Tame Your Video Collection

by classicalgeek

Most of us have hundreds of video tapes or DVDs. Now you don't need to!

I think we have all done it: we've recorded stuff off the television to watch later, and it gets mixed in with all the other stuff we have already recorded and haven't watched yet. Before we are even aware of the problem, we have hundreds of videotapes or DVDs and now we are scrambling for space to store them. Never fear, you can keep all of those videos, but still have space free for everything without those tapes or DVDs taking over your house, thanks to a bit of modern equipment that will leave you wondering why you didn't do this sooner!

If your video collection looks neatly organized like the picture, you're probably okay. But if you are having trouble storing your collection, then it's time to look at other options.

Digital Storage and Playback

Thanks to advances in technology, you can easily move all your physical DVD and videotape storage to digital format, and play the files back easily. You will need to invest in some equipment, but fortunately the devices are not expensive. What this project will require is a lot of time; I spent the better part of three months organizing and converting thousands of discs. If this is a part-time project, I would count on a range of 100 discs converted per month, if you're just working on this in spare minutes. However, if you can spare the time, it's really worth it to sit down and organize everything to make sure that your file conversion and storage goes smoothly.

Necessary Equipment

For this project, you'll need the following items:

  • Computer (Mac, PC, or Linux)
  • Conversion software to convert your DVDs to .avi or other format
  • 500gB portable hard drives with USB connection (most media systems will read 768 file names. A 500gB hard drive will store about 700 movies), or large USB drives (a 256gB USB drive will store about 350 movies)
  • DVD player with USB connection that will play .avi or other format files, or TV with USB connection that will read video files, or a digital media center
  • For converting video tapes, you will need the appropriate equipment. You can also use a conversion service, which may end up being cheaper if you do not have many tapes. You can also invest in the equipment, and charge a small fee to convert files for other people.

I use a Philips DVD player, which has a USB connection in the front, and is certified to play DivX® files. Other formats may include .mpg or .mpeg, .mp4, or .mkv.  If you don't know which one is best for you, ask any of your tech-savvy friends or relatives to help you make the decision. Then simply generalize the following information about files and playback equipment to your own situation.

With space enough to hold 700 movies, these rugged little hard drives are typically only half an inch thick. Just think of all the storage space you can free up--a 1/2-inch thick hard drive will contain enough movies to empty an entire bookcase!

Note: most media systems will not read more than 768 file names, so with folders, 700 movies is about right. A larger hard drive is a waste, except for backing up files for another copy.

Step 1


You'll want to copy all your video files to portable hard drives or USB drives for playback, but if you have to search through a dozen drives for one movie, you won't like the results. So the first step is to organize all your videos into some kind of system that makes sense to you: you might start out with big divisions like commercial movies, television shows, and home videos, and then break them down into smaller categories. For example, in movies you might organize them by decade, or by genre, or by stars. There's no wrong way to do it; simply decide on a system that will work for you, based on your thought processes when you want to find a particular movie or television show. How do you think about them when you want to find one? Do the same with all your video files until you have everything completely categorized.

Now you'll want to separate all your videos into these categories and then, if necessary, refine those categories. Once you've done that, you'll be ready for the next step.

Step 2


Make sure you have plenty of room on your computer's hard drive. Set up a folder on your desktop for keeping your file conversions easily accessible. Have your portable hard drives ready and formatted, and label each one with a removable label that makes sense to you. ("Video" won't cut it; make sure it says something like "1980s films," "black-and-white TV," "action films," or "1960s television situation comedies.")

On your destination hard drives, have your folders ready, and labelled correctly. For example, if your hard drive is going to contain 1980s movies, then separate them by something like genre into subfolders labelled "Action," "Comedy," etc. If necessary, you can use multiple layers of subfolders to organize your files so you can find them easily. Avoid putting any videos into the top level, but use subfolders whenever possible.

Whether you are using a DVD player with a USB connection, a media center, or your television's input, be sure to experiment to see what is going to work, and make sure you understand what you have to do.

Step 3


Now is the time to convert your videos. Insert a DVD into your drive on your computer, and open it in your conversion software. Make sure you choose the appropriate format for conversion, and that you point the output file to the folder on your desktop. Files may take several hours to convert, so make sure that you don't interrupt the process, and try to schedule the conversions for when no-one will be using the computer.

Before you remove the DVD from your computer drive, make sure that you rename the output file to something you will recognize!

Step 4


Now that you have your correctly-named file on your desktop folder, it's time to move it to the appropriate portable drive. Use your subfolder system to correctly categorize your video, and you're ready for the next one!

For television series, the easiest way to make sure they are in order is to start the file name with a number. Some people use subfolders for different seasons, so they will have a folder titled "Season 1," "Season 2," etc., with each file in that folder labeled 01, 02, 03, etc., while others will have an entire series in one folder, and use a convention like 1x01, 1x02, etc. The reason for these naming conventions is that on portable drives, sometimes the files will not show up in order, and so to find a particular episode, these conventions make it much easier.

Step 5


There are many cloud storage backup services that are available to consumers for a very small fee. For as little as a few dollars a month, you can easily replace any files that you may lose because of an equipment failure. It's well worth the small extra expense to have that added security, knowing that you can recover a lost file at any time.

You can also invest in additional hard drives (the larger capacity will be cheaper) for backup. This provides yet another layer of protection, especially for your precious home movies!

Step 6

Letting Go

Now that you have transferred and backed up all your files, it's time to let go of your DVDs and video tapes. Sell your commercial ones, or donate them to charity. Give away everything else, and enjoy the freedom from clutter that your digital storage solution provides!

We won't tell anyone!

How many DVDs or video tapes do you have?
Updated: 02/02/2017, classicalgeek
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classicalgeek on 05/30/2015

Yes or a TV. They can typically read 768 files per hard drive/USB

Mira on 05/30/2015

When you say file systems you mean those on a DVD player?

classicalgeek on 05/29/2015

The quality depends on your software that you use to transfer it. The same will apply to how many DVDs you can get on a hard drive. Remember file systems can typically read only 768 files, and that includes folders (and images on folders, if you put them there). Even a hundred high-quality movies is still better on a small hard drive than carrying a hundred DVDs!

Mira on 05/28/2015

This is a great idea, especially if you travel and can't carry DVDs with you. Does the quality stay the same though. I believe DVDs have a HD resolution. How many DVDs at HD resolution can you get on a 1TB hard drive?

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