Flashback to 1974 – early VCRs

Luxury items: Early Sony Betamax and JVC VHS VCRs

In the mid 1970s, the new consumer video cassette recorders (VCRs) were just being introduced and the ownership of such a device in the home was seen as a real status symbol.

Image collage of Sony BM-C100 Betamax and JVC GR-C1 VHS ads in 1974

Advertising Sony Betamax and JVC VHS video cassette recorders in 1974. Do they work now?

There was a time when having a home VCR was a real luxury. If you wanted to keep up with the Joneses you just had to have your own VCR. Thanks to the sterling work of engineers at Sony and Matsushita (the Japanese company that owned both JVC – properly known as the Victor Company of Japan – and Panasonic at the time), there was a real dog-fight going on in an effort to secure supremacy in the massive market that was to be home video. It’s the same war that eventually resulted in Matsushita’s VHS (Video Home System) winning the fight over Sony’s Betamax – even though Betamax was regarded by many in the know as being technically superior.

Despite the fact that a diminishing number of people now use the VCRs in their homes, there’s a mountain of video-cassette tapes languishing on shelves, boxes, drawers and cabinets for which their owners have no means of playback. Once the VCRs developed faults that were uneconomical to repair, they were discarded. And that’s the problem.

What to do with the tapes?

That’s where we come in. We’ll digitise your precious recordings and restore them to their former glory in digital form – on DVD, as files that can be played on your computer or home media player, as movies that you can upload to YouTube or Facebook or save your iPod Video, Touch, iPhone, Android smartphone or iPad.

Once the recordings have been carefully digitised the sky’s the limit as to what you can do with them – and the quality will never degrade in time!

Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to have a working VCR from the 1970s or 1980s then hold onto it because it’s gaining in value with each new day!

See our Prices page for more information.

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Transfer Betacam-SP video to iPad? No problem!

We were recently approached by an independent video production company and asked if we had the means to transfer some Betacam-SP camcorder master tapes for playback in an iPad App. The response was, of course, positive!

Sync movies between Apple's iPad2 and iPhone

Transfer from Beta-SP and then sync movies between Apple's iPad2 and iPhone

Betacam-SP was the de-facto professional camcorder video-cassette recording and playback format in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s until the advent of Digital Betacam (aka Digi-Beta) from the mid-90s onwards. Needlesss to say, there are many tens of thousands of Betacam-SP tapes – both the smaller portable sized tapes as well as larger studio mastering formats – still in existence in company tape libraries as well as cameramen’s lofts.

Transferring these tapes requires playback VCRs that were very expensive in their day. We have two properly-maintained Beta-SP recorder/players which can be used for the purposes of transfer; when fed via a broadcast-standard Timebase Corrector and passed through a Canopus Grass Valley Analogue to Digital (A-D) converter, we end up with a near-perfect digital transfer which results in files that can be imported into Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid (etc).

Video encoding for playback on mobile devices such as Apple iPad, iPhone or Windows and Android-based devices requires care and attention to detail in order to maximise the quality whilst keeping data rates low – especially if the movie sequences are to be shared online via Wi-Fi or 3G connections. We apply state-of-the-art compression codecs to make sure that your digitised video sequences meet with your expectations – and those of your end-users!

Do you have a need for Betacam-SP to iPad digital transfers? Get in touch – let’s talk!

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Customers love our quality!

Customers are telling us that they love our VHS to DVD transfer service and are referring us to others

November has seen an upsurge in the number of people bringing their precious home video to us on VHS tapes with a request to preserve them on high-quality DVD discs.

VHS to DVD transfers - best quality

Customers praise our professional VHS to DVD transfer quality and standard of service

What’s interesting is that we’re starting to see referrals from existing customers who have obviously been so pleased with our services that they’ve encouraged others to use us. As anybody running a business knows, that’s the best form of advertising.

We’ve been copying all sorts of stuff in the last few weeks. One nice lady from Somerset asked if we could make a copy of a VHS videocassette dating from the early 1980s which contained the only moving images in existence of her late father as he pottered around in his garden. The tape was in a poor condition and she was worried that all was lost as she no longer had a VHS on which to play the tape.

However, on receiving the cassette we were able to achieve a stable playback (thanks to our broadcast-standard Timebase Correction equipment) in addition to being able to tweak the picture and sound quality in an attempt to restore some of its former glory.

She was so pleased with the resulting digitised copy that she ordered additional copies for relatives – something we were happy to do.

