Brandon, You know, if you



You know, if you wanted to get really fancy, you could go tapeless. There are boxes out there that strap to your camera and record directly to an onboard hard drive. The nice thing is that you can record several hours on these things at a time (e.g. no tape switching/running out of tape at the wrong moment), there’s less degredation of your video, and when you get back to the editing suite, it takes a lot less time to transfer video to your computer. The downside is that they cost a lot of money. But they’re still cheaper than the infamous MiniDV VCR’s on the market, so if you can actually afford that, give it a thought.

I’ve never had any major problems with MiniDV. Okay, not true. Once upon a time, I sent a cheap consumer grade JVC camera with my wife when she went on tour to Cambodia with her musical group. Anyway, the stinkin’ camera died, giving her several enigmatic error messages, and because of some issue on the JVC recording heads, I couldn’t pull the little footage she did get off the tape using my pro gear. Apparently that particular model of consumer camera, while still DV25 format, has a different head angle, so it was incompattible with pretty much all other cameras out there. That camera is siting in the closet 10 feet away from me, waiting until he day I have time to dismantle the camera for my own personal enjoyment (and maybe to steal a few parts for an electronics project I’m tinkering with).

But seriously, aside from that, I never have serious problems with MiniDV, and I’ve been using it for years and years. Sure, I will get a tick of dropout from time to time, but nothing major.

Here are a few troubleshooting questions:

-Are you mixing tape brands? If so, that’s probably most of your problem right there. MiniDV tapes are coated with a thin lubricant to keep things running smoothly and keep damage to a minimum. this lubricant rubs off on the head, spindles, control arms, and pretty much every moving part of your camera as you use tapes. Every tape manufacturer on the market has their own proprietary tape lubricant, which can make matters somewhat sticky, literally.

Have you ever seen how epoxy based chemicals work? A great example is JB Weld. The stuff comes in two seperate tubes that you mix together. By mixing them together, these two soft, pliable liquid chemicals become as hard as steel, and create an ultra hard bond. (True story-I once used JB Weld and a strip of aluminum to patch a 2 ich wide 8 inch tall gash in the side of an engine due to the timing chain restraints breaking. I drove 50,000 miles on the car and sold it, still running properly!)

Anyway, The same chemical reaction happens with tape lubricants. When you’ve put A JVC tape in your camera (for example), their lubricants coat all the internal working. Next, you drop in a Sony tape (again, for example). The lubricants mix on the heads, forming a tacky surface that actually attracts debris. And because every company out there has it’s own lubricant, you can never tell what will happen if you mix brands. So find one brand you like, and stick with it.

-Are you over-cleaning your heads? I might run a dry cleaning tape through the system once per quarter, if even that much. Overcleaning can be as bad, if not worse than switching tape brands, because you can cause permanent destruction to your tape head.

VCR Heads, whether they’re top of the line MiniDV units or the 30 year old VHS VCR in my basement, have a special protective coating applied to them when manufactured. Because the head spins at high RPM’s this coating allows the head to smoothly pass over the tape without destroying it before tape lubricants smooth the operation. This coating is essential for a properly working head. Without it, you change a lot of variables in your tape. The distance from the head to the tape even changes. Though it’s only a tiny difference, on DV format, that can cause tapes to track poorly if they’ll play at all.

This is one of the reasons I never use alcohol-based cleaners on a head. Alcohol will break down this coating quickly, especially if it’s considerably watered down (as most rubbing alcohol is), which allows the alcohol to remain in a liquid form longer, and do more damage. If a head is gunked up to the point where dry tapes won’t clean it, I might use 94% pure rubbing alcohol as a last resort, but I would never do this on a MiniDV unit more than once in an 18 month period. Your head would have to be VERY junked up to deserve this, and if you’re not totally, 100% positive you know what you’re doing, take it in to be serviced, because you CAN very easily kill a head with alcohol.

But dry tapes are just as bad if you overuse them. Dry tapes, or so they’re called) still use a chemical on them. This chemical is specially designed to clean lubricant off the head, spindles, and other internal workings. But because the head coating is delicate, overuse will again eat up this layer, causing the head to fail. Most head cleaners should be used once per every 50-100 hours of use, give or take. If you work in extremely erratic conditions, you might consider it every 25 hours, but I’m thinking areas with lots of debris in the air, sandy environments, places that are extreme, e.g. not 80% of American soil. Alaska, Arizona and other deserts, and the extreme southern parts of the country are the only places on the top of my head where I would even consider cleaning them that much, which is still no more than once a month if you use the camera regularly.

I would also advise you to buy the same brand dry cleaning tape that you use for recording, as the people who designed the cleaning tape do so based off the chemicals in their tape brand’s lubricant.

Cleaning a head too much is worse than letting them get mucked up, because once that coating on your head is shot, the VCR unit is toast.

BTW, Hank, the heads are all alligned on the same servo, so by just engaging the play head, you will clean all of the heads on the VCR unit simultaneously, which is why you don’t need to be in record mode to clean a tape.

Also, brandon, keep in mind that MiniDV is a sensitive beast. The recording track is finer than a human hair, which means the slightest issue cripples te unit. Hi-8 and other analog recorders use a much wider signal track, which does mean fewer noticable glitches, but also substantially lower quality. I would reccomend against using Hi-8 or VHS for pro work.

There are some first steps. Let me know if that helps any.

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