Home movies have been around for the better part of 100 years. However, they were not so simple or economical at first. Anyone could own a 16mm film camera and shoot movies that way. The cost of the film and the developing charges could be considerable, however. Eventually, the smaller 8mm and Super 8 formats helped to bring down the cost, and both the cameras and projectors were smaller.
Consumer grade video cameras became prevalent in the 1980s, with people first shooting on Beta and VHS. Other more compact formats came along, like VHS-C and Video 8. Both the cameras and tapes were cheap by this point, and the convenience of video resulted in some people accumulating many tapes of home movies. Digital eventually replaced analog via DVD-R and digital files, both of which have some advantages over analog videotapes.
So what of all those tapes from the ’80s and ’90s sitting in people’s basements? Unfortunately, they are all deteriorating. No format lasts forever and even properly stored videotapes will degrade over time. That means even lower quality for a picture that already does not live up to high definition standard of today. However, memories can be irreplaceable, so it would be a shame to lose that 35 year-old footage of your daughter’s acting debut in the school play or your son’s first time on the football field.
You can buy a VHS/DVD-R recorder and transfer the contents of the tapes to DVD-Rs. Unfortunately, the market for these devices has declined in recent years, so they are becoming harder to find. There is also the alternative of having the tapes transferred by a professional video service. These are not hard to find, but if you have a large number of tapes, the cost can be quite high (the charge is often $25-40 per tape).
Don’t take too long to decide. Those tapes are not getting any younger and your precious memories could end up lost on an unplayable VHS.