Common Issues We See With Video Tapes
We Receive video tapes from our customers in all shapes, sizes and conditions. We can almost always convert any given tape to digital, but sometimes it takes special equipment or extra work. When tapes come in damaged in some way that prevents a normal playback, we can usually solve the problem. Here are five of the most common problems for old tapes as well as the repair method we use to correct the issue:
If your tapes have any exposure to dampness, water, dust, or humid environments like attics and basements, it is likely that there will be some molding in the tiny cracks and bends of the tape. The bad news is that moldy tapes will often go unnoticed if they're unused for a while. The longer the mold has to grow on the tapes, the worse damage the tapes will suffer.
Once you have mold on your tapes, it will be hard not to notice. There will be a white or green dust-like substance covering the inside of the tape container, and the tapes themselves will have the mould on the surface of the spool or twisted into the layers. Yuk.
The best way to ensure that your tapes are safe from the threat of mold is to check on them often, at least once a month, for mold growth. It is pertinent to store your tapes in a dry, humidity-free space with as little exposure to light as possible. If you take all these precautions, your tapes should last much longer than they would in a dusty, wet basement.
How bad the damage is depends on whether or not the mould has got into the actual tape layers. If it is just on the surface we can clean it using specific machines we use for the purpose, this stops the mould clogging our expensive video players. If it has got right inside the tape layers sometimes it is impossible to salvage the tape as this causes the layers to stick together and the tape keeps tearing on playing. Cleaning mouldy tapes is an unpleasant task and quite time consuming, sometimes we will need to charge extra for this process, but we always advise you beforehand.
While taking good care of your tapes will preserve them for much longer than leaving them in a box in the attic, the absolute best way to preserve those special home videos is to have them digitised. There is no better way to ensure your memories will be safe throughout the years than converting your memories into modern MP4 digital files.
Some evident crystal-like white powder looks like mould at first glance. In reality it is a chemical reaction that happens as the VHS tape slowly breaks down. Soon enough, the fine, flaky powder will cover the inside of your VHS deck, and the VHS deck head which reads the tape will stop producing a clean image. You will start to see more and more issues with playback as that powder continues to build up on the tape head. We clean these tapes, again, in a separate machine before completing the transfer, in most cases it is successful.
MAGNETIC TAPE DETERIORATION
This is a direct issue with the magnetic tape itself, and can’t be repaired directly. In most cases the damage isn’t usually severe and only cause the video images to become shaky and unstable; occasionally thin lines appear on the screen. In less severe cases the video tapes are still perfectly watchable despite the deterioration. In more severe cases, ‘frame hold’ can occur. The image will jump around the screen with black bars in the image itself. There is no actual repair that can be done for this, it is just a questions of testing the tape is several machines and often one machine deal with the issue better than another.
DIGITAL TAPE CORRUPTION
This problem only applies to certain type of tapes, newer video cassettes like Digital 8 tapes and mini DVs. Unfortunately, we are never able to fully recover the lost footage from this type of damage. It usually occurs during the original recording, and as a result some of the footage isn’t captured properly at all. We also see this kind of distortion as a result of a deterioration of the magnetic tape. In severe cases, digital corruption results in a complete loss in audio and a heavy pixilation of the image, with coloured squares moving around the image.. Typically we don’t see this throughout an entire tape and in most cases we can recover most of the footage on the tape.
Whilst not a common problem it can be really irritating, it creates instances of skipping throughout all or part of a video tape. The issue can be caused by two different factors: tape tension loss or tape warping. Tape tension is a common issue to impact VHS tapes, and can occur in storage. We fast forward and rewind tape before digitising to reduce tension issues, but some tapes can require additional attention to eliminate the issue. Tape warping is a different problem, this is when the tape itself starts to stretch or bend causing capture issues during playback. The tape is not flat any longer and there fore does not contact the tape heads properly. This issue can sometimes be improved, but the improvement is often minimal. In these instances, we can actually unwind and re-spool the entire videotape in order to alleviate the issue.
TAPE CREASE ERRORS
As the name suggests, Tape Crease error occurs when the magnetic tape has been creased or crumpled up. This frequently occurs with tapes that have become stuck in a VCR or camcorder. The issue causes the playback of the tape to distort. Sometimes, a horizontal smear will appear at the top of the screen. VHS-C tapes are particularly susceptible to Tape Crease problems; this is due to the fact that the tape and mechanisms are generally looser and more fragile than the other tape formats. Additionally, certain VHS-C adapters may also cause some damage to the tapes, especially with prolonged use. Unfortunately, there is very little we can do to reverse the effects of a tape crease, but fortunately is usually confined to only one area.
TAPE SNAPS & TEARS
This is a very common issue, it is however quite straight forward to repair and we always get something that is watchable afterwards. When a part of the video tape snaps due to it being fragile or brittle, we can re-attach the two pieces and continue with the digital transfer. We simply splice the tape back together and continue with very little loss of footage.
All of the repairs that can be done on issues that affect the quality tape are to the physical tape itself, rather than the digital file. Whilst there are things we can do to the digital file we create the biggest single factor to affect the quality of a tape transfer is the condition of the video tape itself. Get them digitised before it's too late!