Clock ticks on old videos!

The clock is ticking fast on those old films and videotapes.

A Pile of Sony Multi-Format Videocassettes

The clock really is ticking for old videotapes and films. Act now before it

You’ve probably had a good laugh watching old film of the now grown-up kids push grandad into the swimming pool or the company’s sales manager explaining the wonders of the latest telex machine.

Old movies are hard to resist – not least because they serve to remind us how time flies. But they won’t be around forever; if you leave it too long you just won’t be able to view your precious movie clips at all.

The recording medium is deteriorating and serviceable playback devices (like VHS recorders) are getting scarcer. This applies to professional, as well as home, users. Sadly, in a great many cases, it’s already too late. So do something about it – now!

"When the movies die the memories die too"So, what to do with those Betamax, VHS, 3/4″ U-Matic or Betacam tapes that are occupying valuable shelf space? How to get those 16mm, 35mm or 8mm films into a form that can be archived and shared digitally?

Well, SimplyDV has the solution. Professional standard video and film transfer requires a working knowledge of the technology, specialist skills and equipment. We have all three.

Professional standard media digitisation and conversion

The company’s founder, Colin Barrett, has worked with almost every common home and professional video system since the mid 1970s, and it’s this expertise you’ll benefit from when requesting a professional-quality transfer and digitisation or your precious video and film archive. Have a look at the site – and then contact¬†us when you’re ready.

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We love 3/4″ U-Matic

Care is needed when handling and digitising ageing 1970s master videotapes.

SimplyDV’s Colin Barrett has recently been involved in running test captures of a unique set of TV transmission masters that form part of an archive of material created at Milton Keynes’ experimental cable TV station, Channel 40, over three decades ago.

Loading a Sony U-Matic Master Tape to a VO-9850P VCR

Loading a Sony U-Matic Master Tape into a professional grade Sony VO-9850P VCR

The monochrome studio master tapes, which date from 1976 to 1979, exist on the now-obsolete 3/4″ Sony U-Matic videocassette format that was widely used by corporate and educational production facilities in addition to mainstream broadcasters right up to the mid-1990s. Many of the TV station’s edited programme tapes – in whose production SimplyDV’s Colin Barrett was originally involved – still survive and provide a unique glimpse into a key period in the development of the new city that is Milton Keynes.

The tapes represent a new-generation of TV stations here in the UK that were the first to use only video in all areas of production at a time when the major companies were still using 16mm film in many areas of production. The Milton Keynes production centre of Channel 40 was designed to facilitate shooting, editing and transmission using the cassette-based 3/4″ U-Matic format – one that, by 1976, was already revolutionising low-cost production and was yet to be fully embraced by broadcasters like BBC television.

Recordings now showing their age and in need of TLC

The big problem is that many of the tapes are now showing signs of age, and it’s important that if they’re to be brought into the digital domain they need to be handled very carefully. That means employing properly aligned and functioning equipment – such as the Sony VO-9650P U-Matic VCR (pictured above) and also the broadcast-standard BVT-500 Digital Timebase Corrector as pictured underneath the VCR.

The collection is currently held in the secure vaults of the County Museum at Aylesbury, Bucks, but it is hoped to bring the whole contents into a new digital age before the recordings become unplayable and are lost forever. These tests are designed to assess whether the whole collection can be digitised without any major problems.

The timebase-corrected clips are converted using a high-grade Canopus ADVC video digitiser module prior to capture and processing using both Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro on an Apple Mac digital video editing system. Audio is treated using a Soundcraft mixer prior to digitisation, with further digital processing undertaken using Apple Soundtrack Pro professional audio post-production software.

Screen capture: Editing Milton Keynes band "The Moles" from a digitised 1978 U-matic Master Tap

Editing Milton Keynes band "The Moles" from a digitised 1978 U-matic Master Tape

“It’s been fantastic to be able to look at some of the recordings again after 33 years” remarked project manager Colin Barrett. “Take the studio recording session by Milton Keynes band The Moles, for instance; I produced the studio session on the 9th July 1978 and watching the master tape again makes it seem like it all happened yesterday. I’m really excited to be involved in this project!”.

It is hoped that the final collection – whose completion depends very much on funding being available to complete the many months of meticulous work involved – will be made available via a special online portal in addition to popular social media sites and even as video podcasts. “Once it’s properly digitised and processed, ” commented Colin, “it will have a thousand potential uses – not to just to younger residents of the city but also to local historians and researchers interested in gaining an impression of a new city’s development as seen through the eyes of the people who came to live and work in it”.

Do you have a collection of low-band U-matic, BVU, BVU-SP or even Betacam-SP recordings that require digitising? Please get in touch right now by using our Contact page.

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Screencast Production

VHS to DVD transfer and conversion is just one of our activities. Earlier in 2010 we were producing over 30 screencasts for The Open University and the European Union

SimplyDV’s Colin Barrett has a close working relationship with The Open University that dates back many years, and in early 2010 he was kept busy overseeing the production of 34 high-quality Screencasts to support the European Union-funded NeOn Project.

The brief, which came from the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) – a leading centre for the research of Semantic Web and Artificial Intelligence technologies and which is based at The Open University’s Milton Keynes (Bucks, UK) campus – was to specify a standard by which a large number of academic and commercial institutions across Europe should create screen-recordings (screen capture movies) of software applications/plug-ins they were developing as part of the large EU-funded “NeOn” open source software project. It was Colin’s job to then collect together all of the contributors’ recordings and turn them into professional-quality screen tutorials.

Installing the NeOn Toolkit software package

SimplyDV managed the production of 34 screencast tutorial videos for the European Union

The contract involved a great deal of work:

  • transcribing guide tracks as recorded by contributors
  • editing commentaries and submitting to voice artist
  • liaising with contributors on their content, gaining sign-offs
  • editing master video tracks for each screencast, including panning and zooming as required
  • synchronising new voice commentaries with video modules
  • editing and inserting titles and graphics
  • liaising with interface and graphic designers
  • creating master output files for web and computer playback

For 34 modules, that’s a lot of work! Everything conformed to brief and the various client bodies were all very happy with the final output – which can be seen at:

Another satisfied client!

Here’s what The OU’s Jane Whild, Senior Project Administrator, said of Colin’s contribution to the overall success of the NeOn project:

“Colin was the consummate professional – he managed the contributions from 14 partners across Europe, guided the voice-over artist regarding the specialist terminology of our project content, and brought the job in on time and within budget. On the creative side, he was quick to grasp the brief, and come up with the right solutions”.

When the client’s happy, we’re happy – but not before!

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More analogue gear!

The transfer of rare video tapes requires equally rare equipment.

My new Ikegami TM20-17RPA Video Monitor

Our nearly-new Ikegami-TM20-17RPA Video Monitor

One major advantage of once-popular technologies reaching the twilight of their days is that they become very cheap to buy.

As the whole of the professional TV and film production and post-production business moves ever closer to totally digital operation, they’re seemingly happy to give their existing analogue equipment away – and when they’re not giving it away they’re certainly flogging it off for next to nothing.

Of course, that’s very handy if you’re in the business of facilitating transfers and conversions from films and analogue tape-based video recordings because their cast-offs are our essential resources!

Today I signed for a studio-quality video monitor that I simply couldn’t have afforded back in the day when it was selling at full price, but today I can pick up this kind of stuff really cheaply (especially since I know what to look for and where to look!). The monitor in question is an Ikegami TM20-17RPA Grade 1 Studio Monitor and is much better than LCD or Plasma screens when playing back and adjusting off-tape recordings from analogue sources.

All I need to do is to find somewhere to put it!

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