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How to Make the Best Video Transfers

Whether you're a museum that's involved in archiving tapes or just a weekend video enthusiast, you want to make sure that you get the very best results! 

After a combined 40 years in the video business, Tom Grant and Art Argalby share these important tips:

1.) scrupulously clean the video tape path. Simple as it seems, taking the time to clean the tape path does make a difference! Very small parts of tape oxide can collect in several spots on the tape path. You'll notice the very thin "lip" around the bottom of the video head drum. This lip holds the tape in correct position as the video heads scan the recorded information. Even a 2-3 micron piece of tape oxide can lodge on this lip and change the tracking quality of the tape. Carefully clean the lip with cotton swabs dipped in 91% isopropyl alcohol. A tiny wood toothpick can also be helpful in cleaming the lip. CAUTION: Keep cotton swabs away from the delicate video head tips! They should ONLY be cleaned by using our paper-dipped-in-alcohol method described here.

2.) Fast forward and rewind tapes prior to transferring. Screening unknown tapes by fast forwarding and rewinding allows you to find and tapes that have sticky shed or other damages. TIP: Use an inexpensive VCR for rewinding and fast forwarding, this saves wear and tear on your master VCR.

3.)  Add a TBC (time base corrector) Most professional VCRs, like the Panasonic AG1980, already have a built-in TBC. This is usually the first line of defense against distortions in your playback tape. However, in some instances, also adding a TBC to the output video line might help to a small degree. Read more info about time base correctors.

4.) Clean air. Make sure that the air in your video transfer room is clean and filtered. Cigarette smoke, cooking fumes and other airborne pollutants can damage videotape! Cigarette smokes gets inside VCRs, and after a few years the circuit boards are darkened with nicotene and the white plastic parts have turned yellow! We highly recommend a good quality room air filter, such as the WEN 3410. We've had very good results using these units in our repair facility.

5.) Use A.C. voltage spike supressors.  Any momentary voltage spike in the power line can burn out power supplies! Any video equipment plugged into an unprotected A.C. outlet can be damaged. For full protection make sure that all of your video equipment is protected by surge supressors. We recommend using a whole house surge supressor installed at your circuit box, it can protect your entire video production facilty from bad voltage spikes! Individual wall mounted surge supressors are also recommended for your most precious video equipment!

6.) Make sure you don't have any "ground loops". Several pieces of electronic equipment connected to different wall outlets can often cause rolling grey hum bars in the picture and a hum in the sound. One quick test is to place the playback VCR in "pause", then turn up the audio volume to see if any buzz or noise is present. You can read more about ground loops and hum bars here.

7.) Use a pulse-cross monitor. Monitor playback using a pulse-cross monitor. This will show you the sync pulses and allow you to fine tune the tracking during playback. TIP: sticky shed tapes are immediately evident when using a pulse-cross monitor (the sync pulses bend badly as the sticky tape drags across the tape drum)..

8.) Choose the Hi-Fi soundtrack. Hi-Fi sound is much superior to the standard linear audio sound. So if the customer's tape has HiFi, choose it! TIP: On some VCRs there's a HiFi-Linear mix switch, don't use this, you'll get a weird echo effect during playback.

9.) Finally, monitor the tape transfer. Your customers expect the very best, so keep checking playback during the transfer process! Check the playback quality every 5-10 minutes. You don't want to leave, then come back 2 hours later  just to find that a tape splice has clogged the video heads!

~ Tom Grant & Art Argalby
April 2024

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