It seems that there are still many old analogue video tapes out there, hiding in cupboards and cardboard boxes under beds and in lofts. Conventional wisdom has it that these old tapes don’t last much beyond 20 years, but this is rarely the case. A tape stored in poor conditions can be un-playable in a matter of months, whereas a tape stored in optimum conditions will still play after 40 years - I know because I’ve worked with some that old. It is now becoming clear that the real threat to the long-term playability of tapes is the availability of machines to play them in. Much of the movement, aka ‘tape-transport’, inside a video tape deck is driven by rubber wheels and belts, and it is the rubber that does not stand the test of time well becoming hard and brittle and falling apart. It is also becoming harder to find the rarer machines, like Betamax and U-matic, and harder than ever to find people with the knowledge to repair and maintain them, or to get hold of the spare parts. At OTS, I prefer to use the “Professional” grade of machines - they are built to a higher standard and have more stable electronics - and they last longer. As analogue transitioned to digital, tape remained the medium of choice, only slowly giving way to solid-state, cards and disc’s etc. But tape-based digital video needs different processing to analogue video in order to keep the signal digital all the way. Whilst a number of different solid-state formats battled for supremacy - there was no clear winner. So at OTS I can work with a broad range of solid-state, non tape-based media too.

This is the quickest and easiest option since it is a direct copy of everything from the tape, rubbish and all, to either an e-file or a DVD. The size of an e-file will be increased by the included “rubbish” footage and may end up being too large to transfer via the internet thus requiring you to provide a hard-drive. So, with that in mind, if e-file is your choice over DVD, it may ultimately prove to be better to go for the ‘Copy to e-file & clean-up’ service. Given that the idea is to bring old video tapes into the modern digital age, we recommend only modern, widely compatible e-file formats. MP4 is the most common viewing format, used on mobile devices, and is compatible with MS Powerpoint. Most anything ever made by Apple, recent Android devices and Windows 7 onwards will play MP4 video. For long-term archiving and editing, 10-bit Uncompressed MOV is recommended. WMV is available for editing on Windows PCs if the QuickTime plugin is not available. A range of other, rarer formats can be produced if needed.

Assuming there are no issues that need dealing with (see “The Process”), the basic cost for a transfer to an e-file or DVD is based on £15 for the 1st 60 minutes, and each subsequent 30 minutes (or part of) is an extra £3. Discounts are offered for larger collections of tapes.

Blu-ray Discs can also be written but interactivity is very limited.

This allows for copying your video to an e-file with all of the obviously unusable footage removed. Cameras left on record when the user thought they had stopped recording is very common resulting in hours of ‘carpet’ footage. And when a tape is removed from a camcorder and then replaced some time later, this often results in a few seconds break in the recording since things don’t re-load at the spot where they left off. For this service, the video is first copied as a high-quality .MOV file to a hard-drive. The video is then quickly scanned to identify and delete anything that is clearly un-watchable. This service does not offer an ‘edit’ in great detail - it merely seeks to remove obviously unwanted footage which would otherwise substantially increase the size of the file. The resulting video is then exported to MP4. There are 2 options available for a small additional cost, the e-file can be up-scaled to 720HD1. It can also be copied to DVD, but only in SD.

This option is for anyone who wants me to edit the contents of a video tape. It is the same service as “Copy to e-file & clean-up”, but we provide you with a low-resolution MP4 file with a time counter on screen for you to log the footage and provide a note of what you want to keep or delete. From this list, I can then edit the high-quality file to produce the final work. With this option, it is possible for me to re-order the footage, add titles, work on the audio or insert any graphics that you may want.

The cost for this service is in 2 stages. The first stage is essentially the same as the “Copy to e-file and clean-up” service, so is charged the same. Stage 2, the subsequent edit, varies massively from client to client so is quoted accordingly.

Tape-based media ultimately lost out to the convenience of solid-state media. Initially, there was a wide choice of these card-based formats to work with, XD-cards, SD cards, Mini-DVD, CF cards, SONY Memory Stick and of course, hard-drives of all different file formats and sizes. But we now seem to have largely settled on CF cards in the high-end cameras, and SD cards in the Pro-sumer products. I can read any of these card formats and have software to do basic trouble-shooting on corrupted files or faulty, unreadable cards

Additionally, there is the optical disc, better known as DVD. I can extract and re-purpose any video, audio, graphic or subtitle files from a DVD or Blu-ray disc2. Solid-state or disc-based media don’t require the same degree of acclimatisation that tape media does, but any physical damage is impossible to repair. Any hard-drives or USB media that I am required to work with will need to be virus-checked before I will connect them to my main computer.