Menu
Updated July 2022
Header Image
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

35
Models
Considered
193
Consumers
Consulted
22
Hours
Researched
Category cover

Buying guide for best video converters

For a long time, video and movies were produced and recorded on analog media. The advent of consumer technologies like home film and video cameras, VCRs, and similar equipment allowed the public to amass libraries of content stored on videotape or film and played back on analog devices.

But as technology changed, the integrity of this older content became threatened. As such, people began to realize they wanted to convert their old analog content to a digital format. The benefits are threefold: easier editing, versatile playback, and longer-term storage. To do this, you need a video converter.

A video converter, also known as a video-to-digital converter, capture device, or capture card, converts analog video to digital data. The term video converter can apply to both hardware and software. The term “video-to-digital converter” specifically refers to a hardware device. Hardware video converters, especially those that connect to a computer, need software for handling the resulting digital video. The software version converts digital video files from one format to another.

video converter
If you don’t already have a VCR, or the one you have no longer works, it can be a challenge to find one, as they are no longer manufactured. You may find refurbished VCRs on Amazon, eBay or similar retailers.

Types of video converters

The type of video converter you need depends on what you want your video converter to do.

HDMI converters

An HDMI converter is a small electronic device that converts analog signals into a digital HDMI signal. These converters won’t help you store or digitize old analog video themselves, but they do allow you to connect an older analog video source like a VCR, camcorder, or vintage gaming console to a digital TV or digital projector.

HDMI converters usually accept either composite or component inputs with RCA jacks. Some also accept S-Video, a popular video connection standard from the 1980s.

USB capture devices

USB capture devices digitize analog video and send it to a computer for editing or playback over a USB port. They are sometimes called USB capture cards, even though they’re external, but they differ from the sort of digital capture cards used in streaming and gaming by accepting analog input via RCA jacks or S-Video ports. They usually come with video conversion software or video editing software, either on an optical disc or available via download.

USB capture devices can work on any computer with a USB port, making them a popular choice for laptops.

Standalone video converters

Standalone video converters are all-in-one devices for digitizing analog content. They hook up to an analog video source and digitize the video internally, saving the resulting file in a USB thumb drive or memory card. Standalone video converters include a small display screen to track the conversion and watch the video. They do not require a computer, as all the processing is done in-unit, but you have less control over the results.

Composite video transmits a video signal on a single channel and has an RCA connector coded yellow. It is lower in image quality than component video and S-Video.

STAFF
BestReviews

What are some features of video converters?

Upscaling

Most recorded analog videos only reached standard resolution (480p) with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Many HDMI converters can upscale the resolution of their analog sources on the fly to match common HD video settings, such as 720p, 1080p, or even 4K, with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Video-to-digital converters can upscale the resulting files through software.

USB jacks and ports

A majority of video converters use USB to draw power. This allows them the flexibility of drawing power from either a USB power adapter or a USB port. Some standalone video converters can also use USB to transfer their digital output to a computer. USB capture devices that plug directly into a computer’s USB port take full advantage of USB for power and data transfer.

Display

Standalone video converters come with a small screen on which you can watch the content you’re converting and the finished product. This can be quite convenient, especially if you have no other playback device handy. Some standalone converters also offer display output via HDMI or similar display cables to watch the content. This is in addition to the digitized video file.

Software

SB capture devices often come with specific software for viewing, processing, and editing their digitized video. Some may come with software on an optical disc, others with a link to a downloadable app. There’s a significant variety to video capture and conversion software, and sometimes a capture device’s output can be difficult to view or edit without the right app.

When considering video converters that offer or require software, make sure the software is compatible with your system, that it’s reputable and safe, and that you find it easy to learn and use.

rca cable
DID YOU KNOW?
RCA cables were introduced by entertainment brand RCA (Radio Corporation of America) in the 1930s and 1940s as a method of connecting and amplifying phonograph audio. RCA cables with red-for-right, white-for-left connectors are still widely used in audio.
STAFF
BestReviews

What equipment is used with a video converter?

