High volume audio cassette transfer job complete

A sigh of relief here at SimplyDV Towers as a large and very time-consuming job for The Open University is completed.

Image of an audio cassette tape and a Western Digital Elements hard drive on the right.

The audio cassette tape on the left is the last of a 560-unit transfer job, all of which are stored on the hard drive on the right.


The client – a faculty that has been storing a collection of educational research recordings that were made during a 4-year period from 1982 – now requires all such analogue media recordings to be transferred to a digital storage medium that enables them not only to save a considerable amount of storage space but which will make the precious recordings more widely accessible.

All 560 audio cassettes, plus a collection of video recordings which have also been digitised to MPEG-4/H.264 files, have been digitised to MP3 audio files for delivery on the Western Digital Elements 1TB hard disc drive on the right. Not only is a mass of archive shelf space now a lot emptier for the client but all of the digitised audio and video files now occupy less than 10% of the hard disc drive!

Think of the space you can win back after we’ve undertaken a similar job for you!

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Giving our heads a good clean!

The big problem with any reliance upon so many obsolete and temperamental video recorders and players is that they require constant maintenance if they’re to continue to function at their best.

Image of a head drum and tape transport mechanism is a Sony U-Matic recorder

The head drum and tape transport mechanism in a Sony U-Matic recorder during cleaning

Next time you’re having problems playing back full-HD video on your smartphone, tablet or flash memory card spare some thought for the problems we face getting 1980s videotape recordings to play according to spec.

In this case, a Sony VO-9850P 3/4″ U-Matic SP videotape recorder/player was receiving heavy deposits of gunk on its tape transport guides and spindles, necessitating a thorough deep clean on every pass of a tape that was (is) suffering from the dreaded “Sticky Shed Syndrome”. This is a condition resulting from the oxidation of the adhesive that binds the magnetic brown layer of the tape (the bit that stores the video recording) and the acetate backing. Over the years, this can oxidise – resulting on a sticky mess being deposited around the innards of the machines.

Thankfully, this tape wasn’t badly affected (it’s a Sony KCA rather than the real culprit, which are Ampex tapes) and it was still playable. It took three passes to get a decent result as the signals were Timebase Corrected and then passed to a Blackmagic Designs analogue-to-digital video and audio converter prior to being captured to Apple Mac as a ProRes422 Quicktime file, which the client requires for editing in Final Cut Pro.

Image of our G2 MSTC Multi-standard Timebase Corrector stabilises off-tape signals and provides image correction

Our G2 MSTC Multi-standard Timebase Corrector stabilises off-tape signals and provides image correction

Despite the heated atmosphere when things aren’t going right, and despite the fact that it took a lot longer to complete the job than it should have done, we do have at least have a job that we’re happy with – so let’s hope the client will be too!

Our customers are very special to us, so it’s worth the effort to get it right. Of course.

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VHS to DVD Transfer in Milton Keynes – care of your tapes

Transferring your precious VHS video tape cassettes to DVD involves more than our just copying whatever’s on the tape to a blank DVD disc.

Image showing a VHS tape being loaded into a JVC BR-S822E Professional S-VHS VCR

Loading a VHS tape into a JVC BR-S822E Professional S-VHS VCR

When we convert your VHS video tape to DVD or to computer file here at SimplyDV in Milton Keynes we do more than just insert the tape into a domestic-standard VHS player (one that’s probably seen better days) and then copy the output to a blank DVD in a standalone DVD recorder that’s been bought from eBay. Oh no!

We actually perform a range of corrective processes to the video and audio as it’s being digitised to ensure that the picture and sound information is as it should be.

Videocassettes in standard PAL VHS and S-VHS recording formats, which come in large and small VHS-C type cassettes, and of course they’ll be of varying ages. In the main, VHS has always been a fairly robust videocassette format that has survived the test of tape – providing that the tapes themselves haven’t been stored in conditions that are are either to hot, too cold or (worst of all) too damp. If kept in normal domestic or commercial/academic environments the chances are that the quality of playback of sound and vision will be good.

However, they do need careful handling before loading to a professional-standard videocassette machine such as our trusty JVC BR-S822E Professional S-VHS VCR. This machine was designed for use in professional studio environments and was previously used in a videotape editing facility.

