How long does it take to digitize VHS tapes?

Pile of VHS tapes before digitizing

We’re often asked how long it takes to digitize VHS memories. The answer… it depends. More importantly, who is doing the digitizing?

The Inescapable Truth

No matter who is doing the digitizing, capturing VHS signal is done in real-time. Therefore, a two-hour video takes at least two hours to digitize. One machine plays the tape, while another captures the signal into a digital format. Most VHS cassettes hold up to six hours of signal, so good digitizers will play through the entire tape (six hours) to ensure they don’t miss an important video event later in the tape.


Video signal noise

No one wants six hours of captured static. Therefore, a good digitizer will clip out “ noise” from the usable video signal. Perhaps there are only a few seconds of noise at the beginning of the VHS cassette, however, there is almost always countless hours to be discarded at the end of each cassette. This editing takes expensive software, careful attention to detail, and a considerable amount of time.

Does your VCR work?

Perpetually blinking 12:00 VCR

Playing signal from a VHS cassette requires a working VCR. Be careful, many VCRs start “eating” your precious tapes after years of use. Make sure your VCR is properly maintained. What is the condition of the head? Does your VCR provide stereophonic output, or are you only capturing half of the audio signal? Lastly, one VCR can only play one tape at a time. If you want to speed up digitizing multiple VHS cassettes, you’ll need multiple VCRs running at the same time.

How powerful is the capturing computer?

Powerful computer servers

Each VCR will need a connection to a separate computing device through a quality interface. The speed, memory, and processing power of that computer really matter. It’s possible to capture video signals onto a computer without an expensive Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), but don’t be surprised if you start noticing latency in the captured signal, particularly when a tape has been playing for more than a couple of hours. If you’re doing it yourself (DIY), make sure you’ve got powerful computers.

It’s Mostly Just Math

The equation to determine the time required to digitize VHS tapes

Determining the time to digitize VHS tapes is a simple mathematical formula. Your primary variables are the number of VHS tapes, the number of working VCRs, and the length of each tape. A digitizer’s level of knowledge will greatly affect the time to setup and test the operation. Greater experience contributes to a decrease in their editing time. In the end, it takes considerable time to digitize VHS tapes.

What about the professionals?

Professional digitizing companies are set up to efficiently digitize VHS tapes. They have multiple VCR/GPU setups and can handle orders of all sizes. In theory, a professional digitizing company should be able to process hundreds of VHS cassettes in mere hours. Unfortunately, many companies take months to digitize VHS cassettes. Less reputable companies forward your order to an overseas location where labor costs are lower. Some are simply overwhelmed by inefficient operations, outdated order management systems, or poor customer service. Other companies are delayed because they need to reprocess entire orders due to quality control issues.

Why won’t this file play on my computer?

Heirloom Is Different

Heirloom is far from perfect, and that’s why we constantly innovate to improve our digitizing services. Speed is important, but so is the quality we deliver to you. Heirloom asks for up to two weeks to digitize your orders. We’ve digitized orders of VHS tapes in less than 24 hours. However, most orders contain mixed media, and that requires specialized expertise. This includes scanning of photo albums, capturing 8mm reeled video with sound, and producing Optical Character Recognized (OCR) scrapbooks containing text and photographs. Focused on how you will continually interact with your digital memories for years to come, Heirloom is incredibly different from all other digitizing companies.

Want to preserve your priceless memories by digitizing your VHS tapes? For fast service and exceptional quality, please consider getting started with Heirloom. Click Get Started to become a valued customer and arrange a shipment of memories to the Heirloom digitizing facility.

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