You'll need hardware, software and a cable
Every few years, it seems some form of technology has been replaced by something new. But for many of us, older media holds valuable memories. You may have a VHS tape with your elementary school play or a stack of old albums your grandparents passed down to you.
Whatever the media you’re holding, to enjoy it to its fullest, you’ll probably need to move it to a digital format. To do that, you’ll need some hardware, a cable to connect that hardware to your computer, and software to make the conversion.
Once you’ve made that small up-front investment, you’ll be set to convert files moving forward. Here are some of the most popular analog-to-digital conversions and what you’ll need to make them happen.
VHS to AVI or MPEG
The first thing you’ll need if you want to transfer old VHS tapes is a VCR. Chances are, you don’t have one of these late-1900s devices in your house, but you can usually find one for less than $100 on Amazon or eBay.
You’ll also need an analog converter, which has an RCA cable to plug into the VCR on one end and a USB cable on the other end for your computer. Once that’s hooked up, you’ll need software to make the switch.
Golden Videos VHS to DVD Converter not only converts your VHS tapes to digital files, but it also automatically corrects any defects in the video to give you the best quality possible. You can burn the files to DVD or share them to sites like YouTube. Full price is $50 for the home license, but it’s currently on sale for $24.99.
Audiocassette to MP3
A similar process applies if the cassettes in your home are of the audio variety. You’ll need an audiocassette player, available on sites like Amazon for less than $30, and an RCA cable that has a mini-jack connector. If you choose, you can instead buy a tape to PC cassette player that will include everything you need for less than $20.
There’s no shortage of tools for transferring audiocassettes to digital files, but Audacity’s free open-source solution should have everything you need. You can input and export a variety of file types, including mp3 and WAV.
Photos to JPG
If you were around before the smartphone era, chances are you have a shoebox full of old pictures. Unlike digital photos, those old prints fade over time. By converting those old photos to digital files, you can not only preserve them moving forward, but you may be able to use software to restore some of the quality they’ve lost.
To convert your photos to JPGs, you’ll first need a scanner, available at any office supply or electronics store. Photoshop is great at photo restoration, but it can be pretty pricey.
GIMP does a comparable job and is available free of charge. You’ll have access to the color adjustment you need for faded photos, as well as clone and mask tools for touching up areas that have suffered damage over time.
Vinyl to MP3
Whether you’re into the current vinyl trend or you simply have an attic full of old albums, converting them means you can listen to the songs on your favorite mobile device. To convert them though, you’ll need a record player with a USB output. You can find budget versions of these, but you may have to spring for a higher-priced version if you want the best quality possible.
Once your hardware is hooked up to your computer, you’ll need software to get started. The Audacity package recommended for audio cassettes will work here, as well, but Pure Vinyl is designed specifically for moving albums to digital files. This software isn’t cheap, though. You’ll need to pay $379 for a license.
When converting analog files to digital, most often the biggest expense comes in the hardware you’ll need to purchase. For that reason, you probably will only want to make the investment if you have an ongoing need to make these conversions.
Still, once you have the setup in place, you’ll probably find your friends and family members want you to help out by converting their VHS, audiocassettes, albums, or photos to high-quality digital versions.