Initial tape care – what we do

When we receive videocassettes from customers who require the contents to be transferred to either DVD discs or to Windows PC and/or Apple Mac computer video files, we firstly check the actual tape in the cassette to ensure that there are no traces of moisture or white powder (the result of the shedding of the magnetic recording layer on the tape itself). We then insert the tape into a spare QA machine and fully wind, then fully rewind, the tape on the spools to make sure there’s no physical damage. If we’re in doubt, we’ll do this a couple of times. If there’s a break in the tape we’ll attempt to repair it by removing it from the cassette casing and making a clean splice.

Time-base correction and image processing

All videotapes – whether old analogue recordings or later digital ones – are dependent upon the belts and drive mechanics functioning properly when the tape is transferring from one spool to the other. However, tape itself is inherently unstable – and all videotape playback contains instability errors. If we were to copy direct from this with no corrective treatment then this would be re-recorded. That’s not acceptable – and will not improve the quality of your recordings in any way.

Image of our G2 MSTC Multi-standard Timebase Corrector stabilises off-tape signals and provides image correction

Our G2 MSTC Multi-standard Timebase Corrector stabilises off-tape signals and provides image correction

That’s why the off-tape signals need to be Timebase Corrected. We use a broadcast TV industry standard TBC from the British G2 Systems company; this strips the off-tape sync pulses and other control information and writes completely new ones.

That way, the signal to be re-recorded is like new – as it was before being recorded to the VHS tape in the first place.

At this stage we’ll also adjust the colour, black level and saturation (the amount of brightness in the image) prior to saving the new digital file into the system from where either a DVD disc or computer video file is saved.

Transcoding videocassette recordings from other countries

Image of G2 MSTC Video Standards Conversion options

In-house Video Standards Conversion for recordings made overseas

Our multi-standard timebase corrector, the G2 MSTC unit, enables to convert recordings made in other countries (eg: the USA where the NTSC video standard is used to make VHS recordings) into the European-wide PAL standard.

The electronics employed to make this possible are of broadcast TV standard and help to preserve all the recorded picture information contained on the original tape during transfer.

It also corrects the unstable off-tape playback characteristics described above.

For current VHS transfer prices see this page.

If you’d like to know about the range of professional quality techniques employed at SimplyDV then please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the Contact page above.

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Digitising and archiving audio tapes

Organisations large and small are commissioning us to carefully transfer their professional-quality audio master tapes for long-term digital archiving.

Image of a Revox B77 professional audio tape recorder/player which we use for playback of 1/4-inch tapes

A Revox B77 professional audio tape recorder/player is used for playback of 1/4-inch tapes

Despite being primarily a video to DVD transfer business based in Milton Keynes, we’ve seen an upsurge in requests from existing and new customers who require their precious archive of analogue reel-to-reel 1/4-inch audio master tapes digitising for long term archiving.

It’s interesting that such a demand arises in the middle of what is our worst financial depression since the 1930s, too.

Perhaps the underlying reason is that analogue tape stock is going to deteriorate with or without a recession, so a decision becomes simple – to digitally preserve the recordings on the tapes or do discard them forever!

Deteriorating tapes that need attention before it’s too late

Image of a collection of studio master audio tapes in various sizes, including 10" NAB quarter-inch spools

A collection of studio master audio tapes in various sizes, including 10-inch NAB quarter-inch spools

A huge number of analogue audio recordings mastered on studio-quality 1/4-inch tapes sit languishing in the archives of radio stations, audio-visual production companies, production companies and even people’s homes that will probably never be heard again while they rely on the specialised technology required to transfer the recordings from the analogue world into the digital domain. The often priceless content of these tape recordings must be digitally transferred now before it’s too late.

To that end, we’ve been undertaking an increasing amount of 1/4-inch audio tape transfer not only to CD but also to HDD (Hard Disc Drives) as well as to computer files which are then used as part of online training and entertainment module development. Recent clients include The Open University, the Bletchley Park Trust and several UK audio-visual production companies as well as radio stations.

Is this a service we can provide for you or your organisation? Have a look around you and there’s no doubt you’ll see lots of audio recordings in a variety of physical formats – with audio-cassette and reel-to-reel tape being the most common.

Where to get the best advice

Image of Stereo PPM Audio Meters enabling accurate monitoring of incoming stereo sound during digitisation

Keeping an eye on sound levels with stereo PPM Audio Meters

We can offer you not just an excellent standard of service but also an attractive price package (especially if you have a package of recordings requiring special care and attention) so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Contact us right now. He’ll be very happy to offer you friendly advice and a suggestion about the best way to proceed with the long-term digital preservation of your precious audio tape recordings.

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