“I’ve been converting 8mm video to DVD for a while,” reader Milan Grozdanich, Indiana, wrote in an email to support. “None of my kids have DVD players at home or on their laptops.”
His question is one I’ve received many times over the years: how can he save some of them in the cloud for family members to watch remotely?
Finding the right solution for you can be trickier than it looks. After all, you don’t want anyone to come across these recordings. And there’s an advantage to acting sooner rather than later, because whether you thought about it or not, these home movies face a serious existential threat.
In addition to taking up a lot of space, your old VHS recordings rely on magnetic tape that’s known to deteriorate over time. You’re a little better off if you save most of your family’s milestones on a set of DVDs, but chances are those won’t last forever either.
Here’s how you can start preserving those precious moments and some ways to make sure they’re available to the right people in your life.
Turn these recordings into video files
This may seem like the hardest part, and in some ways it can be. But don’t worry: it’s not as hard as it looks. Really, it all depends on what type of media you recorded those defining moments on in the first place.
If you’re sitting on stacks of old DVDs, the process that worked for me is pretty simple – assuming you still have a computer that still has the equipment to play them.
- Download and install Handbrake, a free and open-source video converter application.
- Pop the DVD with the recording you want to transfer into your computer’s DVD drive.
- Open Handbrake and click the “Open Source” button in the upper left corner.
- Select the device you want to copy the video from – in this case, your DVD player. Handbrake will start scanning the disk, which can sometimes take a while.
- Choose a quality “preset” for the resulting video. For most people, the default option – “Fast 1080p30” – will be sufficient, although you should feel free to play with others.
- Click the “Browse” button and tell Handbrake where to save the resulting video.
- Finally, click on the “Start” button and wait for the process to complete.
If you’re trying to preserve home movies that only exist on VHS, those little miniDV tapes, Hi8 tapes, or whatever, you’ll need some extra equipment.
First, you’ll need something to play these formats, like a VCR or the camcorder you used to record them. You will also need the correct connection; in this case, you want a cable that connects to your video player with one end and has those classic red, white, and yellow RCA pins on the other.
Last and most important is the adapter which takes the signals from those old school connectors and turns them into something your computer can understand.
Some of these can be purchased for just a few dollars online, but it’s probably a good idea to get one from a company with some experience in the field – Video Capture from Elgato and Dazzle DVD Recorder HD should do the trick. (Both also come with software that teaches your computer how to capture the video playing on your VCR or camcorder, so it’s one less thing to worry about.)
From what I’ve pieced together, however, just about every VCR-USB connector is weird in its own way, which can make getting the best quality transfers harder than it should be.
If all of this sounds daunting, remember that there’s no shame in calling in the experts. Do a quick search to find a reputable video transfer service near you and don’t forget to read customer reviews before making your decision. If you’re a hands-on person and want to dive into the ins and outs of making those video transfers look better, this video tutorial from YouTuber Notelu is a great place to start.
Share these files in a way that works for you
Now that you’ve managed to preserve those old recordings as digital videos, we need to figure out how to share them. Here are a few options you might want to consider, starting with the easiest.
Paste them in a cloud folder
If you use Apple products, you almost certainly have an Apple ID, which means you also get 5GB of free cloud storage. Meanwhile, Google account users get 15GB of free storage, while Dropbox offers 2GB for free.. You can also use some of this space to share your collection of memories with the rest of your (potentially distant) family.
Even better, you can easily restrict access to the folder containing your home videos to people you’ve given the link to. Here’s how it works in iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
- It’s one of the easiest ways to share access to your personal videos.
- If you have a lot of home movies to share, you’ll probably have to pay for additional storage.
Share them privately on YouTube
Chances are your family members, especially younger ones, will spend at least part of their day on YouTube anyway. If you have a Google account, you can use it to sign in to YouTube and create a YouTube channel where you can store and privately share your personal videos.
- It’s free.
- Once you verify your account, you can upload home videos for up to 12 hours.
- Many people are already used to watching videos on YouTube.
- You’ll need to make sure each video is set to “Private” to prevent strangers from seeing them.
- It can be difficult to share all your private videos at once unless you create a private playlist.
Create your own personal Netflix
Ironically, the most elegant solution for people watching your home movies requires the most work on your part. But don’t let that scare you – as long as you have a good internet connection at home, you don’t need to do much more than install an app on your computer and click a few buttons.
This app, called Plex, turns your PC into a media “server” that you can use to share videos saved on your hard drive. Once you have installed this software, just make sure that all your personal video recordings have titles and are stored in the same folder. Then you can set this folder as a library for home movies and share access to it with others via email – just make sure they sign up for their own free Plex account first.
- You don’t need to upload your videos to someone else’s data center.
- Plex has smart TV and mobile apps, so it’s easy to watch those home videos on different devices.
- You need a fast and reliable home internet connection.
- The computer running Plex should keep running while your remote friends and family watch your recordings.