OBS is an incredibly versatile (and free) tool, and it can even be used to digitize VHS tapes with an inexpensive piece of hardware (and a VCR, of course). Here’s how it’s done!
What You’ll Need
- A functioning VCR
- RCA Cables and (if applicable) an S-Video cable (depends on your VCR)
- An inexpensive USB converter. I used this one from Amazon, which is $13
- Optional – Audio capture device (enables stereo audio capture). I used this one from Amazon, which was $20.
- OBS downloaded and installed (OBS is free)
Plug in the Adapter
I’ll assume that you are using the adapter that I linked to above, although they all work essentially the same way. After you’ve connected the cables from the VCR to the adapter, go ahead and plug the adapter into an available USB port on your computer. On Windows 10, the drivers should automatically install as soon as you plug the adapter in. To verify that the adapter has been correctly installed, open your device manager by right clicking the Windows button and choosing “Device Manager” as shown below.
Open the “Cameras” section and make sure that “AV TO USB2.0” is shown, as shown below.
If You Are Digitizing from a PAL Source
If your source is from a PAL recording and you are using the USB converter that I linked to earlier, you’ll need to install the software that came with it so you can change the default input video standard. To do so, browse to C:\Program Files (x86)\honestech VHS to DVD 3.0 SE and find a program called “ChangeVideoStandard” – double click the program to launch it. The file location and program shortcut are shown below:
Once you double click to open the software, you can select your video standard. There are several flavors of PAL to choose from. This chart may help you to find yours. In the image below, I’ve chosen “PAL_B” as the video standard. Once you select the video standard, be sure to press the “Change” button.
Download and Install OBS
Download and install OBS – https://obsproject.com/
When you first launch OBS after installing it, it will ask if you’d like to run the auto-configuration wizard. Click No (we’ll be going through all the settings separately).
Change Canvas and Output Settings
First you’ll want to set up your canvas and output settings. To open the settings, click on the “File” menu and select “Settings” as shown below.
In the Settings menu, click on the “Video” tab.
- For NTSC, change the “Base (Canvas) Resolution” to 720×480. If you are in the United States, use this setting. The NTSC standard was used in most of the Americas (except Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), Liberia, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, and some Pacific Islands nations and territories
- For PAL, change the “Base (Canvas) Resolution” to 704×576. The PAL region is a television publication territory that covers most of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and Oceania.
NOTE: You’ll need to highlight the current resolution and type your Base (Canvas) Resolution in, as it’s not available in the dropdown.
If you’ll be digitizing your tapes for use on a modern device (like a computer or a phone) use one of these for the “Output (Scaled) Resolution” setting:
- For NTSC, type in 720×540.
- For PAL, type in 768×576.
The reason for this is that your old-school VHS tapes use a resolution that will not look correct when played back on a typical computer or phone screen (it will look a bit stretched). By changing the output resolution, you’ll be using a 4:3 ratio which will look correct on more modern devices.
I’m assuming you’ll be recording these files for playback on a computer or mobile device, but if your intent is to burn the files to a DVD for use in a DVD player, you can use 720×480 as the output for NTSC or 704×576 for PAL.
For the “Downscale Filter” setting you can keep it at Bicubic (Sharpened scaling, 16 samples).
For the “Common FPS Values” select “29.97” (for NTSC sources). Choose “25 PAL” for PAL sources. Don’t press OK yet.
The settings I just described for NTSC are shown below.
Change the Output Settings
Next, you’ll set up the output settings. In the same menu you were just in (File – Settings), click on the “Output” tab. Here are the settings to use in this window:
- For the “Output Mode” (at the very top of the screen) select “Advanced”.
- Select the “Recording” tab.
- For “Type” select “Standard”.
- For “Recording Path” select where you’d like to have your file saved.
- I checked the box for “Generate File Name without Space” but it’s not a requirement.
- For “Recording Format” select “mp4” from the dropdown.
- For “Audio Track” select “1” (it’ll be a stereo track).
- For “Encoder” the options may vary depending on your system. For that reason I’ll use “x264” as the encoder since by default everyone has that as an option.
- Deselect “Rescale Output” if it’s selected.
- For “Rate Control” select “CBR”.
- For “Bitrate” type in 3500 Kbps.
- For “Keyframe Interval” leave it at 0.