Panasonic AG-8700 S-VHS/VHS recorder/player

One of our commercial-grade Panasonic AG-8700 S-VHS/VHS recorder/players

In another project, we were able to digitise a very temperamental videocassette of a couple’s 1980s wedding video. The original videographer had long ceased trading and the edited video master was untraceable, so we only had a VHS copy to work on. Again, careful playback using an industrial-standard Panasonic AG-AG8700 S-VHS/VHS player helped us to achieve a stable playback which was further aided by our Sony BVT-500 Digital Timebase corrector. Sound was rebalanced via our Soundcraft audio mixer prior to digitising and writing to DVD.

The customer was delighted with the results!

Do you have a set of precious family memories that need preserving in the digital domain on DVD? Would you like your video archive to be playable on your PC or even on your smartphone or laptop? We’re here to help! Just get in touch via the Contact page using the link above.

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Restoring Marshall’s Video

We’re not beaten by temperamental U-Matic tapes!

Dusting off and digitising those old promotional and training videos and making them available for a new generation to enjoy seems like a great idea – until it’s discovered that the tapes can only be played with lots of TLC. That’s a problem we had with a 1987 Marshall Amplification video.

Some of the original Marshall Video and Audio Tapes

Some of the original Marshall Video and Audio Tapes

Back in late 1986, Marshall – the world-renowed guitar amplification maker – commissioned a video to celebrate the anniversary of its first 25 years the following year.

The video was devised, shot, scripted, edited and delivered within a very short timespan on the professional standard BVU-SP 3/4″ U-Matic videotape format.

Once copies were distributed, the edited master was put on the library shelf where it sat until Summer 2010, when it was decided to revisit the production ahead of the upcoming 50th Anniversary celebrations.

However, there was a problem. It was mastered on Ampex 197 videotape (see picture) and, due to a problem with Ampex tapes dating from the 80s, was now virtually unplayable. Its contents were priceless and the only alternative would be to digitise from one of a number of VHS copies that were made direct from the master. However, that was a last resort only!

Thankfully, the original production was one of ours and (as is our practice where possible) most of the original source tapes – both video and audio – that were used in the final edit had been archived. And so the process of creating a new, high quality, digital master began.

Editing Marshall - The Video in Premiere Pro CS4

Restoring the 25-year-old Interview with the man himself - Jim Marshall

After coaxing the master tape to play in short bursts of 60 seconds or so, it took a whole day just to digitise its 11 minute duration – with several passes being made of each section. We fed the output from our well-maintained Sony VO-9850P U-Matic-SP videotape machine to our ex-BBC TV digital timebase corrector (a Sony BVT-500) and onwards to a set of professional video capture and editing applications on an Apple Mac via a Grass Valley Canopus Analogue-to-Digital converter.

Grading and re-building the video track

The first task in the digital domain was to assemble the video track clip by clip, using a digitised VHS copy as our template. The quality off the BVU-SP master was surprisingly good, but occasionally it was necessary to go back to any available (and playable) camera original tapes when there was tape dropout (the product of tape degradation). Each sequence was colour balanced and adjusted.

Editing Marshall - The Video in Premiere Pro CS4

Editing Marshall - The Video in Premiere Pro CS4

Once the video assembly was completed, it was time to rebuild the sound tracks.

Creating a new stereo sound-track

The edited Ampex U-Matic SP master tape consists of two stereo linear tracks – each of which contained separate elements of the sound (music, interview voices, sound effects, commentary) in a “chequer-board” assembly which needed to be stripped out and re-assembled into a properly balanced stereo track. Previously, individual sound components would appear either left or right in the output – and it was for this reason that final VHS distribution copies were made with mono sound back in 1987.

Marshall Video Sound Track Laying and Balancing

Re-building and re-mixing the new digital sound track

Thankfully, Chromium-Dioxide Audiocassette tape copies of the music master tape, created by Geoff Whitehorn, resided in a box with the others so it was decided to digitise these using a TEAC professional Audio Cassette Player via a Soundcraft EPM8 mixer and insert them into the timeline. The audio was completely re-built and mixed using Soundtrack Pro on an Apple Mac. The finished stereo file was then laid back to the edited video master in sync with the video track.

The final new version will join other related video materials being assembled on DVD for presentation to Jim Marshall in the year of the company’s 50th anniversary. These include the original (and very rare) unedited interviews with Jim and his co-founder Ken Bran plus a video recording of the surprise celebration party held in Jim’s honour at London’s Dorchester Hotel on June 1st, 1987. This included a specially-shot tribute by Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of the rock band Status Quo in which they appeared to blow up a whole line of Marshall backline amps on stage!

We’re very honoured to have been involved in the process of preserving part of the colourful history of a British company whose brand is iconic in the eyes of musicians throughout the world.

Note: SimplyDV’s Colin Barrett wrote and directed “Marshall – The Video” in 1987 for Videovision Associates. It was produced by Steve Baker.

Related link: Marshall Amplification PLC

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