I have a few old VHS tapes that are in PAL/SECAM format, and I live in Canada. I was wondering what would be the best way to back-up/play these tapes?

Hunt for a PAL/Secam VHS player? (Could be expensive) Or ask for a service that does it for you?

  • Hi, welcome to Gaming Stack Exchange! This site is strictly about games though, so I'm afraid it's off-topic.
    – Vixen Populi
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 15:46
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    Welcome to video production.
    – stib
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 2:17

2 Answers 2


The answer to this question will depend on your priorities to some extent — what sort of quality are you looking for in the transfer, how important the content of the tapes are to you / the world, what sort of budget you have, how much time you want to spend on the project — as well as other variables such as what condition are the tapes are in, and whether you want to play them in domestic equipment and risk destroying them if something goes wrong (e.g. if they've got sticky-shed they could end up being chewed).

That said, you could probably pick up a VHS player for nothing if you ask and look around enough — ask on social media, or get your friends to ask their parents, there are still plenty out there. You won't have much control over the quality of the machine, and so you probably won't get one with such things as a timebase corrector that you get on professional machines (or later model high quality domestic machines). An old VHS machine from someone's lounge room may also not be in the best condition, so the output may be less than optimal. However, if you aren't concerned with getting the absolute best possible transfer, and are happy if it just plays the tapes so you can see a picture this is probably the way to go.

Once you've got a machine that plays them you should digitise them on the first viewing — if they are fragile they will lose quality every time they are played. You'll need a video capture card and software to run it. There is a huge range from cheap and cheerful USB gadgets that cost less than $20 on ebay to broadcast level cards that cost a couple of thousand. Once again, your priorities and budget determine what you need.

If the tapes are really valuable to you you could investigate getting an agency to transfer them. If you are concerned that the tapes might be in poor condition and they are irreplaceable you might want to find someone who deals with archival transfers. You could talk to the state film archives for your region if they exist, they may have advice for you. The Australian National Film and Sound Archive have a good page of advice here: http://www.nfsa.gov.au/preservation/care/caring-for-video/

  • Thank you some much for your answer! I'd ideally want to pick up a VHS player, as getting services for digitizing seems expensive. That being said, I live in North America (Canada), so asking around for a PAL/SECAM VHS player seems tough, since they seem to be mostly available in Japan/Australia The quality isn't the most important thing, they're baby videos that we would like to retain for memory. Commented May 25, 2015 at 11:35
  • Ah I didn't pick that up, being from Australia there are PAL VHS machines literally littering the streets (on hard rubbish days at least). Quite a few of the later model PAL machines would also play NTSC, I'm not sure if it works the other way around though? If you find a good, late model machine it might be worth giving it a try - the tapes are physically compatible so you won't damage them, you just won't get a picture if it doesn't work.
    – stib
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 13:21
  • There are cheap VHS->DVD shops. Usually it's not the only thing the business does, it's just one service. Probably they just have a machine that does it fully automated, so they just plonk your tape in and it burns a DVD. I had a couple NTSC VHS tapes done that way at a shop in Halifax. One of them came out 352x480, the other 720x480. They were pretty old tapes, so I don't think resolution or MPEG2 were the limiting factors. Lots of VHS color artifacts... Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 20:01
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    Anyway, there are probably shops that have machines for PAL. There's a sign for PAL->NTSC conversion at an Indian grocery store in Halifax, I think. Immigrant-specialty shops are a good place to look, if google doesn't find anything fast. I was going to do the capture myself, but I kept putting it off since I didn't have an ideal VCR, and my capture card was in an ancient computer that stopped working, etc. etc. If you only have a couple tapes to do, just take them to a shop if you don't already have some capture stuff set up. Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 20:04

You can buy a VHS Player, it will be much cheaper than an agency and there are plenty of PAL/SECAM units on ebay, most if not all will ship to Canada. Some are brand new. Check for the voltage - you might need a 220V to 120V transformer. Any analog TV card should be able to convert the VCR output to USB - AFAIK they all support PAL, NTSC and SECAM. The whole thing should cost less than $100 CAD.

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