Its not just about the tape....
I love my job. Its plane and simple. There is no greater satisfaction in having a portal to the past - a time machine, that enables one to see how we as a society has evolved. Seeing people develop physically, characteristically, and mentally. The great structures of our cities as they once were, or where they once stood. Fashions, foods, transport... everything has changed. I sit and watch this everyday through my client's film and videos, and it is something that I cherish doing.
But, this is not always the case.
Sometimes its a matter of taking a deep breath and hoping for the best."Why?" you say.
Well, there are those moments when a client's tape is put into the player, and nothing happens. I look at the tape counter and a message appears: "Tape Error"
Yes folks, this does happen.
VHS cassettes, in particular the 3hr and 4hr durations, were made much more thinly than the 90mins or 2hr versions, and in time, regardless of how well the tape has been stored, the material will break from the mechanical stresses of the tape machine.
The solution is simple - repair the tape. Not a major problem that can't be fixed without a screwdriver, a pair of scissors and good old Scotch tape.
So, if the problem can be solved so easily what's the worry?? Is'nt it "Just about the tape???"
Well, get this. It's not.
Lately, I have been getting a consistent problem re-occurring with cassette housings. A problem that I have not been having previously but which is becoming more apparent as the years go by, and old media is getting older (like anything I guess).
Its not about the tape - its about the housing. That's right. The plastic housing of the cassettes are starting to get very brittle and break. When this happens, the job of being a video archivist (yours truly), one that you bestow trust in to digitise your priceless memories, becomes a lot more difficult.
I was given a project recently of about 30 odd VHS tapes. On first inspection they seemed ok. Some were covered in a white dust (possibly from concrete as they were stored in a garage in suburban Sydney, NSW). I proceeded to thoroughly clean their exterior with a light damp cloth to remove all particles. Surprisingly the majority played well... except for 2 of them. The dreaded 'Tape Error' message appeared. Luckily the eject mechanism enabled me to retrieve the cassettes. On first inspection, the tape was not broken...but, something was stopping their rotation.
I got my tools out and carefully opened the cartridge. Even in removing the two sides of the cartridge compartment did not prevent what I found. There were broken bits of plastic reel guides, springs that had nowhere to hold, plastic reels lying where pins moulded to the case were meant to be. In a nutshell, the case had deteriorated and broke up from sudden movement after years of inactivity.
If I had no spare VHS cartridges, the media would have been lost. Luckily I had a sacrificial VHS tape (my own of course) , took it apart and proceeded to remove the tape reel inside and replace it with the customer's reel. The media was digitised and saved!
Guys, the message is simple:
Get your memories archived MUCH sooner rather than later, before its too late.