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Prioritize which tapes to get Archived first - Rewinders - Cold Equipment or Cold Tapes - Storage
Camcorder VCR Repair Tips
These are tidbits of information acquired over the years you'll find handy when dealing with old tapes
C Band Satellite (One of the best kept secrets for satellite TV)
Though not related to vintage video, I feel this requires some discussion
The first satellite TV system and still technically the most advanced.... It was initially designed as a distribution system for the major networks and local stations to obtain their programming and still remains the primary distribution system for broadcast programming. Thus C Band was designed from the ground up, to deliver full broadcast video bandwidth, and not the highly compressed digital "mush" as received from a newer (but definitely not improved) small dish systems. Thus pass by any TV station, cable TV center or small dish uplink site, and you'll view a literal C Band antenna "farm". It's how just about every cable operator, local TV station or even both small dish providers receive their feeds.
When initially adopted, C Band was completely FREE ! ....... Nothing was scrambled. Anyone with a backyard C Band dish could get anything they wanted, and just about everything was distributed on C Band (as it still is today...). Eventually more satellites were added and the popularity of the system soared (remember that C Band came along well before the advent of the digital small dish systems). C Band antennas started sprouting up in vast numbers across rural America, and brought broadcast quality Television to homes far from any TV station. Satellite owners and broadcasters soon recognized a "goldmine", and developed subscription services for C Band using encrypted signals for which a Video Cipher unlocking board in the receiver was required to view the encrypted signals on certain premium channels. Thus C Band today serves both the broadcast/cable community as well as the paid subscription services. With over 600 channels, (compare that to a small dishes' only 200 or so...)..... there's room for all !
One of the major factors that makes the C Band system so great, is the picture quality. By comparison, small dish systems all use variants of MPEG-2 file compression, which all but "trashes" the pristine signal as that received from a C Band dish. So high is the compression in small dish systems, that some images are evidenced with digital banding and artifacts so bad, that some recordings look like absolute "crap". (especially noticeable in dark images with subtle variations in luminance levels). None of the small dish providers bother to mention this minor "detail", but instead extol the virtues of their signal being digital quality (read: What Quality ? ). Course the name of the game is to compress the "crap" out of the video to cram as many channels onto a satellite as possible to thus max out the profits no matter how bad the video looks ! What's surprising is that their customers actually put up with it......
C Band transmissions by comparison, are of the highest broadcast quality, and the very ones used by all the major networks, cable providers and small dish satellite operators themselves to receive their programming. There are no digital artifacts, since the signals are totally uncompressed. What you see, is virtually the signal quality as from the master tape. C Band transmissions use no compression whatsoever - the signal is absolutely pristine ! The same goes for the audio - also uncompressed ! ...... The image quality from even a half decently aligned antenna, simply blows away the image quality of a small dish - it's not even a contest !
Anyone who has ever seen video from a C Band dish on a high quality monitor is usually turned into an instant convert back to C Band.
C Band Systems have major advantages over the small dish systems....
1. Over 600 channels. Add a Ku band LNB to the dish and receive even more channels ! (Most receivers will also receive Ku band).
2. Numerous "Free To Air" channels as well as unscheduled "Wild Feeds". (FTA's & wild feeds are un-encrypted and free for the the taking ! Wild feeds are the raw unedited news clips (Get to see what they cut out of the broadcast news). Wild feeds may also consists of premium movies and network program distribution. Who knows what will turn up, as there is nothing scheduled - but they're all free !
3. Most small dish operations centers all get their feeds from C Band Satellites.
4. Unlike small dish systems, C Band programming may be purchased "A La Carte"... That is: you can purchase only the channels you want without having to pay for highly over priced "packages" that have mostly "junk" channels. Thus C Band programming is literally less than 1/2 the yearly cost when you consider the the channels you actually watch.
5. Numerous audio feeds for syndicated radio broadcasts...
6. Reception is unaffected by heavy precipitation either at the uplink site or at your dish.
Of course, C Band isn't for everyone......
1. The dishes typically range from 6 to 12 ft in diameter and require an unobstructed view in an arc from the south to southwest (at least here on the East Coast). If you live in a condo, haven't the space, or plagued with an unobstructed view, then C Band is definitely not for you !
