Take Five: Tips for Tape Care


If you are like most camcorder users, you point your camcorder at all sorts of interesting, exciting and important things. Your tape archive may include historical records of once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings, graduations and family reunions. You may have a tape of that dream vacation to the islands or your European trip to investigate your family’s history. You have those recordings of your kids as babies and that irreplaceable interview of your grandfather. Clearly, the moments and events that you’ve captured on tape are of great value to you.

These five tips will help you take good care of your tape collection so you can enjoy those memories for years to come. How well are your tapes stored? Take five and find out.


1 Store your tapes upright

That big cardboard box of tapes is a bad idea. Over extended periods of time gravity can cause videotape to sag on the reel if stored lying flat. In some cases this can cause distorted warped-looking images on playback. In other instances, tapes may not play at all or they may damage your VCR or camcorder. To increase the life span of your tapes, regardless of the format, store them upright, as you would books on a shelf.


2 Store your tapes fully wound

It’s a good idea to always rewind your tapes before returning them to the shelf. Even when stored in the upright position, portions of your tape can stretch if the tape is not fully wound. Besides, you’ll be glad the tape is rewound when you want to watch it a few years from now. Be kind to yourself. Rewind everytime.


3 Store your tapes at room temperature

Avoid stashing your tapes in a cold, damp basement or hot, dusty attic. Extreme cold and heat are bad for the longevity of videotape. Extreme heat can cause tapes to melt and extreme cold can make tapes brittle. Your videotapes will last the longest if you store them in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.


4 Store your tapes in cases

Dust and moisture are enemies of your precious footage. Keep your tapes clean and dry by storing them in cases. For the most protection, you can buy plastic cases like the ones they use at your video store. But, even the paper cases that most tapes come with can keep harmful dust particles from settling on and in your reels.


5 Transfer your footage every seven years

Over time, the tiny electronically-charged particles that fuse audio and visual information to the tape can lose their grips, causing images and sounds to fade away. This is especially true of analog video recordings. If you are storing important video on S-VHS, Hi8, VHS or standard 8mm tape, it’s a good idea to spend a generation every seven years or so. One generation per decade isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

Some people believe that footage stored on digital formats like Mini DV or Digital8 will last longer on the shelf and that this step is not necessary. The truth is, these formats haven’t been around for seven years yet. Only time will tell if digital tape will suffer the same signal decay over time. One sure advantage is the ability to make digital copies via FireWire without the consequences of generation loss.

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