Bringing new life to legacy media

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.

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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.

1 - It is not recommended to upscale standard definition video to full 1080 high-definition.

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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.'

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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.

2 - OTS will not extract from or otherwise use material from a copyright-protected disc.

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What happens to your tapes when I get them? Well, firstly, nothing... nothing at all for at least 24 hours. This is because acclimatisation is a very important part of handling a magnetic tape. My studio is air-conditioned - maintained between 17 and 20 degrees, and de-humidified. So your tapes will spend at least 24 hours in this environment, and sealed inside a storage box with silica desiccant, a mineral that absorbs moisture from the air and any product close by.

Following this process, the next thing is to examine the tapes and the cassette shell to assess any condition or damage that will need to be sorted before it is even put in the player. Physical damage to a cassette shell is difficult to repair, the safest solution is to transfer the tape reels into a new cassette shell. This is quite straight-forward for the larger video tapes, but miniDV/HDV tapes are more of a challenge requiring the skill, patience & dexterity of a neurosurgeon. If the tape itself is damaged, repair is all-but-impossible. A crumpled tape (usually the result of having been caught-up in the mechanics of the loading/unloading process) can be recovered to an extent by winding the damaged section, manually, forward or back to flatten the damage within the bulk of the tape on the reel and leaving it for a few days. But if a tape has been torn, stretched or completely broken, this requires more drastic action. I NEVER splice a video tape. The reason why would take a month-of-Sundays to explain, but trust me, it isn’t worth the risk.

Assuming all appears to be well with the cassette and the tape, it is then time to put it into the player... and then eject it again. Why? Well this indicates that the mechanics of the cassette mechanism are functioning well (there’s all-sorts of things happening inside a cassette during this process) and that we will be able to play the tape with very little risk of it jamming.

Finally, the tape gets loaded into the player again and it is wound fully forward to the end and then re-wound to the beginning. This will re-pack the tape onto the reels at a uniform tension greatly helping the stability during playback. Once playback has started, the signal quality is checked on a waveform monitor, the Time Base Corrector is activated if needed, audio levels are adjusted accordingly and recording can begin. This is a real-time process and can’t be rushed in any way. Hopefully, you understand that preparation can be time-consuming, often taking longer than the duration of the recording, but it is a vital part of getting the process right.

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