What You Really Need to Know About Converting Your Home Movies

Viewing home movies can make us feel like we’ve got access to a magical  time machine.

Home movies can help us remember some of our very earliest memories, and let us recall the great characteristics of loved ones who are no longer with us.

Movies play an important role in our family legacy by giving us visual AND audible reminders of our memories. In many ways, they’re even more powerful and personal than still photographs, because they help us relive moments, and remember the most vivid details of those events.

In her book Get “Reel” About Your Home Movie Legacy – Before It’s Too Late, author and blogger Rhonda Vigeant writes:

“Home movies are a slice of everyday life captured through the lens of people documenting moments in time that they wanted to record….They capture us in everyday moments in a real way unlike photos that tend to be staged moments where we prepare to look our best…The truth is, home movies are like a time machine. All we have to do is watch and we are transformed into a nostalgic place that our memories alone cannot access.”

Powerful, right?

But unfortunately, many older home movie memories are in danger. Recording and tape technology (in its many different forms) is fragile, and the passage of time can degrade or destroy our precious home movies.

In this two-part article on home movies, we’re going to talk about what we should think about when we’re consider converting our beloved home movie footage, why it’s important to convert your home movies to a flexible and durable format, and how to get help with the conversion process.

Let’s start by talking about the three most common home movies formats.

The 3 Types of Home Movies

Home movies are almost always in one of three common formats: Film, tape, or digital files.

Film movies are on movie reels that are wound into a projector and viewed on a screen. Many of us viewed educational movies in school that were on these traditional reels, and our teacher had to lug around a gigantic old film projector and clunky projector screen to show up these movies.

Tape movies are on cartridges that fit into a video camera. We play these tapes from a device (like a VCR or other player) and usually view them from a television. The player connects to the TV via specialized cables or cords.

Digital file movies are typically recorded from smartphones, tablets and video cameras. We can view them on desktop or laptop computers, or on televisions. This is the most flexible and durable file format for our home movie memories.

Why It’s Important to Convert Your Home Movies

As I mentioned above, our home movies may be in danger due to the ongoing passage of time (and all the problems that come with time ticking on).

It’s important to convert your home movies sooner rather than later. It’s critical because:

1. Replaying movie film on projectors makes it fragile, and you can damage your movies when you watch them. Unfortunately, film degrades quickly, and every time you run it through a film projector, you risk permanently damaging your film reels. And remember – once those home movies are damaged or destroyed, they’re gone for good.

2. If your films haven’t been properly cleaned or stored, they may disintegrate. Even if you’re not playing your home movies on a projector, your film reels might be getting damaged if you’re not storing them in a dry, temperate location. If you’ve got mold damage, the disintegration might be even worse.

3. Video tape equipment (for replaying your videos) is disappearing. If you have home movies on VHS, do you still have a VCR to play those tapes? If not, you might not be able to play your tapes at all, because VCRs are no longer sold in regular stores – you can only get them in specialty shops. And there are fewer and fewer technicians who can repair old tape players!

If you’ve got video tapes in another format (like Beta Max, Betacam SP, DV, DVC-Pro, DVCAM, Mini-DV, 8mm, Hi8, or Digital 8), you can probably view the movie by connecting the camera to your television. But do you still have the camera and the cables for playback? Even if you do have the playback equipment, technology is changing rapidly, and old cameras aren’t always compatible with new televisions.

4. Technology keeps changing, so old media formats aren’t compatible with current technology. Home movies on film reels and tape aren’t in the same format as digital files, so you can’t play them on your present-day tablets, computers and phones. You can’t play a movie tape on a DVD or BluRay player, and you can’t play movie film or tapes on anything modern.

5. You can only identify who’s in the home movies while certain relatives are still alive to share those details. Want to identify everyone in your home movie of a family picnic that happened in the early 1970’s? You need to talk to the people who actually attended that event, and those people aren’t going to be around forever!

6. You will need to convert your home movies if you want to share them with the important people in your life. If you want to share your movies with friends and family who belong to many different generations, and you need to convert to a file format that everyone will be able to access.

3 Things to Consider Before You Begin Converting Your Home Movies

Now that you know you need to convert your home movies, what do you need to think about next? Here are 3 things to consider:

1. You should start with a present AND future-minded format.

Think about the technology trend right now, and think about whether or not that trend is sustainable and likely to stick around in the future.

For example, many people want to view videos from a DVD right now. DVDs are a playable format now, but the format is rapidly becoming obsolete. We’re already seeing that DVD players no longer come standard in new computers and laptops. We don’t necessarily need to buy movies in DVD format because they can be streamed from online sites, satellite and cable channel services.

So is converting your home movies ONLY to DVDs really the best option? There may be a format that is slightly more “future proof,” so perhaps converting to two different formats is your best bet.

2. What viewing options do you have?

How would you like to view your movies? You need to factor in your viewing technology when you’re deciding how to convert your files. For example, if you want to view the movies on your TV, and you don’t have a DVD player that connects to that television, you might be out of luck — so think about your viewing preferences before you begin the conversion process.

You might want to view your movies on your:

  • HD flat screen TV
  • Computer
  • Standard definition TV with DVD player
  • Internet connection
  • Smartphone or tablet

3. Who wants to view your home movies?

Are you the only one who wants to view your home movie footage? Most likely, you’re not – so you need to consider your audience before you convert your old movies.

