Part Two: Watching VHS tapes on a Windows PC

This is PART TWO of my tutorial on how to connect a VCR to a Windows PC. Read PART ONE to get caught-up on my project needs, supplies, and technical installation steps.

VCR playing


When you launch the GrabBee software, not much happens at first! There are two windows, a “video window” and a “controller” below:

Opening Screenshot from GrabBee


The first setting to adjust is if you are using a composite video cable (yellow) or a S-video (round with pins) to carry the video feed out from your VCR. Adjust that setting in the controller window:

Source Selection

The next setting to examine are your Options:

Options in GrabBee


When I first launched the program, I didn’t get any video output. This was because my Video Format had defaulted to PAL, which makes sense for a Taiwanese-made product. Here I have selected NTSC because I am working from tapes made for an American market.

NTSC Format


How did I know to pick this format? Sometimes you get very lucky and it will be printed on the paper case or insert for the tape.

NTSC label

I feel like this is a very good time to remind readers that these are my TEST tapes and that I do not plan to digitize these tapes for public use. And that I certainly do not plan to post the video output online. They are being used in this tutorial as surrogates for the tapes I plan to access, as we all need test tapes. Plus it’s a cute movie.

Now, the moment of truth.

Insert your test tape into the VCR and manually press play on the VCR deck. (Do not press “play” on the on-screen controller, nothing happens). If your settings are right, you should be able to see and hear the video, playing in the window up top:

VCR playing

If you only have sound and no video, adjust your settings. At one point, I really did unplug everything and reset my PC. It took me about two hours of messing with settings and options to get both decks working reliably when connected to the USB converter. Be patient and comment if there’s a good key step to making the connections work easily.

The next step, if you are making any video clips for access reasons only, is to select a file format. This is back in the OPTION menu:

File Type Selection

Next, manually cue your tape to the section you want to capture. You might need to rewind it if you’ve been watching it for a few moments. Once you have your starting point selected, press PLAY on the VCR itself, and then press the red circle for the RECORD button on the on-screen controller window:

Record Button

Continue recording (aka press nothing) until you reach the end of your clip. Keep it as short as possible for file size. Then press the grey square button above it, on your screen, to STOP the recording clip.

If you used a default installation scheme, the file will now be in the “Record” folder, something like “My Documents\GrabBee\Record”. You can configure the destination in the OPTION menu of the program.

Here is what my tiny clip looks like in my windows explorer:

Video Capture Detailed Information


Here’s the preview in my VLC player:

VLC clip preview


What this means is that I now have 11 seconds of playable video that I can safely store alongside the accession record for this tape. I have 11 seconds that I can show a vendor. I have proof that this is a playable asset, worthy of storage space and future archival care.

What I also have is a functional system that solved my basic needs: a way to review the contents of a VCR tape by playing it back through my Windows PC, without the need for a TV.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.