2. To purchase new; the systems are quite expensive (quality always is) though many absolute bargains can be found today on eBay
3. C Band is not as "user friendly" as is a small dish system. Remember it was initially designed for the professional broadcaster.... Each satellite has 24 transponders (channels). To view the next 24 channels, the antenna must be re-aimed to another satellite in the constellation. This isn't as difficult as it sounds, as each receiver incorporates a computer chip that remembers where each satellite is and steps the antenna positioning actuator automatically. Select the satellite name and channel from your remote and the receiver does the rest.... Still, it takes anywhere's from 3 to 30 seconds to slave the antenna to the new satellite, depending upon how far it has to slew. Translation: You'll do a lot less "channel surfing" on C Band...
4. Unless you have the technical skills, installing a C Band antenna system is best left to a professional. The antennas are large - heavy - and require critical alignment. Properly installed, they require little further maintenance other than an occasion lubing of the positioning actuator.
5. Moderate precipitation at either the uplink site, or your local conditions will take the small dish system off the air. C Band uses a much lower frequency and is thus unaffected by even heavy precipitation.
There's very little talk about C Band satellite today, owing to the popularity of the small dish systems. It's probably now one of the best kept secrets. Some "vested interests" are trying to scare "C Banders" into abandoning their systems and switch over to a small dish (and at twice the programming cost) by claiming that C Band will soon be discontinued. Nothing could be further from the truth..... For as long as all the networks, cable companies and small dish providers themselves use C Band to receive their programming, you can be certain the system will be safe for the foreseeable future until something better comes along. There's simply much more profit to be made from over-priced small dish subscription services...
After only a year of having a small dish, I cancelled my small dish service and switched back entirely to C Band -
C Band still offered:
3X the number of channels
about 1/3 the subscription cost ($515 yearly for one of the least expensive small dish packages as compared to $154 a year for the same actually watched channels on C Band)
plus far superior image quality.
Albeit; the small dish system is easy to use and the picture quality meets the lower limit of acceptability for most. But compared to C Band, it ranked a far distant second..... Most TV/Video engineers "in the know" who have the room and unobstructed view to the south & southwest, always opt for C Band.
Picture quality from cable is generally slightly inferior to that of small dish satellite. But in general, the difference is so slight, that that alone should not make the case for switching. Cable, unlike small dish satellite, is not susceptible to signal dropout in heavy precipitation. Here in Maine, the price for cable service is borderline outrageous, and by comparison, it makes any of the small dish providers appear to be a real bargain (especially in light of recent cable price increases) ! The only reason to go cable would be for Hi Speed Internet Access. From a technical standpoint, cable is hard to beat if you require high speed internet access. But even with a cable Hi Speed Internet connection already in place, Adelphia's prices for adding on just basic cable service without any premium channels, are not competitive - it's simply much cheaper to subscribe to even a small dish provider.
So before committing for a small dish system or going cable, take a look at C Band and what it has to offer.... Seeing an image from a C Band receiver on a hi resolution monitor will blow you away ! No compression artifacts or noise in the shadows & incredible detail - It's the closest thing to HDTV without the cost !
There's a lot of info on the web about C Band. Here's just one informative site: http://www.4dtvforum.com/index.php
So How Do Prices Actually Compare
between C-Band, Small Dish Satellite & Cable?
on March 15, 2005, I did a little price checking. The metric used was based on the channels actually watched. C-Band is the only provider that lets to choose "A La Carte". This alone accounts for a tremendous cost savings, by your not having to pay for a plethora of useless channels package providers merely use to fill in the "black holes" and keep the prices up ! To get even the same quality basic channels with either small dish or cable providers, you have to take the "packages". In reality, 70 to 80 % of those channels are ones you'd never watch, but have to pay for anyways......
Naturally, the opinions expressed are our own....
As of 3-15-05, the following are prices for equivalent services and/or actual channels watched .
