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How to Transfer mini-DV tapes to Computer without a Camcorder

Updated 15.3.2021

Why do you want to transfer mini-DV tapes to computer? You want to convert the analog format of the video content into a digital format like MP4.

This digital format will be playable in devices that support digital video.

The digital video playback devices would include computers, smartphones, tablets, TV boxes and HDTV, among others.

Is there a mini-DV Converter?

You may be wondering whether there’s a hardware mini-DV converter out there. A converter with USB ports where you just pop in your mini-DV tape and plug in your flash drive or external hard disk and it automatically outputs you mini-DV tape content to digital through a USB port.

Such a converter isn’t available to convert mini tapes to digital. If you want to convert mini-DV to digital you would have to do it with a mini-DV playback device.

That device must then be connected to a computer to convert your mini video tape to digital.

Mini-DV Playback Device

Since you can’t pop in a mini-DV tape into a computer or a mini-DV converter and play it directly from there, you would need a mini-DV playback device.

The best mini-DV device available to you, as you would have already known is your mini-DV camcorder.

But what if you don’t have a mini-DV camera at hand or are saddled with a faulty unit?

mini-DV to Digital Conversion Service

The obvious solution is to use a mini-DV tape to digital conversion service in your neighbourhood.

Two things can be holding you back from resorting to such an option.


First, you may not want to trust your precious family memories with a third party.

The tape to digital conversion may not be a stone’s throw away from your house. You may need to courier your mini-DV tape(s) to the conversion service.

This is a risk you might not want to take. As reliable as courier services are, anything may happen. You tape may go missing or end up damaged.

You would not mind this with any other replaceable item. Not with a tape containing irreplaceable precious family memories, especially if it’s the only copy you have.

If you don’t want to take the risk and end up losing precious memories and have some cash to spare, go the DIY route.


Even if you decide to use a tape to digital conversion service, cost is a factor to consider.

If you’re converting a cassette or two, then it would save you the hassle of setting up the equipment to convert mini-DV to digital.

What if you have accumulated dozens or hundreds of tapes over the years. It simply wouldn’t be economical to have them all convert to digital.

Editing Flexibility

A tape to digital conversion service specialise in making carbon copies of your tapes in a digital format. They’ll like it if you want to convert your tape wholesale without any tinkering.

What if you want to remove redundant footage – camera shakes, bad lighting, useless footage captured when your video camera was accidentally turned on?

The service can do the editing for you. At extra cost, of course. And you would have to sit down and guide them. That’s time expense.

You can save avoid all of the above if you go the DIY route as explained below.

Transfer mini-DV Tapes to Computer without a Camcorder : mini-DV Player

Many may not fancy buying a mini-DV camcorder because they won’t be shooting with it (your smartphone can do a better job).

If that’s so, get a mini-DV tape player or mini-DV deck. Or many prefer to call it a mini-DV VCR.

If you’re familiar with VHS VCRs, you get the idea of what a mini-DV video cassette recorder is.

A mini-DV tape player is by far the best way to transfer mini-DV tapes to digital via a computer .

You may not have heard about it, much less seen one. That’s because a mini-DV tape player is not something commonly found even during the mini-DV heyday.

For one, the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) was extremely steep.

Take for instance the Sony DHR-1000 mini- DV VCR Player Recorder deck. It cost a whooping $4200 when it was released.

A mini-DV deck or tape player looks very much like a VHS tape player. While you may play VHS-C tapes (with an adapter) with a VHS VCR, you can only play mini-DV tapes with a mini-DV deck.

mini-DV player

Mini-DV players are no longer in production. However, if you really want to transfer mini-DV tapes to computer without a camcorder, you could look for a unit within your budget. A good number of them are available at eBay or Amazon.


If you’ve used a VCR player, you would know how convenient it is to pop in a tape or eject it from the VCR.

You enjoy the same convenience with a mini-DV player. All you would have to do is pop in your mini-DV tapes and play, rewind or fast forward them.

If you had used a mini-DV camcorder to do this, you know how inconvenient this is.

You have to contend with tiny almost-sunken play/rewind buttons or a pint-sized remote control.

Loading and ejecting tapes isn’t that convenient. Most give up converting their mini-DV tapes to digital after a few attempts.

Compare this to a mini-DV VCR which made for the sole purpose of playing back mini-DV tapes. They’re robust machines designed to handle continuous playing of mini-DV tapes.

Procedure to Transfer mini-DV Tapes to Computer without a Camcorder

So, you’ve your mini-DV player VCR deck. That’s only the first step.

Next you would need to connect the mini-DV player to your computer.

The best way to do it is through a Firewire connection. mini-DV players come with a Firewrite (IEEE 1394) port.

Through it you can transfer high-quality video to your computer on one condition.

Your computer, too, must have a Firewire port.

Not all computers come with Firwire ports. Almost no newer computers are Firewire-ready in these days of HD video. Unless you’ve an older computer which comes equipped with a Firewire port, you would have to add this accessory.

If you’re you’re using a desktop model, you can buy a Firewire card and get it installed into your motherboard.

If you’re using a laptop, then check to see if you have a PCMCIA or Express Card slot. Most newer laptop models don’t come with either of this slot. They’re must replaced by memory card readers to support the latest HD cameras and camcorders.

How to Transfer mini-DV tapes to Computer without Firewire

This scenario refers to laptop computers that don’t come with an expansion slot for a Firewire connection.

Video Capture Device with DV in

In that case, you would have to use a video capture device that comes with a Firewire port. Basically, this device will come with a DV in port and a USB out port.

You connect a Firewire cable from your mini-DV camcorder to the DV-in port of the video capture device. Then you connect a USB cable from the USB out port of the device to the USB port of your computer.

You want to take a look at the video below for detailed guidance.

Video Capture Device with AV in

External video capture devices with DV in are hard to come by these days. If you can’t find one, then you would have to settle for a video capture device with AV in.

Of course you won’t get video quality as you would through a Firewire connection. Still, you can settle for DVD quality. For best results use the S-Video connection to capture video with RCA audio.

One such AV video capture device you can use with your mini-DV camcorder or player deck is the Pinnacle Dazzle DVD Recorder HD.

Check out also the other Best mini-DV AV Video Capture Devices.

Cheapest Option for Desktop Computers

The cheapest option is installing a Firewire card into your desktop computer.

Firewire cards are quite affordable with a price range of USD20 upwards.

Check out Best FireWire Cards

If you’re using WIndows 8 or Windows 10, your system may have issues getting the Firewire connection to work.

Check out the video below for a possible driver solution.

Download the Firewire driver at the Edius site.

Transferring mini-DV Footage to Your Computer

Once you have a Firewire port ready in your computer, you would need a Firewire cable to connect your mini-DV player to your computer to capture footage from the mini-DV tapes.

Check to see what kind of Firewire cable your mini-DV player supports.

Here’s what you do after you’ve inserted your mini-DV cassette and powered on your mini-DV player.

Launch your video editing software and see whether it can detect the video source from the mini-DV player.

If you’ve made your connections right. the software should be able to preview the video source.

You can then proceed to capture video through your video editing software.

DV capture in the AVI format in Windows would take up about 13GB of hard disk space, for your information.

Visit this Firewire DV Capture Guide to learn more.

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