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Old 04-21-2019, 12:02 AM
UltraVires is offline
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VHS tapes and tape degradation--also TV inputs


Two related questions:

1) I got a box of old "mini" VHS tapes from my mom this weekend. They are little tapes that you put inside a bigger VHS size tape and the device spools the tape out and allows it to play in a VHS player.

The VHS player is a known good one.

The tapes are about 30 years old and contain priceless family memories. The first tape I put in was nearly flawless with a few areas in which the display would stop and the TV would flash "No Signal." If I stop, fast forward, and then play, I get about 1 frame of good video and again, "No Signal."

All of the subsequent tapes were the reverse: a few areas where I could watch and the vast majority of the remainder was "No Signal"

First Question: Are the tapes hosed? Physically they look fine. Does VHS data simply degrade from being in a box? Any tips?

2) Is there any way I can get rid of the "No Signal" message? I don't care if it is white noise or snow on the TV, I want to watch the output from the VCR, not what the TV thinks I want to see. Any common way to get that setting?

Many thanks in advance.
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Old 04-21-2019, 12:07 AM
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To follow up: this is the type of device I have. Perhaps "mini VHS" was not the proper term.

https://www.amazon.com/Electrovision...a-507442175237

ETA: I thought maybe this device was "bad" but all it seems to do is spool the tape out to regular VHS length, and it is doing that, so I don't believe it could be "bad." But if I'm wrong, I'll try replacing it.

Last edited by UltraVires; 04-21-2019 at 12:08 AM.
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Old 04-21-2019, 12:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UltraVires View Post
First Question: Are the tapes hosed? Physically they look fine. Does VHS data simply degrade from being in a box? Any tips?
They may well be hosed. 30 years is a really long time for magnetic media. This site describes the various issues with VHS tapes over time, including the magnetic charges on the tape weakening, or getting scrambled if they were near a magnet for any length of time. I imagine that, depending on where they were stored, variations in temperature and humidity could also have damaged the tapes.

It suggests that one could expect to begin to see significant picture quality degradation after 10 to 25 years, and your tapes are older still.

You may need to take them to a professional who specializes in working with old VHS tapes, and transferring them to DVD or other media, to see what can be salvaged.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 04-21-2019 at 12:26 AM.
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Old 04-21-2019, 04:04 AM
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There is now consensus among AUDIOVISUAL archives internationally that we will not be able to support large‑scale digitisation of magnetic media in the very near future. Tape that is not digitised by 2025 will in most cases be lost forever.

This is from Deadline 2025, the Australian National Film and Sound Archive's discussion paper on the topic. While it focussed on the digitisation of video collections, the underlying technical issues for individual tapes are as Kenobi sets out. Your tapes are deteriorating while you are reading this. Precious ones may be recoverable for a while by specialists but waiting any longer is not going to make it easier or cheaper.
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Old 04-21-2019, 07:11 AM
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[QUOTE=UltraVires;21601044]To follow up: this is the type of device I have. Perhaps "mini VHS" was not the proper term]

I believe these were called VHS-C back in the day. Used in camcorders to cut down on the weight and bulk before they went all digital.

I have an old top-loading JVC VHS deck that will play the ones I have. My old front-loading deck will not play them. Not sure why, but I suspect a misalignment somewhere.

Last edited by campp; 04-21-2019 at 07:12 AM.
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Old 04-21-2019, 07:41 AM
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I do quite a bit of work with VHS and VHS-C tapes, but I can't add a lot to what has already been said. I'll make just a few comments.

Contrary to what video rental stores say, tapes should ALWAYS be stored in the played condition. This ensures the most even winding of the tape and prevents blow-outs.

A video stabilizer unit MAY help. You are probably getting the message from your TV because the sync signal(s) in the composite video is/are weak or erratic. Again, a stabilizer MIGHT help. A simple unit is not very expensive. (BTW, new video monitors are much less tolerant of this problem. In my experience, older non-digital CRT units will often display a picture under these circumstances. Good analog video capture cards may also handle the degraded signal satisfactorily.)

VHS-C adapters are notorious for having alignment and transport problems. It is not at all unusual for a VHS player to require adjustment (including alignment) to play VHS-C tapes in a specific adapter consistently. If you are brave enough, you can try this yourself. What have you got to lose? There are several sites that go over the basics on adjusting VHS players. Normally, we would use a special alignment reference tape to make the adjustments, but you are going to be optimizing the player for your specific situation and adapter, so you won't need an alignment tape. You may even find that you need to adjust for specific VHS-C tapes you have.

Last edited by ZonexandScout; 04-21-2019 at 07:44 AM.
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Old 04-21-2019, 08:03 AM
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Yeah, VHS-C is a problem right there. Look around to see if there's a VHS-C camera with RCA outputs in the family (and that can run off an AC adapter).

Before trying to dupe a tape, always run it thru a FF/WW cycle the whole length.

Be prepared to run a wet head cleaner thru the machine fairly often. This may be why the first tape was mostly good and the others not.
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Old 04-21-2019, 08:26 AM
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To the OP: Are you sure you are working with VHS-C tapes? If you are confusing VHS-C with 8mm or some other size/format, that could explain the "no signal" message, no matter what the tape condition is.

Discussions like this often make the claim that all tapes over X years are no good. While I don't have any video tapes over 40 years old, I do have many audio tapes with varying ages, up to 65 years old, all of which have been stored in the same environment for their lifetime.

I have some audio tapes from the 1950's that are perfectly playable and show very little signs of age (slight cupping which flattens when passed by playback heads). And I have tapes from the 1970's that are too gummed up to play at all. Some of these are stored next to other tapes of the same age, same brand, same formula, that are perfectly playable.

