Most 1/2" reel to reel videocorders (VTRs) were manufactured between 1965 and 1971. By now, most extant videotapes in this format exhibit mold and "sticky shed" syndrome. Transferring reel to reel videotapes to digital is now, typically, a formidable task. Here's some tips that will help with your transfers. This article refers to Sony AV-3600, Sony AV-3650, Sony AV-8650, Sony CV-2000, Sony CV-2600 and many other 1/2" reel video recorders from the period.
Skew - Use the "skew" adjustment knob to vary the back tension as the tape plays. It's very helpful to monitor the tape playback on a pulse-cross monitor. Adjust the skew for the best placement of the sync (see photos)
If the tape you are playing has sticky shed syndrome, the pulse cross will look quite abnormal since the tape is dragging as it passes through the tape path. The pulse cross will bend to the left.(see photo)
Tracking - Some VTRs have a "tracking" control knob. Adjust the "tracking" to achieve the best, most stable, picture. On VTR's with tracking meters, adjust the control for the highest meter reading. If you have access to a pulse cross monitor, roll the tracking noise into the black bar of the pulse cross.
Sticky tapes - If tapes freeze during "play" of "fast forward", they are probably exhibiting "sticky shed" syndrome. Follow our advice for baking tapes, then clean the tape path thoroughly and completely before playing a tape again.
Cleaning the tape guides - Old tapes and "sticky tapes" will quickly place deposits on the tape guides and video head drum making playback impossible. You need to clean these frequently using 91% isopropyl alcohol. If a tape you have baked still sticks during payback, bake it again for another 8 hours following our instructions. Scrupulously clean the entire tape path. To clean hidden areas of the tape guides, cut a 1" x 6" piece of typing paper. Wet the typing paper with the isopropyl alcohol. Then wrap it around the main guides (see photo) and work it back and forth to clean the stickiness from behind the tape guides. You may have to repeat this process several times if the tape starts to stick again during playback. If the tape continues to stick, bake it again.
Use a Time Base Corrector: Sony reel-to-reel VTR's manufactured between 1965 and 1971 were designed to play back on companion Sony TV monitors. These monitors had a short time constant which effectively disguised many of the playback errors at the top of the TV screen, typically appearing as flagging, or bending, at the top of the picture. During the 1970's many consumer TV sets had to have their circuits modified so that they could play back reel-to-reel video tapes correctly. Today, to properly transfer a reel-to-reel videotape to digital, you need run the video output of the VTR through a time base corrector. This stabilizes and purifies the video image so that it's suitable for digital capture.
Always monitor the tape when it's in "rewind" or "fast forward" - You never know what can happen with an unknown tape. A tape can play back properly but it can have a certain spot that are sticky. If the tape suddenly sticks during rewind, it can slip inside the head drum and destroy the spinning video heads. It's always best to be right there when your tapes are rewinding!
Dropout problems - Older video machines often didn't have dropout compensator circuits. On the old Sony reel-to-reel VTRs it's typical to see horizontal flashes, or dropout, as the tape plays. This represents damaged or missing magnetic oxide on the tapes. Videotape was very expensive back in 1970, about $20 (in 1970 dollars) for a 7" reel of 60 minute tape. To save money, Universities and Colleges typically kept erasing and reusing their video tapes. Because of this, many old videotapes often exhibit a tremendous amount of dropouts.
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