Source Service Price & Comments
www.DirecTV.com DirecTV: $515.88/year or $42.99 amortized per month
www.Dishnetwork.com Dish Network: If C-Band isn't an option, then Satellite TV is probably your next best choice.
www.Adelphia.com * Cable : $858.00/year or $71.50 amortized per month by the time they add on their mandatory
cable box. At almost 6 times the cost of C-Band & 66% more than small dish satellite,
Adelphia is clearly the highest priced by far. The only reason to go cable, is if you
don't have a clear shot of the southern sky. Unlike satellite, Adelphia's prices are not
standardized and vary by area. Probably the reason their prices are not published
on the web. (and perhaps for good reason).
Other Cable providers in different areas of the country will have different
pricing structures, but here in the Mid-Coast area of Maine, Cable TV is no bargain !
*Adelphia's prices are not listed on their web site. A call to customer service was required to obtain pricing for our geographical area.
First bring it to normal room temperature if it was stored in a cold room (or heaven forbid, your unheated barn !) Cold tapes are brittle and will break or sometimes turn into "confetti" easily - especially on quad tapes.
Fast forward to the end of tape and then do a complete rewind BEFORE ever attempting to play it. This re-packs and re-tensions it and will greatly reduce potential head clogs. If it binds and the deck makes noises not "normal", immediately stop or eject it. The binder has most likely begun to delaminate and/or you probably have a "sticky" tape. To continue fast forwarding or winding will cause irreparable damage to the tape - not to mention gumming up your machine. To salvage it, the tape should be professionally cleaned as a first step. If it's a "sticky" tape, then a process called Tape Baking or re-lubrication is called for.
Before hitting play, fast forward a few seconds up tape. The very beginning of the tape takes the most abuse and suffers the worst wear and tear over time. Add to that the strain of the tape loading and the pinch roller smacking into the capstan repeatedly on this part of the tape, and you're begging for trouble. On very old tapes, you can almost count on a head clog in the first few feet of tape. Avoid the potential trouble and just skip over it ! ....... With this in mind, record nothing of importance for the first 2 minutes on any new tape.
As tapes age, the beginning and end of the tape are the areas most exposed to the elements. The middle of the tape is essentially protected by the many outer wraps of tape surrounding it. Thus avoid recording to the very end of tape (leave 5 minutes of tail at the end to be safe) if you intend to keep the tape longer than 5 years or so.
NEVER pause or still frame an old tape.......
never, ever , ever , never.... You can bet the binder has degraded, and the heads
spinning over one spot on the tape will quickly grind into the weakened binder,
ruining that area of tape and inevitably clogging the heads.....
Somewhat akin to driving in snow....... Keep it moving !
Despite all precautions, head clogs are a frequent occurrence when playing back very old tapes.
After viewing the tape, rewind/fast forward it fully. Never store an important video with the tape not fully rewound or at the very end. The storage of tapes at the very end is referred to as being stored "Tails Out" and has been a standard practice, especially in the professional audio industry for years.
Every time a tape is played, the more wear and tear it's subjected to. Get it transferred !
MiniDV Format - Pixelation Problems (Pixilation)
First: Some background on the format
The way the audio is recorded is dependent on your recorder...... Standard quality sound consists of 4 channels of 12 bits - sampled at 32KHz. or High quality 2 channels of 16 bits each - sampled at 48 KHz (actually slightly better than CD quality). Most employ 2 channel stereo sampling.
The video is compressed at a 5:1 fixed ratio and the audio is also sampled and digitized. Both the now digitized and compressed video and audio data streams are written into 10 tracks/frame of video in the case of NTSC. In addition to the audio and video data, digital data such as SMPTE time code, user bits, header info. is also recorded. Each track is logically broken into what's called sync blocks which is nothing more than just a fancy way of allocating where on each of the 10 tracks/frame the audio, video & digital user/system data will be recorded for format compatibility. Thus the audio is actually interleaved WITH the video and both are recorded by the two rotating video heads. The sub code area contains the SMPTE time code as well as other system information. Thus the same video heads are recording/playing BOTH the audio and video. There are no separate record or playback heads. The two rotating video heads do it all ! (In MiniDV they should be called the audio/video/data heads)
Between the Sub-code, video and audio areas are small guard bands (actually a digital signature indicating start/finish of the appropriate data. The start of the sub code area contains a digital "header", not unlike that of a common data packet. This header contains info on the format whether it be MiniDV SP, LP or DVCAM. If the recording deck supports advanced features, the following data in the sub-code area contains such things as SMPTE time Code, User Bits, DF/ NDF status, scene markers, bookmarks, camera settings (high end broadcast equip only) and other various data. The sub-code area contains a wealth of valuable data. Any corruption of the header data will result in unpredictable operation on playback.
