So as many of you have known, or guessed, I have been converting some VHS home videos taken by my parents onto DVDs. Despite the various specs of why VHS tapes are better than DVDs some people still wonder why you should do this? They don’t expect their VHS tapes to die one day – and they think they’ll just keep on working.
But they indeed can die. VHS tapes age also, they can fade, become more fragile, loose their video and sound, or be eaten up by fussy VCRs. The only way to prevent this is to copy your tapes and keep them safe. You can’t risk losing your only copy of your home videos. In the past while transferring a VHS tape from 1982 there were a few drop-outs of video, where only the sound remained. The lifetime of the tape will be directly effected by the brand/quality of the tape. The times the tape has been watched and the quality mode that was set when recording the tape. One tape almost bit the dust during my transfer process, below is what happened to me and how I was able to avoid losing the tape.
Saturday evening I was about to start the transfer of another VHS tape to a DVD. This one was a Scotch Camcorder Pro (full-size) VHS tape. Labeled Disney World 1992 I have no doubt that the tape would be great to watch. So I insert the cassette into my VCR and press rewind to put the tape back into the begging. Unfortunately something was about to go very wrong. The VCR whirled up and rewound the tape to the beginning. I pressed play to see if there was any video on the screen – there was, but I had overshot the beginning. I rewound the tape less than a second to start it over as I held the DVD recorder remote in my hand, ready to press record.
But nothing appeared on the screen… just a blue screen. Curiously I paused and played the tape again, even rewinding it. Noticing the VCR was not making it’s normal noises I thought something was wrong – this was confirmed when the VCR refused to do anything with the tape and started ejecting it. Now I was concerned, is the tape damaged? Will I be able to recover this tape?? I took the tape out to examine it. The tape’s film-like track wasn’t crumbled or bent, the VCR didn’t eat the tape, so what’s the problem? Uh-oh, then I noticed it. The reel to the right side of the tape was missing – gone, it had snapped off the internal reel of the VHS cassette! I panicked and thought the tape was destroyed. Being home video tapes these are the only copies that exist, excluding some rare chances where we made another VHS copy for relatives, which were few and far between.
“So what do I do now?” I thought – well I did what I always do when I need help, I use Google! One of the first results was a How-To article on the helpful site eHow.com. The article is titled “How to Repair a Broken VHS Video Tape” written by the user Jennifer Claerr. Skimming through the article I notice photos of a VHS tape that is taken apart. As I read the article I start to calm down, it doesn’t seem too difficult. I recall my father fixing an audio cassette for my brother when we were younger. So I got down to business – I placed the tape on the kitchen tablet and unscrewed five or six screws holding the tape together. I almost had the tape opened, but the side label was causing it to keep together, carefully cutting the label down the middle the tape was opened.
The problem was more clear then it had seemed before. The tape on the reel was no longer attached, meaning all the tape was on one side, it could not transfer to the other side, or be read by the VCR. I followed the instructions and took notice on exactly how the tape fed through the cassette. Each one can be a bit different, so take notice, I realized this the hard way. I carefully unwound the edge of the tape that had snapped off. Boy was I lucky – no tape was ripped off or damaged, it was just a clear plastic tab connected to the reel. But in the process of unwinding the spool the tape almost fell off the table – the plastic scratched against the fragile magnetic tape, skimming a hair or two off from either side of the tape. I was worried, but the damage didn’t seem too bad.
Now to repair it. I read about using tape, but I was concerned about having this break again, so I decided to use some packaging tape, which would be stronger then regular tape. I placed some tape on each side to where the clear plastic tape had separated from each end. Screwing the tape back together I hoped that no footage would be lost by this repair, I setup the VCR and DVD recorder to be ready to record things on the first try, I did not want to have to rewind the tape the beginning and risk damaging the tape again. The VCR whirled, the tape settled into position – and the video played! I didn’t notice any problems, the little damage I did to the tape was probably on the first few seconds of the “blue” screen and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The tape played fine until the end and the whole tape is now safely on a DVD disc that can easily be viewed and duplicated.