How to Watch VHS Tapes on a Computer Screen

By Keith Evans

Video Home System (VHS) tapes were a prolific recording media throughout the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. Due to their popularity and ease of use, an abundance of home and professional videos are now tucked away in homes and businesses around the world. As the popularity of the analog Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) waned in favor of digital media, though, playback options for the older VHS tapes became increasingly difficult to find. With some inexpensive components and a few steps, VHS videos can be resurrected on modern computer screens.

Things You'll Need

  • VHS VCR or Video Camera
  • Analog video capture card (appropriate for your computer)
  • Component or S-video cable
  • Computer with video software

Connect the VHS Player or Camera to Your Computer

Step 1

Determine type of card to obtainThe type of video capture card you will need depends largely on your computer. If you are using a Windows-based laptop, a PCMCIA (also known as a PC Card) is the easiest and most simple option. For desktop computers, a USB capture device is the easiest option to install, though an internal PCI card may be somewhat more inexpensive.

Step 2

Install the video capture cardBy far, PCMCIA cards (small, flat cards designed for laptops) are the easiest cards to install. These cards, designed for use in laptop computers, simply slide directly into the PCMCIA slot on the side or back of the machine. Similarly, USB capture devices connect to desktop computers by simply plugging the universal serial bus (USB) plug of the device into an available USB port on the front or back of the computer in question. If your device came with installation software, run the installation program at this time. Installing internal PCI cards into a desktop computer is considerably more complex and falls outside the scope of this procedure, though the basic steps involve removing the computer's case, slotting the card into an available PCI slot then securing the computer's case back onto its frame. If you are uncomfortable with these steps and a USB capture device is not an option, you may wish to consult your preferred computer repair specialist for assistance with installing the card.

Step 3

Locate the video out port on your VCR or camcorderDepending on the type of VCR or video camera you have, the video output options may differ slightly. Most VCRs and camcorders with video playback capabilities feature either a component output or an S-video output, both of which should be supported by your newly installed video capture device. If your camera supports S-video, the port should be small and round, designed to fit either four (4) or seven (7) pin cables. A component output will feature a series of small, round and color-coded female ports; there may be two ports colored yellow and white, or three ports colored yellow, white and red.

Step 4

Connect the VCR or camcorder to your computerIf your playback device features an S-video connector, simply plug one end of an S-video cable into the playback device and plug the other end into your computer's video capture device. The S-video cable is pinned in such a way that it will only fit in the correct configuration. Component cables will fit in any configuration, but are color coded to ensure the connections are correctly made. A component cable features male plugs that are color-coded to match the yellow, white and--if included--red ports on your device. To connect the cable, match up the colors and push the male plug into the female ports. Repeat the process when connecting the other end of the cable to the computer's video capture device.

Watch the VHS video on your computer

Step 1

Open your computer's video softwareMost modern computers come with video software pre-installed. If your computer does not have video software already installed, you can purchase some very nice and highly functional software at most retail electronics stores. You may also be able to download video player software which supports input devices for free from the Internet. If you are using a Windows computer, it may already have Windows Media Player installed. Launch this software from the Start menu under "All Programs;" if the program does not appear, you may need to download it or another software package from the Internet. If you are using a Macintosh computer, you can play video from your connected device using iMovie, a video player launched from the dock. If you do not have iMovie, you may need to download a video playback program from the Internet. If your video card came with its own playback software, you may experience better results using that software than the pre-installed programs on your computer.

Step 2

Select your attached device for video playbackWhen you open your video software, you will need to select the video source from which the software is to play. From Windows Media Player, simply select the video capture device from the list of available devices. If you are running iMovie on a Macintosh, the player should automatically detect the attached device and default to that input method; if it is not automatically detected, move the slider bar (found below the preview screen) toward the image of a camera.

Step 3

Press "Play" on your VCR or camcorderOnce your software is set up and ready to display the video, simply press "Play" on your attached playback device. As the device plays the analog tape, the video capture device will convert the video to a digital format recognizable by your computer. The video should appear in the playback window on your computer screen.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some video software, such as Apple's iMovie, not only display the video on your computer screen but also have the capability to capture the video in a digital format during playback. This feature may be useful for converting your old VHS tapes into digital video you can view and share on your computer.