That is why it's unusual to get an audio glitch without the video also exhibiting glitches as well. The two are interleaved together....... One possible explanation is the electronic logic that assembles the data into the appropriate sync blocks for recording, so that video data doesn't end up in a block allocated for audio data and vice versa. Any logic problem could result in corrupt data - either audio or video being extracted from the tracks written on tape... or worse: the data stream not being written properly into the correct sync block to begin with.
A weak rf signal off the heads can often result in unpredictable data streams being read causing errors in extracting the audio or video. A weak RF signal written to tape because of dirty heads when recorded will result in unpredictable playback or no playback at all.
The video and audio being interleaved together is the reason you will not get any audio when searching, jogging or playing the tape in slo motion mode. Audio will only be heard when playing forward at normal tape speed.
All MiniDV decks incorporate error correction to correct he small errors in the data stream due to normal tape dropouts. The logic simply repeats the last good data block, until a correctable data stream can be read again from the tape. In cases where the data stream is badly corrupted or missing, the problem is exhibited as pixelization of the image and usually lost audio.
The most common cause of this symptom is simply dirty heads on the playback machine. First try running a cleaning tape in the deck. That will usually resolve the problem. Sadly if it doesn't, the problem might be much more serious... The following are just some of the other possible causes.
1. Dirty heads on the recording machine
Sadly, the dirty head(s) didn't record a strong enough rf signal on the tape. The damage is done for this tape and recovery is unlikely. Best advice here is to use only premium grade new tapes and keep your camcorder clean by occasionally running a cleaning tape.
2. Physical tape damage. Any distortion of the tape will result in mis-tracking and subsequent loss of data.
MiniDV is a wonderfully small format allowing the development of affordable palm sized camcorders. The small size comes at a price however. There is a LOT of information crammed onto a small amount of tape "real estate". It takes very little distortion of the tape to create havoc on playback. Most tape distortion is the result of a tape being played in a machine out of alignment. A single misaligned guide post or table height adjustment can cause permanent edge damage to the tape. The misalignment may be slight, such as the first few times the tape is played back, it will play back fine. But each time it is played, the distortion becomes worse as the damage is cumulative. Initially the error correction logic will completely mask the problem, but sooner or later the threshold will be exceeded - the tape distortion now too great and acceptable playback will no longer be possible. Since the faulty deck plays new recordings just fine and the problem doesn't show up until later, the errant deck that is destroying your tapes isn't initially (or sometimes ever) suspect. At the first sign of the problem, immediately eject the tape (DO NOT even attempt to rewind it) and see if will play on another known good machine. If so, get it transferred immediately !
Built up oxide deposits or other debris in the guidepost corners can also result in tape edge damage. Keep your machine clean !
Bad cassette shells can also physically damage a tape. The cassette's entry/exit guide posts could have imperfections (they should be perfectly smooth and highly polished) that score the tape. Again, the effects may be cumulative whereby the first 10 plays will be fine, but by that time, the tape is now badly scored. Naturally dirt, sand and other hard material can abrade the tape.
Avoid stand-alone cheap Rewinders. Most priced at around $20 to $30 or so, are not precision devices and are usually made from cheap plastic. Their use has ruined many a tape.
3. Badly magnetized machine
Machines should periodically be de-magnetized, as over time, the metal parts the tape passes over become magnetized. Each pass of the tape over a magnetized guidepost for example has the effect of slowly erasing the tape. Though not common, it is a factor. MiniDV camcorders are so small, that even a bulk hand held tape eraser moved slowly over the surface of the deck will demagnetize the interior parts.
4. Improper tape storage
Even short term exposure to high temperatures over 130 deg f. can permanently damage the tape. The black cassette housing readily absorbs the sun's infrared rays and internal cassette temperatures can soar even if left in direct sunlight on just a warm day. Tapes left in the trunk of a car on a sunny warm day can be baked into oblivion. It doesn't take much heat to slightly distort the plastic shell or ruin the tape contained within...... There is a full topic elsewhere on this site describing in much greater detail recommended storage conditions.
