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Old Video Hardware FAQs

Why are old video tape machines popular with collectors?

Well-maintained playback equipment gives you the ability to view rediscovered material on 'lost' formats. If you wish, you can then transfer it to another, more modern tape format.

When you say well maintained, does this mean that a machine I found might not work?

Yes. After thirty years the heads may be worn, rubber belts may have stretched and small capacitors dried out. There are not many technicians with the skill (and manuals and stock of spare parts) to get them going again. You may be lucky but don't expect too much.

Is that why professional firms charge so much to copy old tapes?

Exactly. Old equipment is bulky and pernickety. That said, there are some kindly people who transfer old tapes just the pleasure of making other people happy.

What are the problems I may encounter?

You may find tapes incompatible. Back in the 1960s it was assumed that tapes would always be played back on the same machine as they were recorded on, and some recorders have no 'tracking' or 'skew' control for getting the best out of tapes recorded on a different machine. Philips N1500 and Sony CV-2000 tapes are particularly problematical in this respect.

Another problem is tape deterioration. The earliest surviving video tapes are largely unaffected but later production can suffer from hydrolisation. The symptom is binding and squealing of the tape. What has happened is that the plasticiser (the tuff that makes tape supple) leaches out into the atmosphere, leaving 'holes' and allowing the tape backing to absorb water from the air. The water molecules actually make the tape expand a bit, so it doesn't fit the machined tape-guides properly anymore; and they can interfere with the lubrication impregnated into the tape; and it is theorised they can even interfere with the polished smoothness of the tape surface.

Not all tapes are affected; it depends on the formulation of the plastic backing and binder. In the mid-1970s, some major tape manufacturers started experimenting with their formulas (some people say it was to enable them to stop using whale oil as plasticiser). They thought they were introducing major improvements but instead created a tape much more prone to hydrolisation than anything had ever been. The problem did not show up for years, and some people say the formulas did not get corrected until sometime in the mid-1980s. Theoretically any tape could get hydrolised over a long period of time, especially if stored in a high-humidity situation, but in practice most squeaky tapes were made (roughly speaking) between 1975 and 1985.

There are no easy fixes; they involve running the tape through a lubricating bath or else oven baking in a convection oven for eight hours at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It is entirely possible to bake a tape twice if the first time doesn't do the trick. You get about a three-week 'window' before the tape starts to re-absorb water. So the best deal is to bake the tape and immediately make a copy. But if you forget to do it and it re-hydrolises, you can bake it again.

Where can I find old video tape recorders and other period hardware?

You could try a 'wanted' ad in the magazine 405 Alive, also in free local newspapers, the Loot newspaper and Television magazine. Boot sales, junk shops and amateur radio swapmeets are a fruitful source. Also try the local schools, colleges and your county education authority, each time asking to speak to the person in charge of equipment in the audio-visual departments. Good luck; there must be loads of these machines around still.

Why are they hard to find?

Partly because all video equipment was desperately expensive until the home video revolution occurred; the only people who could afford to buy it were the very rich and institutions such as universities, colleges, schools, healthcare establishments and the training departments of big companies. The other reason is that this equipment is considered obsolete and life-expired now and takes up valuable storage space.

What is the difference between a VTR and a VCR?

Easy. A VTR is a video tape recorder, in other words any recorder using tape but the acronym is generally taken to mean an open reel machine. A VCR is a video cassette recorder, with the tape contained inside a cassette or cartridge.

Which are the main formats to be found?

Broadcast formats:

Professional (non-broadcast formats):

Domestic formats:

Other formats:


1. N1500 and N1700 tapes converted to VHS or U-Matic free of charge (I can also convert them to 405-line in the process if you require). Please send a blank VHS or U-Matic tape, your original N1500 / N1700 tape and an adequately stamped addressed Jiffy bag to Mike Bennett G7TRF, 3 High View Gardens, Exmouth, Devon. EX8 2JR. Phone: 01395-279732 or e-mail: mdb (at)

2. David Looser will convert your 625-line tapes to broadcast-standard 405 lines on my digital line-store standards converter. Free of charge to subscribers of 405 Alive. Please send blank tape (VHS only) for output and return postage. Input tapes can be accepted on Philips 1700, EIAJ, Video2000, Beta or VHS. David Looser, Maristow, Holbrook Road, Harkstead, IPSWICH, Suffolk, IP9 1BP. Phone 01473-328649.

 (These offers, open at the time of compilation, are most generous and users may care to send a free-will donation towards costs as well. There may be a delay in handling conversions if many people take up these offers.)


PMF VIDEO LTD (Paul Farnsworth) in Wallington, Surrey specialises in 2" quad and tape cleaning. 020-8669 0011.

TELEVISION ARCHIVING LTD, 10 Wivenhoe Business Centre, Wivenhoe, Colchester, CO7 9DP (01206-823526, fax 01206-826751). Specialist in transferring from 2" Quad and 1" C-format to present-day formats.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY VIDEO in Wembley is also good for 2" quad format. 0181-904 6271.

THE VIDEO LAB (formerly Flintdown Channel 5 Television), Back West Crescent, Lytham St Annes, Lancs., FY8 1SU, has a collection of vintage VCRs so vast it confuses even the most ardent of format spotters. These include Philips EL3400, 1500, 1700 and 2000 including slow-motion; 2" Quad in 405, PAL, SECAM and NTSC, with full tape cleaning facilities; Ampex A, B and C; EIAJ; Betacam and Betacam SP; Akai and Funai/Technicolor 1/4"; Betamax, Video 8, Hi-8; VHS and S-VHS. Timebase correction available. In all cases NTSC variants are included where appropriate. Contact Donald Blakely, Chief Engineer, on St. Anne's on Sea (Lancs.) 01253-725499 or 782827.

SSVC at Chalfont St. Peter in Bucks (01494 874468) is said to have a variety of ancient-format machines available. "Try the multicopying department (don't be put off if you only want a single copy!)".

THE VIDEO ARK/REEVE VIDEO SERVICES (Lucy Reeve) in west London (020-8968 1090) has a 2" Quad machine (and other formats).

JOE PAGANO, Obsolete Tape Transfer Service, RGB Broadcast Service Co., 1234 Southampton Rd., Philadelphia, PA 19116, USA. +1 215-464 3158.

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