Has DVD at last bitten the dust?

VHS, Betamax, VHS-C and Video-8 Video Cassettes

Is archiving your VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, Betamax and Video8 video tapes to DVD on the way out?

We’re not buying DVD discs like we used to and we appear to be racing towards the format’s obsolescence. Is that why demand for video to DVD transfers has dropped?

Scan the shelves of your entertainment store or – more likely – those of your local charity shop and you can’t help but notice that film and TV titles on DVD now come three-a-penny.

It wasn’t that many years ago that we were saying the same about the good old VHS cassette; how can the 1970s analogue videocassette-based format possibly compete with those new shiny discs containing pristine quality digital pictures and sound? It didn’t, of course, and these days it’s unlikely that your average charity shop will accept them either.

And that’s the way the DVD is heading. Fast. The simple fact is that many of us are either downloading or streaming our TV and film content, and for those of you who wish to archive videotape-based home movie content to a digital format before it’s too late, DVD is no longer the storage format of choice.

Declining demand for discs

In 2016, we saw a 50% fall in demand for video to DVD transfers of analogue video content to DVD disc; home and professional users alike have now come to realise that DVD is no longer the future-proof format it was once thought to be.

Image of Video to DVD transfer discs on desk

A thing of the past? A client’s order of VHS to DVD transfers ready for collection.

In the first quarter of 2017, the demand for DVD transfers dropped even further and today the majority of our home video transfers will end up as MPEG-4/H.264 either on a USB stick, portable hard drive or via our WeTransfer dropbox-style online delivery service.

From the point of view of our customers, this can be a good thing. For a start, it’s cheaper for you to obtain your video transfers as MP4 files on flash media or via online delivery methods. Secondly, you’ll then have video files that can be copied at will and given to friends, family members or colleagues at will. With many of us now taking advantage of the cloud-based storage opportunities that come with broadband packages it’s easy to store MP4 video files in your personal cloud and give others links to them in order that they can download them. This makes all of your digital content so much more accessible than with DVD discs.

What’s the advantage of MP4 video files?

The files we tend to create for our customers in this respect are actually MPEG-4/H.264 files. These are files that use a codec (compression/decompression) system that’s very efficient at compressing a lot of high quality picture and sound data into a relatively small file. This H.264 encoded file is then wrapped as MPEG-4, which itself is now ubiquitous in that it’s used everywhere; your mobile phones and tablets can view MPEG-4 easily, as can all media players on computers. Social media sharing sites can easily handle MPEG-4, and even some professional video archives use MPEG-4 t archive video and film content. And, of course, the majority of phones, tablets, cameras and camcorders use a variant of MPEG-4 to record and replay video content.

So, when you’re pondering the problem of how to archive your precious videotaped memories, consider the advantage of having them as MPEG-4 files over conventional video to DVD transfers. Our file-based transfers provide very good value for money, too, as it happens!

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Lost 1970 Les Dawson videotapes saved for ITV

While broadcast TV companies often transmit programmes that contain archive video recordings, they rarely have the means to digitise their video tape archive. So what’s the solution?

sony, cv-2100ace, half-inch, v-60, helical, videotape, yorkshire TV, les dawson, itv

A Sony CV-2100ACE playing back rare Yorkshire TV recordings of Les Dawson from 1970

SimplyDV recently undertook almost 21 hours of transfer of rare 1970 videotape recordings made on Half-Inch Helical Black & White videotape by the former ITV company Yorkshire Television in its Leeds TV studios. It was known that some of the material featured one of the the UK’s favourite comedians, the late Les Dawson.

The tapes were part of a collection of recordings held by David Mallet, the former producer of the Les Dawson Show on ITV in the late 60s and 70s, and both he and the producer of “Forever Les Dawson” were keen to know what the tapes contained. David Mallet had the idea that there would be some unseen material on the 1/2″ monochrome tapes, which turned out to be copies of the long-since lost unedited studio master tapes. The production team was then presented with a problem – who in the UK could transfer them? That’s where SimplyDV came in.

Our task was to transfer the recordings using our specialised equipment to the professional ProRes422 digital video format using a very rare videotape recorder – our Sony CV-2100ACE half-inch helical VTR.

Black & White image of Les Dawson looking at camera

A frame of restored video for ITV’s “Forever Les Dawson” – preserved by SimplyDV

In one recording Les was seen to be fooling around with the audience while technical problems were resolved in the studio. This particular recording attracted Mr. Mallet’s attention and clips made it to the final edit of the programme, which was shown in two parts just before Christmas 2016.

Image of David Mallet viewing TV

Former “Les Dawson Show” director David Mallet viewing archive video for the first time since 1970

Origins of the obsolete Half-Inch Helical video tape format

The first Sony “CV” format VTRs that made it to UK shores in around 1967 were commonly used by higher education establishments and public-sector organisations and were used largely for education and training purposes. They were – by today’s standards – hugely expensive. Only very wealthy people could afford to buy a video tape recorder, and even then they recorded and replayed only monochrome (Black and White) video recordings onto reels of half-inch wide tape.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Broadcast TV companies used these machines as a means of making quick copies of master tapes for internal usage and also for compliance purposes – retaining a recording on a “non-broadcast” format for a short period of time following transmission in order to comply with regulatory licence conditions.