There are many other possibilities, but these are the most common.
Anyways, MiniDV is a wonderful, high quality 1/4" format. However, a LOT of info is crammed on a very small area of the tape. Track spacing in the MiniDV format is only 10 microns. It takes an almost imperceptible amount of tape distortion to render a tape permanently unplayable in the small formats. Thus, never make matters potentially worse by recording in LP mode which crams even more on the tape.
MiniDV Recovery - Pixelating - Pixelization - Mosaic - Blocky
For reasons unclear, the problems tend to occur far more frequently on the most important video.
Using specialized techniques, we are able in many cases to recover both the audio and video - even from badly "pixelated" video. In the case of wedding photographers or production companies, we have saved many a shoot from having gone "down the drain", & the embarrassment of having to make that dreaded phone call to inform the client that the video is "trash"....
There are limits however, and we cannot in most cases recover video that was written improperly to tape to begin with.
Perhaps more VCR's and VTR's have ended up in landfills simply because their heads became clogged. The video heads themselves have a very small almost microscopic air gap (shaped somewhat like a horseshoe magnet). This air gap is critical for creating a proper magnetic field pattern. The least amount of oxide contamination changes the magnetic field pattern and can result in a "snowy" picture, no picture, or the ever dreaded "blue screen of death".
There are two types of head clogs: The easiest to clean are those caused by loose oxide. The second and more stubborn are those that are caused by sticky tapes. The friction from the spinning heads literally melts the gooey mess and once it cools, leaves a hard - stubborn burned deposit in the critical air gap. For these clogs, a stronger solvent is usually required to dissolve the hardened mess.
Cleaning tapes may be purchased for most cassette format machines. These cleaning cassettes are easy to use, and require nothing more than inserting the cleaning cassette and hitting "play" for the specified amount of time. Unfortunately, cleaning cassettes often will not dislodge a serious head clog - especially those often encountered when attempting to play an old tape. For those stubborn clogs, manual cleaning is required - a cleaning tape simply won't get the job done.. Here's how to do it.....
Manual Video Head Cleaning
Isopropyl alcohol should be used as the first attempt. It's a mild solvent & is safe to use. Make certain it is the medical grade which is 99% pure and not the supermarket variety which usually contains around 60% water. For more stubborn clogs, use Xylene or Xylol solvent. (Xylol is the trade name for Xylene - it is the same chemical). It's available at most hardware stores in the paint section. This is a pure and highly effective solvent that will break up the most serious "baked on" gummy or hardened mess. Be careful: being an effective solvent, it will also dissolve most plastics as well as rubber parts (not to mention the video tape itself !)
"Q" Tips ® (or equivalent) or preferably chamois wipers (chamois wipers are available at the local Radio Shack®) are the appropriate applicators.
Compressed air from an Air Compressor or can of "Dust Off" (Dust Off or it's equivalent, is available at most camera stores) can then be used. You'll need a strong blast of compressed air to blast the dissolved crud out of the head air gap once it's been loosened.
First of all, you'll have to remove the cover from the machine to gain access to the tape path as well as the video head drum. Before removing the cover, be sure to unplug the machine. Begin by soaking a Q tip/wiper in the solvent and begin by cleaning all the guideposts of all residue. Be sure to get into the upper and lower grooves of the guideposts, as crud tends to accumulate there and can cause tape edge damage if build up becomes excessive. Proceed next to clean the audio and control track heads as well as the capstan. Put another way, clean anything that the tape passes over with the exception of anything plastic or made of rubber such as the pinch roller ! So that it sinks in, I'll say this again....Be careful not to get Xylol on the rubber pinch roller ! (IPA can be safely used to clean the pinch roller if required.)
Next clean the head drum assembly. The lower drum assembly often has a very small guide groove that tends to accumulate reside. When cleaning the drum itself, be sure NOT to snag a video head - especially with a Q tip whose loose fibers can snag in a head. Video heads are extremely brittle and it takes very little to snap one off or crack it.
