video

Digitising U-matic tape: Diagnosing & Treatment

We have recently completed a job for Quarry Faces, the Mendip Hills Community Heritage Project which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Quarry Faces gave us 20 U-matic video tapes that were commissioned for a corporate video in the 1980s.

The Quarry Faces project aims to tell the industry’s story, produce teaching materials for both educational purposes and general interest, and create an archive to preserve images and memories of quarrying over time.

This video we digitised was shot by Coloroll Films of Kilmarnock in 1985, and was delivered to us on U-matic tape. It features a giant walking crusher at Foster Yeoman’s Merehead Quarry (Torr Works).

Walking Crusher at Foster Yeoman Ltd’s Torr Works in 1985 from Quarry Faces on Vimeo.

The video tapes we were sent were high band recordings, rather low band and of very good quality. One AMPEX U-matic tape however was problematic as the tape shell / mechanism had degraded over time and needed careful hand rewinding and reshelling in a known good and newer cassette shell.

When faced with damaged tape, often people automatically assume it needs dehydrating, a process that forces the moisture out of the tape through stable, precise, low temperature baking. However if this is not what is wrong with the tape, dehydrating or ‘baking‘ as it is more commonly called, may in fact damage the tape. If you bake acetate tape that was commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s for example, it would be destroy it.

An oven used for baking tape

Ampex filed for a patent for the correct temperature to recover Ampex tapes. The patent referred to “a typical temperature used is 54’C. and a typical effective time is 16 hours”.

The simple truth is, there is no all encompassing answer to know what happens to tape when it degrades, or when the cassette shell mechanism malfunctions, and each tape that is sent to us is of course individual. Digitisation and the art of restoring old tape is a relatively new area, and no one has yet made a machine that is able to precisely diagnose what is wrong with each individual tape when problems occur. Is the tape suffering from sticky shed syndrome or binder hydrolysis, or is it ‘vinegar syndrome’, a condition which afflicts acetate tape? Only through careful diagnostic work, which at Greatbear includes using our range of in-house test tapes, can the correct remedy be found.

Posted by debra in video tape, 0 comments

The Grain of Video Tape

videotek-vtm-waveform-monitor-display

From U-matic to VHS, Betacam to Blu Ray, Standard Definition to High Definition, the formats we use to watch visual media are constantly evolving.

Yet have you ever paused to consider what is at stake in the changing way audio-visual media is presented to us? Is viewing High Definition film and television always a better experience than previous formats? What is lost when the old form is supplanted by the new?

At Greatbear we have the pleasure of seeing the different textures, tones and aesthetics of tape-based Standard Definition video on a daily basis. The fuzzy grain of these videos contrasts starkly with the crisp, heightened colours of High Definition digital media we are increasingly used to seeing now on television, smartphones and tablets.

This is not however a romantic retreat to all things analogue in the face of an unstoppable digital revolution, although scratch the surface of culture and you will find many people are.

At Greatbear we always have one foot in the past, and one foot in the future. We act as a conduit between old and new media, ensuring that data stored on older media can continue to have a life in today’s digital intensive environments.

 

 

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video machine room equipment racks / patchbay rewire

greatbear video racks

With the work we are involved with we have to use, keep working and store a large amount of old and usually large tape machines and other electronics. With a couple of machines it’s easy to store and easy to connect but as you grow and the variety and scope of machines develops it can soon become a wiring and space nightmare.

Racks and patchbays are the answer and the time’s come to rewire our racks as many new / old machines have joined our collection as has different types of digitising work. Key to this is the need to accurately monitor and digitise several sources while having the flexibility to change the workflow quickly whenever.

Richard from westent is providing support in this video redesign and it will be an interesting challenge mixing the old with the new to get the highest quality transfers with the most efficiency.

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NTSC U-matic transfer of The Members – Solitary Confinement


Unseen to 32 years, although there could possibly be other tapes in the vaults at Abbey Road.
This NTSC U-matic transfer to uncompressed quicktime files was a damaged tape that at some point in its life had been ‘eaten’ by a greedy U-matic machine! The tape shell also had some plastic debris inside that needed removing before it was safe to attempt loading and migration.

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Video time base corrector self destructing mains socket

Filtered mains socket self destructs in CEL TBC

We have several time base correctors and frame synchronisers at our disposal. One recent addition is a new old stock (NOS) CEL Tetra. This is an early 1990s motion adaptive Standards Converter for PAL, SECAM, NTSC 3.58 and NTSC 4.43 systems. A very flexible unit with composite, Y/C (S-Video), U-matic DUB High Band/Low Band and component inputs and outputs.

