Transferring images on tape to a computer file is becoming harder to achieve given the physical quality of many of the tapes we see. Following our move to bigger premises we have expanded the tape transfer and digitisation service.
There are a bewildering number of formats. In addition, they come in various electronic flavours. Regardless of format, we now charge by the time taken to do the job.
PAL and NTSC are terms you may hear mentioned. They refer to the electronic system used to record the image. Our comprehensive resource can play all broadcast tapes and a good number of domestic formats regardless of the system used.
Millions of digibeta edit master tapes are to be found in vaults – what if you want a copy? Many older programmes recorded on U-matic tapes are still a very important source of archive material, that’s if the tape will play. Domestic formats will contain priceless personal images. So, there is plenty to keep us busy.
Tapes are made from plastic, glue and iron filings.
There are three problems with video and audio tapes:
Sticky tape shed and
Physical stretch and general mechanical deterioration.
There is only so much we can do about these. If the tape is unplayable in some ways that is easy, nothing can be done, or if it is in good mechanical condition we can do a lot electronically to get the best out of the recording. It is the middle ground that causes grief.
Mould leads to destruction of the tape so makes it difficult to play but usually we can get something.
Sticky tape shed is where the binder absorbs moisture and the tape will stick to itself, leaving a residue on the oxide side. This will clog the playback head and stick to it and the rollers, making a screaming noise. It can quickly wreck a video recorder. Heat treatment can be effective, although is controversial (130F for 4 to 10 hours.) We have had some amazing successes (and I should add, failures). A low humidity environment can also be helpful.
Related is oxide shed when the recording medium comes away from the tape. This is easy to spot, usually you get a couple of minutes playback then video head clog and white snow.
Physical damage is difficult as this leads to tracking errors, that no machine can cope with, but you hope that with fiddling you can solve – actually you can’t. Optimism is misplaced and it is too easy to promise recovery when it can’t be done.
Before use, let the machine and tape come to room temperature (at least 2 hours). Condensation is another enemy.
All this then needs a realistic discussion about how to proceed and the cost involved.
These days, before transferring to a digital file, unless the tape is in perfect condition, we have found it best to produce a digital intermediate tape. The reason being that the computer capture card and software can’t cope with a poor quality signal.
There are specialist firms that can attempt recovery, but the cost is prohibitive for the normal user and the results disappointing. They are most often used in a forensic setting where the actual information is critical, and the artistic elements rather less so.
So there we are, I know lots of firms advertise a doom and gloom message, to encourage you to transfer your tapes to a digital domain, and it might seem just a marketing gimmick. The trouble is that majority of our transfer work involves tapes with the problems I’ve outlined. And that becomes a tough sell so actually, it is good advice.
This is quite a question. Video tapes do not last forever and can be affected by mould and damp. Some makes are particularily affected by sticky tape shed where the physical structure of the tape disintigrates. Then there is dust and magnetic drop-out. Hard drive and solid state media can also become unplayable.
We make digital tape back-up copies in addition to DVD and Blu-ray archiving. Time will tell whether this is good enough or not. Another option that some of our clients like, such as the British Film Institute, is to back-up on to LTO tape, which has been designed for the job. We have invested in a plug and play USB3 LTO 6 drive which is available for hire. In truth, it is a bit of a hassle to set up but we can show you how to use it.
We can transfer most vintage PAL and NTSC tape formats to a digital tape or digital file. We have a good number of different machines and usually can find one that will play a tape in poor condition. Quite often there are tracking errors on recorded tapes so it is useful to have a choice of machines for that reason as well.
We cover all types of U-matic formats and have been fortunate to have sourced machines in good working order. Betacam also comes in a variety of analogue and digital formats and we can offer several playback machine options to cover Betacam, Betacam SP, digibeta and beta SX, in PAL and NTSC.
We regards to non-broadcast formats we offer transfer from Betamax, S-VHS (PAL and NTSC), and Hi 8. In fact we often have most trouble with these tapes. In part, because they are fragile and in part because of the way they are often stored. However, to date we have always managed to recover vital footage.
Our machines are maintained in first-class working order, at times it seems to me regardless of cost.
As well as physical issues with tapes, often the image quality and electronic stability are problematic. This is where timebase correctors are so helpful. We have several, all doing things a little differently. We can also convert NTSC to PAL, using proper NTSC video recorders and 4 field standards converters. These enhancements, used wisely ensure that the image is as good as realistically possible.
It is very useful to have a digital tape copy of your material. In addition to archiving, experience shows that play-in from analogue tape is more likely to be successful when done in this manner. We offer capture to digital files via Serial Digital Interface (SDI), as this usually offers the best quality. There are almost limitless possibilities as far as which format to use, in general capturing in the format you propose to edit in makes most sense. Although you may want an uncompressed archive version to keep for future use.
We have kept the pricing simple, based more on time involved rather than which formats are involved etc. Also, you are most welcome to be around during transfers.