Next come the heads themselves. Most consumer VCR's have either 2 or 4 video heads, each grouping placed 180 degrees apart. Some older machines had only one video head such as the IVC 1" format, VX format machines etc. Anyways, there are two styles of head drums - fixed or a rotating upper drum. In the case of the rotating upper drum, the top drum houses the heads and by gently rotating the upper drum, each head can be brought into position for cleaning. Other machines use a fixed drum, whereby the heads spin thru a gap between the fixed upper and lower assemblies. Here, you'll have to GENTLY rotate the head for cleaning into position. A toothpick works great for this if access to the head bar is tight, but BE CAREFUL: DO NOT touch the head itself when positioning it - video heads don't deal well with any excessive force.
For video head cleaning, a chamois pad cleaner is best, as there are no fibers which can snag the head. However if extreme care is taken, a Q tip will also be fine. (We use Q tips, simply because they are much cheaper, and if one is careful, they work just fine). Begin by liberally soaking the pad or Q tip in the appropriate solvent and then VERY GENTLY (just slightly above barely touching it) wipe the head from left to right - NEVER up or down. This will soak the head in solvent. Use hardly any force to avoid chipping a head (I can't stress this enough). Then before the solvent evaporates, blow out the head with compressed air. Get the tip of the air gun close, but never touching the head. If using shop air, note that air pressures of up to 80 psi are safe, but be certain the air is filtered to avoid "sandblasting" with air from a contaminated air tank. The strong blast of air will dislodge the now dissolved oxide from the head air gap. In severe cases where the gummy mess has been ""baked on", several repetitions may be required.
Note: before playing a tape, make certain that all the solvent has evaporated. Test with a new or known good tape. Some old tapes suffer from oxide shedding and will immediately clog the heads again - literally as the tape is being loaded around the drum. In cases of severe oxide shed, the tape will not be playable.
Before closing up the machine, it's advised to de-magnetize the tape path including the audio/control heads. (See below).
A penetrating glimpse of the obvious perhaps, but ANY solvents if allowed to contact the video tape, will spell almost instant disaster to the tape. Thus before attempting to resume playback, make certain the solvent has been allowed to thoroughly evaporate...
One fellow believed he could clean his dirty tape with Xylol, the concept being that if it cleaned the heads, then it should also do a splendid job of cleaning the tape itself... BIG MISTAKE ! The tape that otherwise could have been recovered, was trashed... Video tapes do not tolerate solvents ...
Over a period of time, the mechanism itself will become magnetized, which is a normally occurring process. This includes the heads as well as any metal surfaces which the tape comes in contact or in close proximity to. If not demagnetized, any tape being played will be slowly erased by the magnetic field of the surface over which it passes. Also, audio fidelity will suffer and video noise levels will increase should the head become magnetized.
If your demagnetizer is equipped with an on/off switch, be sure to turn it on before bringing the probes close to the surface to be demagnetized. Keep the power on while demagnetizing, and then SLOWLY pull the probes away from the machine before switching it off. Avoid turning the demagnetizer on or off when the probes are close, as the sudden power surge and resulting spike of magnetic flux generated at powering on or off will actually magnetize anything in close proximity. Thus with the demagnetizer power on, SLOWLY bring the probes close to the surface and then SLOWLY pull the probes away before turning off the power. Avoid contacting the surface to be demagnetized..... Bring the probes close, but take care to avoid direct contact ! One "tink" of a video head with the probe and you'll probably crack it.
Demagnetizers can be purchased at your local Radio Shack® or any half decent electronic supply. Look for the type with two probes to get into tight places. A handheld bulk type demagnetizer can be used on larger areas.
Never put any tape in a VCR that's cold. Moisture will condense on the highly polished head drum and audio/control track head tower, both of which have a very low specific heat coefficient. Most decks have a dew sensor that disables the tape transport to prevent damage to both the deck or the tape. If the deck just came in from the cold and a tape is inserted before the dew forms, then the dew sensor won't have time to react and the tape will jam first. (synonymous to the low oil pressure "idiot light" coming on - right after the engine seizes !)... Always bring the VCR to normal room temperature for at least several hours before attempting to play a tape in a cold machine - preferably overnight..