Out unit still has its shipping caps over the BNC sockets and looks unused but after 5 minutes of power a cloud of white smoke billowed out of the cooling fan accompanied by a pungent smell. The Shaffner EMI mains filter had a nasty, sticky brown residue leaking out and all around the back of it. This is the second TBC that I’ve had this happen to. I’d assumed these units get left on for long periods when used in broadcast applications which would hasten their demise. According to their website, the mean time between failures (MTBF) of their recent products is around 2,000,000 hours! Our CEL TBC doesn’t look like it’s done more than 30 minutes so maybe there’s been some dodgy electrolytic fluid in these units just like the motherboard capacitor problems between 2000 and 2003.

Posted by greatbear in video tape, video technology, machines, equipment, 1 comment

Switch mode power supply (SMPSU) repair in For-a FA-310P time base corrector

For-a FA310P Switch Mode Power Supply

We use time base correctors and frame synchronizers all the time in the transfer and digitising of analogue video tape.

One of our more flexible and high quality units had recently developed an annoying and very obvious fault on its video outputs. While the unit was working there were faint but distinct horizontal lines on the video. This phenomenon is often called a hum bar and can be caused by ground loops.

In this case we isolated the unit from the rest of our installation and using a separate power point the problem was still there. Looking at the unit itself it is a very deep and heavy 1U case with two 40mm cooling fans at the rear corners. It is quite old too and being designed for continuous studio use is likely to get hot and have been on for very long periods.

The video fault appeared to be AC ripple ‘riding’ on the DC power. It was time to look at the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply.

Although I could have tested each one, all these caps were old and only rated for 3000 hrs at 85 celcius so they all had to go! Here’s a list of them:

The only one hard to find was the large 400v dump one. Most units now are thinner and taller but eBay came to rescue here.

This shotgun approach worked beautifully and the fault had gone. While tracing the exact fault is always the best way, capacitor often get a hard life and will not last indefinitely, especially in switch mode power supplies.

Posted by greatbear in video tape, video technology, machines, equipment, 1 comment

JVC PV-4800E 1/2 inch EIAJ colour portable video recorder

jvc_pv_4800e_reel_to_reel_colour_video_recorder

A recent addition to our video arsenal is this rare 1976 vintage 1/2″ colour reel to reel machine.

This has needed some work to get it functioning well such as new belts, hardened grease cleaned off the mechanism, etc but is now able to transfer colour recordings made in this format of reel to reel video.

A more detailed article on the repair of this will appear soon as will information about our other reel to reel video machines, the Hitachi / Shibaden EIAJ machine, the Sony CV-2100 skip field VTR and the enormous Ampex VPR-2B 1″ video machine… and we’ve got two of these!

Thanks to Rich at www.labguysworld.com for the JVC service manuals.

Posted by greatbear in video tape, video technology, machines, equipment, 0 comments

U-matic transfer to DVD, Uncompressed Quicktime and Digi Beta

sony_bvu_950p_umatic

We’ve been honored recently to have won a large contract to help in the digital migration of an extensive educational video archive by the transfer from U-matic archive copies to uncompressed video files.

While the archive had been stored in an suitable environment and rarely if at all played, they had not survived well. The Sony branded tapes from the 1970s and 1980s all exhibited binder hydrolysis or sticky shed syndrome. We were still able to get good transfers though using our range of U-matic machines, particularly the Sony BVU-950P and For-A Time Base Corrector.

Posted by greatbear in video tape, 10 comments

Video Tape Transfer, Copy to DVD, DV or uncompressed AVI

Over the last 12 months we’ve seen this side of our business grow and adapt to the range of transfer needs that individuals, businesses and media creation organisations have.

We are able to support a wide range analogue and digital, consumer and professional video formats from the late 1970s onwards such as: Betamax, VHS, SVHS, VHS-C, Video 2000, 8mm, Hi8, U-matic, Betacam, miniDV, DVCAM, etc.

We offer straight video transfer to DVD and a higher quality transfer service to DV or  uncompressed AVI which can then be supplied on hard drive, edited, encoded to a very high quality DVD or supplied on digital tape.

Update 2019! We offer a range of new delivery formats for our video transfers. We use the International Association of Sound & Audiovisual Archives Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings, delivering FFV1 lossless files or 10 bit uncompressed video files in .mkv or .mov containers. We create viewing files as H264 encoded .mp4 files or DVD. We can deliver any other digital video files, according to your needs. 

We pride ourself on our positive, friendly service and are happy to give advice over the phone or by email. When you call us you won’t be stuck in a voicemail system or told we’re an internet company so don’t like speaking on the phone!

Feel free to contact us by phone or email.

Posted by greatbear in video tape, 0 comments