Image of reel of half-inch tape playing on a Sony CV2100CE videotape recorder dating from 1971

Our working Sony CV-2100CE helical scan VTR dates from 1968. This was used to play the Les Dawson tapes during digitisation for ITV Studios.

Today, a large number of half-inch helical videotape recordings exist in broadcast TV, educational, public sector and specialist legacy media archives in order to being in the possession of private individuals. Few – if any – of these have the means to successfully replay and digitise their ageing recordings to either disc or file-based video formats.

What’s more, many of the tapes dating from the late 1960s and 1970s have been affected by a degrading process known as Sticky Shed Syndrome which requires the tape being baked before they’re capable of being played.

Image of half-inch Sony V-60H videotape on desk

A videotape ready to be converted for Na Píobairí Uilleann Teoranta in Dublin.

Throughout 2016, SimplyDV has been asked to bake and digitise a large number of half-inch videotape recordings made on both the “CV” and “AV” helical scan formats, with clients ranging from universities to charities, public archives and television companies. We’ve provided broadcast-compatible ProRes422 or MPEG-4/H.264 video files to the  Doordarshan National (DD1) TV Network India, Shiver TV (part of ITV Studios in Manchester) and Na Píobairí Uilleann Teoranta in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Other commissions have come from organisations in Germany, Italy and Holland as well as various archives and agencies.

For more information on our specialised video transfer and digitisation services, please contact us now.

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End of the line for VCR production in Japan

As the last VHS video recorder rolls off the line in Japan, we have to consider the implication for those millions of video recordings that will soon be unplayable.

With the decline of VHS home video recorders now having been accelerated by the ceasing of production in Japan and elsewhere, it’s becoming even more obvious that people really need to consider the transfer of their analogue video tape recordings (on all formats – not just VHS) into a digital form.

See: Japan ‘to stop making VCR machines’

There are lots of little businesses who’ll offer to do this very cheaply, but as lots of people have discovered you’ll not always get the best results. You get what you pay for, after all.

What’s needed for the best quality transfer is technology that operates to broadcast television standards; we use professional-standard videotape reproducers, ex-BBC TV timebase correctors and other quality control systems that maintain the technical quality of your precious recordings. We can even convert, in real time during the transfer, your old recordings into widescreen pictures that look good on your large flat-screen LCD TV.

According to major film and TV archives, the shelf-life of almost all ageing video and audio tape recordings is at best 15 years from now. Don’t leave it that long – contact us without delay!

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The risks of not digitising those home videos now

The clock is ticking for those old videotaped recordings. Soon you may never be able to view their precious contents.

Many UK households have a horde of old video cassettes. Some of them are full of off-air TV recordings of Neighbours or Home and Away but many of them might contain precious recordings of family members from years gone by. Did you know that time is running out for these taped recordings? Act quickly or you may never be able to view their contents.

VHS, Betamax, VHS-C and Video-8 Video Cassettes

Time is running out for those precious home video recordings.

It’s been said somewhere recently that we now have a maximum of 15 years to obtain digital copies of all of videocassette-based video recordings. This isn’t necessarily because of the deteriorating condition of the tapes themselves (although that’s certainly a consideration) but the mere fact that the majority of the videocassette recorders themselves will no long be in working order to play the tapes. This obsolescence of playback technology is undoubtedly the biggest threat to your video recordings. That’s why it’s important to act now.

When, like us, you provide a video digitising and archiving service to private and business users you find yourself in a position of having to maintain equipment that is – by any sensible person’s standards – obsolete in order play those old videocassettes reliably. It’s a battle, because the older they are the more likely it is that internal components likely to wear out or, worse still, fail altogether. That’s why machinery dating from the 1970s and 1980s really does need tender loving care and attention to keep running properly. Older machinery requires spare parts to remain functional; an equally big problem is that they require people with the expertise to service them. Both these are already in short supply – and this situation will obviously get worse with each new year. That’s why it’s estimated that we have 15 years to transfer all analogue videocassette recordings into the digital domain.

Image of Sanyo VTC5000 Betamax Recorder/Player

Betamax players are already a rarity

So, how does this impact on you? The chances that you or members of your family have video footage of family members at a young age, weddings, school performances and golden wedding anniversaries that risk being lost if they’re not brought into the digital domain very soon.

Common formats used for home video recordings include VHS (full sized cassettes and the smaller VHS-C cassettes that require an adaptor to fit into a full-sized VCR drive), Betamax, Video-8mm and Hi-8mm. VHS is obviously the most popular, but there’s a surprising number of home video movies on Video-8 cassettes; these have generally required a camcorder to replay the tape cassettes – but how many of these still work reliably? And who has a working model?

Reference to the 15-year window is perhaps slightly misleading because, in reality, the machinery required to replay the tapes will remain in the hands of professional users like us. For users like you it’s possible that the technology will have long disappeared.

Think about it – and contact us now. One day it will be too late.

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