Avoid the "cheapie" re-winders. They're usually inexpensive plastic affairs with poorly aligned, not highly polished, un-precision parts that are rough on the tape. Some may be so poorly aligned as to cause edge damage to the tape. No problem with using commercial Rewinders, but expect to pay a LOT more.
Short of destroying them by means of events too horrible to imagine, water and moisture are probably a videotape's worst enemy (though young children fully armed, "locked and loaded" with a jelly sandwich can do almost unimaginable damage). Above all, keep them dry and store them in low humidity environments if possible. Do not store them against an outside wall, particularly in the northern climates. If possible, avoid storing them in a damp basement. Also keep in mind that rising flood waters have a particular nasty habit of ruining video tape - keep them high !.
For the maximum longevity, place the tape in a ziplock bag along with a small pouch of silica gel (a desiccant), which will absorb any moisture. Silica gel is available in some hardware stores and in most craft shops (used to dry flowers) but you can always find them in quantity for much less money on eBay. Quantities of 50 usually run around $9.00 or so, but you can purchase silica gel in bulk and make your own bags for much less. 4 lbs is about $15 and will do several hundred tapes at least. 1/2 teaspoon into a small sealed plastic bag punctured with tiny air holes will do nicely... This won't make your video tape "immortal" but will greatly extend it's shelf life - especially in humid climates.
Keep in mind that silica gel does have a capacity. Every year or so, the packet should be removed and baked in an oven at 300 deg for 30 minutes. This will bake the accumulated moisture out the silica gel and make it effective as new. Note: A "penetrating glimpse of the obvious", but bake only the packet of silica gel and NOT the valuable tape ! ........ 300 degrees will melt both the tape and reel and turn it to instant pile of goo !
Tapes should always be stored either fully rewound or "tails out". Damage and the effects of aging (especially on reel to reel tapes) is most evident towards the very beginning and very end of the tapes. The tape in the middle is protected somewhat more by the outer wraps of tape surrounding it.
The earlier any tape can be archived, the better will be the final quality. But you probably don't have an unlimited budget nor the time to get them sorted and all done at once. With that in mind you'll have to decide which ones to get done first. Other than content, first and highest priority should be given to those tapes that are:
Waiting another year or two might be too late.
Tapes mastered on obsolete or vintage video formats - Equipment Considerations
Consider that today for example, there are very few Quadruplex, 1 inch type A or skip field machines still in existence, much less operational. Already, much the same can be said of the EIAJ machines. With the digital revolution in full swing, analog and even component systems are rapidly being retired and abandoned in favor of the much better digital formats. Many young folks haven't even heard of the BetaMax format (much less quadruplex or EIAJ) and even those relatively recent machines in good working condition are starting to become a rarity. Even if the tapes are playable, you still need to find someone who has well maintained equipment to do so. Parts for Quad machines and reel to reel formats are getting difficult if not impossible to find. Sooner or later there won't be even anything left to cannibalize to keep them running, and the few remaining will simply be relegated to museum pieces.
The other point to consider is that as the older format machines become more scarce, prices to have vintage tapes transferred will continue to increase. As parts become scarce, it takes a lot more effort, time and skill to keep them running.
Temporary solution.... " I haven't the budget to get them all done right now."
Assuming you can get the tape to play, make a recording on another deck. Go with the best recording format and mode you have available, as for each copy there will be a generation loss. This will "buy you some time" but at the expense of going down another generation if recording on an analog or component format. Sooner or later you'll have to deal with getting it digitally encoded and archived to a DVD or a digital format. Most old tapes have suffered substantial quality losses as explained earlier and won't take another generation loss when you go to copy it.
Here's a simple tip that will account for many of those mysterious troubles that appear random in nature.
Tape labels are a big problem and account perhaps for the vast majority of mysterious random malfunctions. The label comes off the cassette and falls inevitably in the tape path or jams the loading ring (nice gears with teeth that just love to bite into anything "passing by"). The recording is ruined, but when the tape is ejected, the label falls free inside and the deck mysteriously works again without a trace of malfunction. With the label now floating around inside, another jam and destroyed tape is likely at some time in the future.