So I can conclude that while age may be a big factor, it is not the only one.

Let me provide an anecdote. Around 1975, I was using so much audio tape that I was buying it in bulk -- a case of 10" "pancake" spools that were rolled off into smaller hubs. Opening a new box direct from the distributor one day, I found that the tape was shedding badly when passing the heads of a professional recorder. After only a minute or two, I had to clean the heads again.

Maybe a bad reel? But the same thing happened with other reels in this box. Since this was professional Ampex 206, I called the manufacturer's rep who came by and saw what I was doing. I gave him the entire box and he exchanged it with a new one. The rep said, "It must have been a bad batch." I wonder how many boxes of this batch are still in someone's library, but were bad from the start?

I have a collection of cassette tapes from the same era. Most are entirely playable; a few are not. I once had a custom house wind up a batch of cassette blanks in odd lengths since I found the commercial lengths a waste. I don't know what kind of tape they used, but I always thought it was generic. Nevertheless, none of these have ever become unplayable.

So brand or formula is no guarantee of longevity; even high-quality tapes can become defective, and low quality tapes aren't necessarily junk over time.
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Old 04-21-2019, 08:36 AM
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UltraVires, my advice would be to find a professional restoration service. They use tactics like heat treating that might be of use, but too dangerous for you to try yourself.

If the subject matter is important to you, get a digital transfer ASAP. It will only get more difficult the longer you wait.

Also, don't use the services that merely say they will transfer to standard DVDs. A DVD, by today's standards, is not as good as a hi-res digital file, and DVDs have longevity problems as well.

If you can possibly justify the storage space, don't throw away your originals! Who knows what new technology might come along that you might benefit from?
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Old 04-21-2019, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
Yeah, VHS-C is a problem right there. Look around to see if there's a VHS-C camera with RCA outputs in the family (and that can run off an AC adapter).

Before trying to dupe a tape, always run it thru a FF/WW cycle the whole length.

Be prepared to run a wet head cleaner thru the machine fairly often. This may be why the first tape was mostly good and the others not.
I ordered a head cleaner from Amazon. Now when I play the first tape that seemed okay, it is mostly bad.

I have no VHS-C cameras in the family. Nobody knows what happened to the original.
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Old 04-21-2019, 11:57 AM
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I have no VHS-C cameras in the family. Nobody knows what happened to the original.
You can find them on eBay. Most of the buyers (and probably the sellers) want them for the same thing.
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Old 04-21-2019, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
To the OP: Are you sure you are working with VHS-C tapes? If you are confusing VHS-C with 8mm or some other size/format, that could explain the "no signal" message, no matter what the tape condition is.

Someone would have to be pretty much the dumbest person on the face of the Earth to be jamming an 8mm tape into a VHS-C adapter and thinking that that works. The two formats aren't the same size or shape.
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Old 04-21-2019, 01:06 PM
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It's been pretty well covered, but yes, go to the pros. Don't assume the tapes are irrecoverable. Although the tape format wasn't intended to last, they can be surprisingly resilient--I once had good results WITHOUT a lot of conservation from video and audio tapes that had been sitting for years in a metal container exposed to extremes of heat and cold. That said you should still have them examined and transferred by someone who knows what they're doing, as it is possible that the next time they're played will be the last.

As for storage, I recommend a good RAID hard drive plus cloud backup. Hard drives don't last either so you'll want to transfer to a new one every few years. Or you could use what networks do and put them on LTO tape storage--now fairly affordable. LTO isn't an easy way to play things back though, so you'll want a separate copy for making family videos and so on.
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Old 04-21-2019, 05:28 PM
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Professional restoration services for tapes like these can be fairly expensive, but they can often pull an acceptable signal from tapes with a little bit of electronic signal processing. (See my previous comment.) When I'm given a VHS tape with problem, the first thing I do is pop in a machine and check the signal with an oscilloscope. Nine times out of ten, the signal is just a bit unstable. The sync pulses are a bit low or require TBC, both of which are easily fixed.

The problem with "NO SIGNAL" appearing on your monitor is because it can't lock in on the sync pulses and so it doesn't think there's any video signal at all. Again, some video stabilizers MIGHT be able to correct this for less than $100. When I do video capture, I use old-fashioned analog input PCI capture cards and they do a much better job than most of the newer vidcap gadgets.
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Old 04-21-2019, 10:39 PM
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I very much appreciate the advice so far. I wonder if anyone is able to answer the second question. I believe that it is my right as an American to view static on my TV. Is there no way to make the TV not think for itself and let me hear white noise and/or see what the VCR is putting out?
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Old 04-21-2019, 10:47 PM
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I very much appreciate the advice so far. I wonder if anyone is able to answer the second question. I believe that it is my right as an American to view static on my TV. Is there no way to make the TV not think for itself and let me hear white noise and/or see what the VCR is putting out?
Probably not with a newer digital TV. The analog to digital converter circuitry will not recognize a weak or corrupted video signal and it will do exactly what you describe. As I mentioned above, an analog CRT unit will give you the static, or whatever signal is input. It is (slightly) possible that you can output a modulated analog signal (usually channel 3 or 4 using the old analog broadcast system) on coax cable and tune your TV to it, but that depends on how old your TV is.

Another question...have you tried other VCRs? They may vary a great deal in their ability to play back your tapes.
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Old 04-22-2019, 08:33 AM
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Clean the heads often when using old tapes.
My company is in the process of transferring old tapes to digital archives and the machines are cleaned after every tape.
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Old 04-22-2019, 11:33 AM
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I can't believe I didn't mention in my previous post that using S-Video connector instead of RCA will probably give a better result (if available).

OTOH, how long has it been since I even thought of S-Video???
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