Cables

Since most video converters output to HDMI, it's always handy to have an extra HDMI cable. To connect your older analog sources like VCRs, you need so-called RCA cables, either composite or component, known for their multiple color-coded plugs. If your older device and your video converter support S-Video, you may want to get an S-Video cable.

USB drives and memory cards

USB thumb drives and flash memory cards like SD cards are a great way to store the results of your video conversion and digitization. Good thumb drives and SD cards are more stable and less fragile than videotape or film, and they hold more information in less physical space than DVDs and other optical media.

USB power adapters

Many video converters rely on USB power to run, but while most offer USB power cables, not all come with a USB power adapter or charger, so if you don’t already have one or want one just for your video converter, consider getting a new USB adapter.

How much do video converters cost?

Inexpensive

HDMI converters and inexpensive USB capture devices cost between $10 and $30. They may not include needed video and HDMI cables, so you might want to factor in the cost of those accessories when making your choices.

Mid-range

Many USB capture devices and some standalone video converters cost between $40 and $100, including well-known and respected brands with bundled software and extras.

Expensive

Many standalone video converters cost $100 and above. Film-to-digital converters cost $300 to $400. High-end capture cards, such as those that install in a computer’s internal expansion slots, can cost $300 and above but aren’t generally the same as an analog-to-digital video capture device.

Component video uses three separate channels to transmit a black-and-white luminance signal and two color-difference components. Component cables use RCA connectors coded red, green, and blue, although component video does not actually transmit colors.

STAFF
BestReviews

Tips for video converters

  • Use clean sources. A video converter can only work with what it’s given. A videotape that’s old, mildewed, or otherwise damaged, or a VCR with a dirty head and a glitchy mechanism, won’t provide much of an image no matter how much upscaling or software processing you do.
  • Is the output compatible? There are a lot of different file formats for digital video out there: MP4, QuickTime MOV, AVI, Windows WMV, and more. Not every file format can play on every system. If your hardware video converter gives you a file you can’t easily open, you might want to download a software video converter to save it to a new format.
  • Try a test first. Once you’ve chosen a video converter, test it out first. You want to make sure all your equipment, from the source to the computer and software, works as it should and that you’re comfortable with the process before you commit to playing and converting precious memories, especially those stored on older, possibly fragile videotape.
  • You don’t need to burn a DVD. DVDs, while longer-lived than videotape, are not permanent storage media either. They can degrade between 25 to 100 years after burning. It’s more future-proof to save a digitized video as a digital file and store it on a flash drive, in the cloud, or both. The best reason for burning video to DVD is to play it for people who primarily use a DVD player.
tv back panel
S-Video was a standard introduced in 1987 that separated black-and-white from color signals, resulting in higher image quality than composite video. S-Video cables usually have 4-, 7-, or 8-pin mini-DIN connectors.

FAQ

Q. What is the shelf life of VHS tapes?

A. VHS tapes and other videotape formats can last 10 to 30 years. Information stored on magnetic tape can degrade over time as the tape demagnetizes. Mold and humidity can render tape brittle, snapping when played or rewound. The plastic cassettes can also degrade over time. Videotapes from the later decades of the twentieth century may be near or even past their shelf life.

Q. What is the best format to convert VHS to digital?

A. The best format for digital video is probably H.264 or MPEG-4 (MP4), which are standards that most computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices can recognize and work with. Other formats, like Apple’s MOV and Microsoft’s WMV, are not as universal or have other drawbacks.

Q. How do I convert 8mm film to digital?

A. There are two ways to take an old 8mm film reel and convert it into a digital format. The easiest way is to obtain a film-to-digital converter. These resemble standalone video converters, but instead of analog inputs, they have spools on which to mount film reels and a hi-res scanner to record the image as the film plays.

The second method is more involved. Basically, you need to play your film from a projector and use a separate digital camera to record the image as it plays.

Q. How do you clarify a blurry video?

A. If your video is blurry, or if it’s so low in resolution that using a video converter to upscale to a digital file will make it blurry, you can try reducing the contrast and increasing the brightness in video editing software. This will bring out detail that may have been lost. However, it’s no magic fix, and it can make the resulting image look washed out.

 

Our Top Picks