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VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating

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jdVHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 1, 2006 at 12:47:13 pm

I'm not sure if this is the right forum but I have a VHS Cassette of a wedding that is 17 years old not cooperating when trying to transfer it to FCP or my camcorder from a VTR.

The problem is that the image drops out from time to time. When capturing to my camcorder the image goes scrambled now and then. There is no rhyme or reason to where the video gets scrambled , it happens at different points in the tape each time I attempt to capture.

I also have been trying to bring it directly into FCP using a Pyro A/V link. I have FCP set to abort capture upon dropped frames and the the funny thing is it will never abort or report dropped frames. FCP does report timecode breaks caused by the scrambled video. The same thing happens though , the video kind of skips and staggers when trying to capture.

I have ruled out my Macs' system resources and the VTR because other VHS cassettes acquire perfectly fine to FCP as well as the camera.

I believe it is just the casette that is so old that is the issue. The brand name of the cassette is a "CERTRON", T-120 VHS.

I can eventually acquire the wedding by making numerous attempts but I was wondering if anyone has any other suggestions.(?) Also has any one heard of this brand tape? I'm assuming it is was not the highest of quality back in the day.


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jimRe: VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 1, 2006 at 1:28:04 pm

I don't remember hearing the brand name of Certron tape, but any vhs that old might have problems. The information on magnetic tape is stored in a thin oxide layer on a flexible substrate (probably a ribbon of mylar.) The substrate can stretch, break, or get wrinkled from being used many times or from a malfunctioning tape transport. The oxide can come off the ribbon through wear or just aging. VHS (any tape probably) physically deterioriates as it ages. The impurities in some brands can accelerate the process.

Since the dropouts happen at different points each time you capture, the magnetic oxide hasn't come off the tape (yet.) My guess is that the tape might have wrinkles, edge wear, or is stretched from being played numerous times (probably in a player that wasn't regularly maintained.)

High-end VHS decks have electronics to compensate for worn tapes and can often track in spite of wear or stretching. You have already found the best workaround by capturing several times and using the good parts of each capture.

I pick up a few extra coins now-and-then working on those older personal videos that have become priceless as the years wore on. For what its worth, I have searched-there's NO magic button, plug-in, or procedure that will make that wobbly hand-held old camcorder footage look as good as a $50K high-end camera on a rock-solid tripod, and run by an experienced camera op.

You can however, make it look better - sometimes a LOT better! I've tried to write about this idea a bit on my (rather neglected) blog at, but a half-hour of googling or here at the COW will yield tons of "how to tweak your video" information.

If this tape contains footage important to you, my suggestion would be to take the good capture and save it off to another medium. Of course, any tape will be having similar problems in another 20-30 years.

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Doug GrahamRe: VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 1, 2006 at 3:38:55 pm

You probably need a more capable playback deck. A professional VTR will have better tracking ability when the signal from the tape gets weak. It will also have a built-in genlock to send a strong sync signal to the capture card (or if not, the signal can be sent to an outboard genlock before sending it on to the computer.)

If this footage is very important, there are companies that specialize in recovering and restoring images from old or damaged media.

Doug Graham

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Frank NolanRe: VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 2, 2006 at 8:19:57 pm

Try adding a Time base corrector between the VCR and your input device

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Mark SuszkoRe: VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 2, 2006 at 10:19:22 pm

If memory serves, Certron was a house brand of tape sold at Radio Shack. My guess is it was cheap Mexican reloads, that is, the ends of rolls from larger ones at big tape loading companies, sold off to maquladoras on the border where they assemble the blank tapes you find in the dollar discount store. The most infamous brand of this kind of stuff to me was Tozai. I must have 20 or more of those Tozai and Certron in my basement archives from the 80's and 90's, but all I used them for was recording Tv shows. This was a cheap brand of tape and is probably breaking down now.

Time base corrector will help, as long as there is no malfunction of the tape inside the shell itself. You *could* perform some surgery and transplant the tape and hubs into a new shell. Before going that drastic, do an extra-thorough cleaning of the tape player's heads, pinch rollers, the entire tape path, guides, etc. because the lubricants of this tape are probably shot from poor storage. Thus you get dropouts from bits of oxide flaking off and taking the signal with it, as well as gunk building up and grabbing at the tape thus disrupting synch. If the users were not pros, they might also have changed recording speeds a time or two to get more stuff on one cassette.

Try using a pro level S-VHS deck as the feeder, with the comb filters and automatic compensators turned on.

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jdRe: VHS Cassette that is 18 years old not cooperating
by on Dec 8, 2006 at 3:19:26 am

Thank you all for the help. Mark thanks for verifying that the tape is a cheap one. And though RadioShack has been somewhat of an oracle to me over the years they do carry there fair share of cheap stuff. It's a good thing this tape is being saved now because in a couple more years, who know's , it may be to late.
I managed to acquire most of the clips I needed for the beginning montage but it took numerous attempts with my consumer VTR. For the full continuous wedding and ceremony part of the project I think I'll need to re-acquire using a professional deck if I can rent one. Can anyone recomend a rental house around Boston?

Thanks again,

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