You have several options to convert VHS to DVD. Let's look at them one by one and then you'll be ready to choose the one that's best for you.
If you own a combination DVD and VCR player/recorder, available almost any place where electronics are sold, it's almost painless to pop in the VHS tape and a blank DVD, press a few buttons and directly record the old tape to a shiny new DVD disc. (A slight variant on this method is to connect your VCR to a separate DVD recorder unit.) If you don't need to modify the video at all (editing, adding chapters and custom menus), this method is the easiest and most direct.
Using a Video Camera
Just about any video camera (camcorder) can serve as the tool to help you copy directly from your old VCR into a digital format. Usually it just requires hooking up a cable (may need to be purchased separately) from the VCR's Video Out port (the red, white, yellow connectors) to the Video In port on the camera and pressing a few buttons. Each camera works a bit differently, so follow the instructions in your video camera's manual for recording from an auxiliary input. This is a slow process because it is a re-recording of what is on the tape to the new DVD format, but it is fairly simple and requires no additional hardware if you already own a video camera.
Using a Black Box
Special devices like DVD Xpress or Instant DVD from ADSTech make it easy to transfer directly from VHS tape to a DVD disc. Basically, this is an external device that takes the place of the video camera in the previous scenario. You connect the VCR to the device with a standard red/white/yellow cable and then connect the device to your computer with a USB cable. These devices may be more cost effective than a video camera (about US$100) and a little easier to use.
More Geeky Solutions
Other options exist, for those interested in all the technical bells and whistles of video transfer, conversion and compression. Check out BitYard.com for a point-by-point, nearly human explanation of using an MPEG-2 capturing device that transfers and compresses the video to a smaller file size.
What Hardware and Software Do I Need?
Most computers sold in the last few years (Windows or Mac) will have the basic system requirements needed for dealing with the digital version of your VHS recording. You should have a Pentium 4 or higher, 1GB or more of RAM and at least 10GB of hard drive space available.
Oh, and a DVD burner of course, and a stack of blank DVD discs. Some computers have combination CD/DVD drives, which may or may not be able to burn a DVD. Don't assume that because you can burn a CD, you can also burn a DVD. Consult the documentation if you're not sure. If you need a DVD burner, the external USB-connected models are very easy to connect.
Once you capture the images on your computer, you can use movie editing programs such as Windows MovieMaker, QuickTime or iMovie to manipulate the video as desired, add subtitles, chapters, etc. Also check out VideoHelp.com for excellent video editing software and tutorials with wonderful step-by-step instructions.
The Low-Tech Solution
A final option for those who don't care to dirty their hands with wires, bits and bytes is a service bureau. Many services offer to receive your VHS tapes by mail and return it with a DVD equivalent. One example is homemoviedepot.com. For anywhere from under $20 to a lot more (for damaged tapes) they can walk you through the preparation process and help you get the tapes to them for conversion.
How Long Do DVDs Last?
All that I've read indicates the expected longevity of dye-based DVD discs is anywhere from 20 to 250 years. Some formulations (notably phthalocyanine) are more stable and last longer, so look for those when purchasing DVD discs. However, many manufacturers don't list this on the packaging; so just be aware that some of the el-cheapo DVD discs may last just a few years, and buy quality name-brand discs.
There have been some confusing reports published recently, notably the claim by a guy from IBM Germany that CD and DVD discs will last only 2-5 years. This report has been WIDELY criticized and so far I haven't seen ANYONE come out in support of it. Nonetheless, popular news media (online and offline) trumpet it as fact and then mass confusion ensues...
As far as I'm concerned, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's report on CD/DVD Care & Handling is the most authoritative and accurate source of information on the subject of CD/DVD life expectancy. In that report, they say:
...there is consensus that, under recommended storage conditions, CD-R, DVD-R, and DVD+R discs should have a life expectancy of 100 to 200 years or more; CD-RW, DVD-RW discs should have a life expectancy of 25 years or more.
The useful life span of CD and DVD discs is affected by temperature, humidity, exposure to light and day-to-day use. So keep your DVDs in a cool, dry place, avoid direct exposure to sunlight, and they should last for several decades.
Reprinted from: http://www.askbobrankin.com/convert_vhs_to_dvd.html