Itâ€™s always fun to watch old video tapes shot by your parents or aunts and uncles. But have you noticed how they tend to be grainy, shaky, maybe even has a dull glaze over it? Donâ€™t blame your parentsâ€™ video shooting skills or their equpiment. Blame Time.
Magnetic tapes (that includes Betamax, VHS, 8mm and mini-DV) have a shelf life. What you see ten, twenty years later was much sharper and smoother when the tapes were first created.
What is the life expectancy of my video tape?
Although there have been numerous studies about tape longevity and stability that have produced valuable information, such as the work conducted by the National Media Lab in the mid-1990s, there is no accurate way of estimating the life expenctancy of a video tape. As you might expect, it varies greatly depending on the brand, the way the tape is handled and stored.
Most video experts agree though the life span is between 8 to 12 years and they recommend transferring them into digital media within the first 5 years. Because we are busy, time-pressed folks trying to balance living in the moment and capturing the moment, we often let our video tapes gather and collect dust. If you just can't find the time now to digitize your tapes, follow these tips below on handling and storing your tapes to slow down that degradation process.
How to Handle Your Video Tapes
â€¢ Never touch the tape itself. Hold it by the side of the cassette
â€¢ Rewind the cassette before storing it.
â€¢ Avoid dropping/banging the cassette, i.e. keep away from curious kids.
â€¢ Keep cassettes away from magnetic fields
â€¢ Donâ€™t leave a cassette in the car where it will be exposed to heat and cold
â€¢ If using a new cassette and itâ€™s still cold, let it warm up to room temperature first.
â€¢ Occasionally fast forward and rewind a tape thatâ€™s being stored a long time.
Where to Store Your Video Tapes
The conditions in which magnetic tape is stored and used can extend its shelf life. Stability is important because magnetic media materials respond to fluctuations in atmospheric conditions by expanding and contracting which changes (a.k.a. degrades) their physical dimensions and video quality. Follow these tips to store your tapes:
â€¢ Store in conditions that are stable, cool and dry.
â€¢ Stay away from hot, humid and dusty.
â€¢ Store cassettes in the cassette case.
â€¢ Store your tapes vertically and not flat (see picture) to distribute the gravity pull equally and stably.
What do I use? I use a covered shoe box stored in a clean, dry office cabinet. And I do try to digitize them into my PC or DVD as soon as I can.
Check out the How-To Central in our blog for step-by-step, click-by-click tutorials on how to turn your video tapes into digital polished movies that do not collect dust or warp with time.