But that’s not all. There is still the tidying up; and I discovered that the wires at the back of my AV equipment were covered with a thick layer of dust.

By now you must be wondering why our friend was so ‘kan cheong’ (excited) about this boring tv programme from decades ago. Well; here’s the answer.


Jimbo said...

It's strange to see Peter with a full head of hair!
ha ha. Mr macho!

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's lots of troubles but worth a try at least u can do it in time to come...seeing your friend Peter Chan on TV. Chun See, u are a very patient and yet so confident and trust your old VHS head player to work well.

YH said...

Send to the professional services. It is worth it. It probably cost you more energy, rest, stress and may even give you a potential electric shock. Oh, I forgot - your are actually Engineering trained! So no problem. Next time we know where to send our technical problems! LOL.

Lam Chun See said...

YH is right of course. The professionals would be able to do it quickly as their equipment are all set up and in good working order. But to be frank, I wanted to take the opportunity to tidy up my system as I still have some old family videos that need to be converted to DVD before the fungus gets too thick.

I have seen cases of my father's videos tapes which have so much fungus that the tape simply got stuck and cannot even be played.

PChew said...

I used LG VHS/DVD recorder/player to transfer all my tapes to DVD using this machine which belonged to my daughter a few years ago. Transferring from VHS to DVD was time consuming. Fortunately I transferred most my tapes into DVD before she disposed of it.

JollyGreenP said...

Very lucky Chun See! No problem with head alignment. That was always the problem with tape based recordings. Buy a new machine and you always had to adjust the head up and down to match the alignment of your old recording machine.

Ruby said...

That is so cool. Thank you so much for showing it. VHS tapes are indeed being converted into digital formats in order to preserve them. This is mainly to keep up with the times. However, I feel like if we really want to preserve these memories in all their glory, we can always keep the tapes in media vaults.
Ruby Badcoe

Ruby said...

That is so cool. Thank you so much for showing it. VHS tapes are indeed being converted into digital formats in order to preserve them. This is mainly to keep up with the times. However, I feel like if we really want to preserve these memories in all their glory, we can always keep the tapes in media vaults.
Ruby Badcoe

Unknown said...

Hey there! I'm looking for someone to convert 10 tapes, possible for you to do it? Quote your price :)

pls email me at

Unknown said...

We have so many home videos tha twe would like to convert. It would be nice to put them up on the internet as well. That would allow everyone to enjoy how cute our kids were growing up.

Anonymous said...

I have some S-League videos frm 1996. Care to advise me how do I go about in getti g them converted to dvd?

Financial Ark said...

Dear Mr Lam,

I enjoyed reading this post on how to retreive old VHS tapes. I have gathered most of the items needed and was wondering if I could borrow or buy your VHS tape cleaner.

Please reply to :

Thank you a lot!

Unknown said...

Awesome post. I think this delicate job must be done b professional like CD Replication who has got higher ratio in successful projects.

Anonymous said...

Hi friend
I just read your blog on vhs to dvd conversion posted in November 2013 which I found really interesting, I'm just wondering if you or anybody can tell me where to buy one of those clearmate vhs video tape cleaners I'm living in ireland and I have never seen them on this side of the world if you can help me find one maybe you seen one on ebay in asia somewhere please email me

DJ Slava said...

Where to buy it?

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