- For CPU Usage Preset I used “medium” (Faster presets will use less CPU at the cost of quality computations. Slower presets will use more computations for quality, but will use much more CPU. If you notice any stuttering in your recordings, try a higher setting such as “superfast”).
- For “Profile” select “None”.
- For “Tune” select “Film.” Don’t press OK yet.
The Recording settings I just described are shown below:
Change the Audio Settings
Next, select the “Audio” tab. You only have one track of audio, so for Track 1 select “192” from the dropdown (as shown below) and then press “OK.”
Add Video and Audio Sources
You’ll need to add your video and audio sources next, which can be done using the “Sources” panel (bottom left of the OBS interface) shown below:
Hit the little “+” icon in the lower left of the “Sources” window and for your video input, select “Video Capture Device”, as shown below.
The window shown below will appear. I renamed mine to “VHS Capture.” Be sure that “Make source visible” is selected, then hit the “OK” button when you are ready to configure the video.
The settings menu will open once you hit the “OK” button. Be sure to use the following settings.
- Device – AV TO USB2.0
- Resolution/FPS Type – Device Default
- Resolution – 720×480 (for NTSC), 704×576 (for PAL) – this will auto populate based on the “Resolution/FPS Type – Device Default” setting
- FPS – Match Output FPS
- Video Format – Any
- Color Space – Default (601 is the default but you don’t need to select it)
- Color Range – Default
- Buffering – Auto-Detect
- Audio Output Mode – Capture audio only
The settings I just described for NTSC are shown in the image below:
Now you’ll need to add your audio source. In the same window that you used to add your video source, hit the little “+” icon again to access the same menu that you used to add the video source. This time, select “Audio Input Capture”.
I named mine “VHS Audio” (shown below).
The settings menu will open once you hit the “OK” button. For “Device” select “Microphone (USB2.0 MIC)” as shown below:
NOTE: The USB video capture device that I used doesn’t record audio in stereo (it records both channels but they are not separated), so if that’s a must have for you and you bought the audio capture device that I mentioned earlier in this article (you can get it here), make sure it’s plugged in and then choose “Microphone Array (USB PnP Audio Device)” in the properties window. The audio recorded will then be in stereo.
Now that your video and audio sources are set up, you’ll want to change one more video setting. Right click on your “VHS Capture” source (in the “Sources” window) and hover over “Deinterlacing.” Select “Yadif 2x” and “Top Field First.” Without this setting, you’ll see jagged lines in your recorded video whenever there’s any significant movement. The setting is shown below NOTE – you don’t need to use this setting if you are digitizing with the intent to play your files on a DVD player):
Configure the Audio Mixer
Next, you’ll need to verify that the audio in the “Audio Mixer” window is properly configured. Any sources besides “VHS Audio” should be muted by sliding the volume slider all the way to the left. The “VHS Audio” slider should have levels showing when you have your VCR playing. Any other sources should not show any levels (especially “Desktop Audio”).
By default you won’t hear anything when your tape starts to play, but you can monitor the input if you want. To do so, click the little gear icon on your “VHS Audio” source (in the Audio Mixer). Select “Advanced Audio Properties” from the resulting menu, as shown below:
From within the “Advanced Audio Properties” window, find your “VHS Audio” source and select “Monitor and Output.” You’ll immediately hear the audio from your VHS tape.
Start to Record!
Everything is now configured, so you can start to record. To do so, hit the “Start Recording” button, found in the lower left in the OBS interface, shown below:
As you are recording, you’ll see a running tally of how much media you’ve recorded so far (bottom right of the OBS interface). You can also pause and ultimately stop your recording (the “Start Recording” button will change to “Stop Recording” once you push it). The pause button is just to the right of the “Stop Recording” button, as shown below:
Here’s a full screen shot of what your OBS interface should look like after running through this tutorial (you might not have as many audio sources as me but otherwise it should look the same).
When you are done recording, you’ll probably want to rename the resulting mp4 file since OBS just names it something arbitrary based on the date of the recording. To rename the file, browse to the “Recording Path” that you selected when you were setting up your output settings. In case you forgot where that setting was, it’s shown below. Browse to that location and you’ll find your file.
Shown below is the file that was created by OBS for me. You can see that it’s currently not named anything that’ll mean much to me a year from now, so I’ll want to rename it. A quick shortcut for renaming a file in Windows is to highlight it, then hit the “F2” key on the keyboard.
That’s it! If you have any questions feel free to let me know.