Tape-to-disc archiving

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THE VHS system, introduced in 1978 and having dominated the home video recording market for a quarter of a century, has now virtually disappeared from shop shelves, replaced by DVD recorders. Its decline – like CRT display TVs – was faster than most people expected, and initially was manufacturer-led rather than by user demand.
Many of my customers still prefer the wellunderstood videotape system, but there’s no doubt that digital record/playback systems have many advantages over tape-based analogue ones, primarily a better quality picture and fast segment access.


VHS machines and tapes are becoming harder to find and as obsolescence sets in, the spares and skills required to repair and service the hardware are declining likewise. The biggest problem for the punter, otherwise happy to buy a good value DVD recorder, is what to do about the scores (sometimes hundreds) of VHS tapes he has lying about the house. In the UK there are millions of hoarded cassettes containing everything from old episodes of Coronation Street to priceless footage of weddings, holidays and other family stuff. As the dealer, you are most likely to be asked how to solve this problem. You can just bung them a VHS/DVD combi, but in your role as an expert independent dealer and advisor there’s more to know than that.

Getting it across

Copying video from tape to disc is less ‘lossy’ than transfer to another analogue vehicle. The best replay resource is not a combi machine, but the deck on which the tape was recorded, so long as it’s in good condition – using this you get absolute compatibility in terms of tracking. The best AV coupling an ordinary VCR can afford is composite video, conveyed in a Scart lead to the disc recorder. In the DVD burner you get a choice of recording speeds, traded off against bit-rates, and for VHS-sourced material the best compromise is generally the secondor third-fastest recording speed, which will offer two or three hours’ running time per disc. If the VHS original is old or ‘ragged’, a DVD recorder equipped with a TBC (timebase corrector) can help stabilise the recorded picture by eliminating timing jitter in the video signal. The choice between +R and -R disc formats is really now an arbitrary one since compatibility between all types of recorders and players has improved so much. A DVD recorder with HDD built in is useful if any sort of editing is envisaged.

A PC can be used to make the transfer between tape and disc. While it’s not as convenient as a stand-alone recorder it offers the best editing facilities, using special software or just that bundled with the pre-loaded operating system, eg Windows XP or Vista. Here the programme can be assembled onto the hard disc using a variety of tools and effects, and then burned onto the DVD: this is of particular interest to those with home-movie footage of any age, calling at its simplest just for an appropriate capture card, analogue or digital as the case may be.

Media and storage

Regarding the actual media, +R or -R (write once) discs are appropriate for archiving, and they needn’t be the most expensive ones, coming in bulk packs for this purpose. They are most economically stored in plastic sleeves, and those which won’t be needed for a while can be air-sealed with sticky tape. For ‘priceless’ footage it’s a good idea to make two copies and store them separately, or keep the old VHS cassettes, stored upright not in the attic but in a cupboard or box in a dwelling room to ensure reasonably even temperature and humidity. These conditions are also good for the DVD recordings.

The future

The change from analogue to digital is the most significant step in home video recording, but that the content is more important than the system is shown by, for instance, black and white material – like old Super-8 transcriptions and ancient films – being transferred to the new media. A great advantage of a digital recording, be it optical or magnetic, is easy, fast and loss-free transfer to the next generation of storage media, with no movement involved in its record and playback. It will be in chip form, probably on a thin card. It won’t be long in coming now, and it will get very cheap. Large storage capacities and new compression systems will enable complete movies, for instance, to be stored in creditcard sized packages. Wow.

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