Will your entire family be watching at one time (and would they prefer to be gathered around the TV, rather than around a computer screen)?

Do you have friends and family who aren’t in your local area who want to see the movies? If so, you’re going to need a quick and easy way for those folks to access the footage.

I know these are complicated questions, but they’re important issues to think about before you decide how you’re convert your home movie memories. Rhonda Vigeant said:

“Each time we upgrade to the newest format that hits the market, we must also think about how we can watch media that we shot (or that was shot) in the previous format.”

My Heartfelt Recommendation for Home Movie Conversion

Given everything we’ve talked about so far, I highly, highly recommend that you convert each home movie into a digital master file.

Your best bet is to create (or have someone help you create) a digital file for each reel or tape that you have – that way you’ll be able to name every file appropriately and know exactly what’s in each one.

Why is this my recommendation? Let’s briefly discuss the advantages of turning your home movies into digital files. When you convert your movies to digital files, they can be:

  1. Turned into high quality, high resolution file formats, like .MOV or .AVI
  2. Easily edited on a home computer.
  3. Shared with friends and family via social media or online sharing site.
  4. Accessed by anyone who wants to create their own copies. You can make copies for your family and friends, or you can duplicate for organizational purposes (like dividing single events to individual digital files). You can even save the large files into small format, for online viewing. If you want to upload your movies to a sharing website, for example, you might be required to upload a more compressed version of the video.
  5. Backed up and kept safe for a long time, because you can keep one master copy that is backed up on an external hard drive.

What to Do Next

Hopefully I’ve got you sold on the idea of converting your home movies to digital files. But once you’ve decided you want to convert your old movies, what do you do next?

In our next blog post, I’ll explain the best way to convert your videos and give you advice on how to pick a company who can manage this entire process for you. I’ll even give you a list of five key questions you absolutely MUST ask before you hire a scanning company to convert your home movies.

Want to make sure you don’t miss that next post? Make sure to sign up for our list by clicking here. You’ll get all our new posts delivered directly to your inbox, AND get our free report, 8 Ways to Tell Stories with Your Family Photos.

14 thoughts on “What You Really Need to Know About Converting Your Home Movies

  1. I like that there are so many services available to change old home videos into DVD and computer formats. Doing that will help to make sure that those memories get saved for as long as possible. I think that it would be a great thing to do so that your kids can remember fun things that they did when they were younger.

  2. Thanks for pointing out that we should also consider if other family members or relatives will be watching the video. As you mentioned, we should make it easy for them to access it if ever. I will share this information with my sister since she plans to convert her wedding video into DVD this month. Personally, I would also want to watch it. However, I live far from them since they moved to a different state. This would give her an idea to make multiple copies and send them to people like me.

  3. Wonderful content. Especially as I am a luddite when it comes to high tech. What companies do you recommend for tx mini cassettes to digital format?

    1. Whenever possible, I recommend finding a local provider who can convert this format. I’m so glad you found this information helpful.

  4. Do you actually do the converting or just offer advise? I’m looking for someone to convert old film, VHS, cassettes and photos to digital files and formats

  5. I’m so frustrated on how I should have 52 of my 30-minute VHSC compact video cassettes of my (adopted at birth) twins (now 22) converted to present as Christmas gifts this year. What method will last their lifetime and be compatible and forever viewable with their laptop computers, iPhones or large screen TVs???? I am now 65 with many chronic and life-threatening health issues, have a modest income, I am not techy…my twin daughters and loves of my life need to have access to their very happy times here at home before the home environment changed to not so nice due to a father who has mental health issues. My girls really need to have these awesome childhood memories to hold onto. We don’t have many family members, and they have not pursued their birthmother (I believe they will) and all the more reason these videos will be invaluable. I was thinking blu-ray copies at first to each, but not so sure now. I have numbered each compact video according to date and events and would need them converted in this order.
    I really need an honest, reliable and affordable service and good recommendation.

    1. Hi Karen,

      You have a wonderful collection of home movies! All of those can be converted to digital files and viewable from laptops, phones and televisions. For any precious items like these, we suggest having things in several copies and several places. So your original copies should be saved as one copy. Then the digital files can be saved onto an external hard drive to view from a laptop or TV as a second copy. Then you should have them backed up into the cloud so that you can always recover them. Some options for cloud based sites are iMemories or Vimeo. For iMemories, you can send your tapes to them to convert and then they place them into your account. They return the originals to you. You can share the video links with your daughters from your iMemories account. For Vimeo, you would upload them once they have been converted and saved to an external hard drive.

      I’d be happy to explain this further through a phone consult. You can schedule that through the Contact Us page.

      Hope we can talk soon!

  6. I have film reels of home movies that I would like to convert to a digital format so as it can be viewed on a laptop or smart TV. Also I would need a master copy to make a dvd copy to send to some long-distance family members. I am in Atlanta, GA and need suggestions of where I could have this done. Thank you so much. By the way, I loved your article – it was very informative!

    1. Hi Toni!

      I’m glad the article is helpful. If you are comfortable shipping them to us, we can take care of the home movie conversions. We have had clients ship their collections to us on a regular basis. If you would prefer to find someone local, I suggest looking on The Photo Managers website for someone in your area.

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