For years I did repairs on broadcast decks and it's amazing what one finds floating around inside..... paperclips - bobby pins - labels - loose nuts - acorns - tree leaves - twigs - packing peanuts - grass clippings - beach sand - bugs and insects - or almost any sort of dried up leftovers from any of the basic 3 food groups = (?????)........... Cleaning some decks resembled an archaeological dig, while others looked more like the interior of a used dumpster rather than a VTR...... Anyways, try turning the camcorder upside-down and at different angles and listen for "bits n' pieces". This will detect the "heavy stuff", but floating labels or sticky materials etc are much more elusive and will require opening the machine to gain access.
Best not not use any removable labels
Reasons for tapes being "eaten" are varied, but a common cause that warrants discussion, is a defective pinch roller.
Regardless of the format, manufacturer or machine model, from the very first Quadruplex VTR to the latest MiniDV camcorder, ALL video recorders use a pinch roller which presses up against the tape and forces it into a rotating capstan to pull the tape thru the mechanism,
Over time (whether the camcorder or vcr has been used or not) the pinch roller begins to deform as part of the normal aging process. As the rubber ages & hardens, it does not do so evenly, resulting in an "out of round" pinch roller. Even the slightest distortion (especially in the small tape formats) results first in tape flutter - and as the problem worsens, is exhibited by tape edge damage, as the tape is skewed into the upper or lower guidepost stops. In severe cases, the tape will be forced out of the guideposts altogether, resulting in severe tape creasing and an inevitable catastrophic jam.
The rubber pinch roller is a critical tape path component and is a scheduled maintenance item. Of all the mechanical components in a camcorder or vcr, it is usually the very first to need replacement.
Many camcorders and Vcr's have ended up in landfills due to nothing more than a simple rubber pinch roller in need of replacement. In it's wake, there's usually left behind a long trail of trashed tapes & lost memories.
Video Recording Tips
NEVER touch the tape ! The oils and acids on our skin makes an excellent medium in which to grow mould and fungi cultures on the tape. The salts present also make for a corrosive brew.
Always record in the highest quality mode possible. You'll use more tape, but video recorded in LP (long play) or SLP (Super Long Play) or any extended record mode for that matter, suffers dearly. Tapes recorded in these extended record modes are the first to give up the ghost, as they are "crippled" even to begin with. Ten years or so of tape degradation, and these will more than likely be unplayable or of very poor quality.
Get even new video transferred to DVD before the quality begins to degrade - especially if recorded in an analog format such as Beta, VHS, 3/4 U-Matic, or Betacam for example. The longer it is postponed, the poorer will be the image quality. True... Video recorded in digital formats such as MiniDV or Digital8 for example will not degrade, but the magnetic tape WILL. Refresh these digital formats by making a digital copy using new tape every several years on new tape stock. Better yet; transfer them to DVD for long term archival. Analog tapes degrade "gracefully" over their life. With digital formats, it's usually an "all or nothing" proposition..... Even if refreshed, there is always the possibility of a tape being "eaten" by a malfunctioning machine. For precious tapes, making two copies is highly advised.
The very beginning of any video tape takes the most physical beating. Thus never record anything of importance for at least the first 30 seconds. The same applies to the end of tape.... Never record to the bitter end - always leave some space.
Never eject a tape in the middle of a precious program. The loading/unloading process stresses the tape as it's being pulled and yanked around the head drum - especially on low cost consumer vcr's. If a mis-feed is going to happen, it'll happen when the tape is being either loaded or unloaded. Always eject at a place on tape where the occasional mis-load won't ruin valuable material.
Most importantly, label the tape and then write protect any important recording. Once recorded over by mistake, it cannot be recovered. Make a duplicate copy for precious footage.
WAV files are uncompressed audio, and as such result in large file sizes. By agreed on standard, there is a limit to the size of a wav file. Generally, it is 4 gb due to its use of a 32 bit unsigned integer to record the file size header information. A 4gb wav file is equivalent to about 6.6 hrs of CD quality audio (16 bit /44.1 kHz). Many software applications further limit the wav file size they can internally handle to 2 gb.
If you can't get a tape to play, don't toss it just yet. We have equipment and techniques that may be able to recover it.
Last Modified: May 19, 2007
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