Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What is the lifespan of a VHS Tape?

I just got off the phone with one of the teachers that we serve here at AEA. She had a tech problem. She had videotaped an interview with her father back in 1982 or so, and now she would like to transfer that tape to a DVD. Dad has since passed on and this tape has some irreplaceable memories that she would hate to lose.

Unfortunately, the tape is in bad shape due to age. The sound is intermittent, and the picture is grainy and filled with drop-outs.

OK, as Ross Perot used to's the deal.

VHS tapes were made starting in 1977 when the RCA Selectavision VTB 200 was released as competition to the Sony Betamax. I know, because I was one of the first to buy this $1000 toy, even though I was working as a Disc Jockey in a small AM radio station and earning next to nothing at the time. I wish I had invested that thousand bucks instead....but I digress.

I still have some videos I taped over 30 years ago, and they are disintegrating. The quality of the picture and sound gets worse by the day and there is no way to recover it once it's gone.

Also, videotapes used to be expensive... $25 for a single T120 back in the 70's and early 80's. So lots of people bought cheaper, off-brand tapes. And those have an even shorter lifespan than the brand-name tapes, because they used cheaper materials when they were manufactured.

Now if we're talking about an old Leon Spinks heavyweight fight tape, then I can live without it. (Sorry, Leon.) But if I had a VHS tape of my parents from the 80's, I would want to preserve it.

So the smart thing is to have any precious tapes transferred to DVD as soon as possible. If you want to do it yourself, then there are several VCR-DVD units for sale that will allow you to copy personal tapes. A Yahoo shopping search on "vcr dvd-r" gave me 491 hits for units I can buy for as little as $120. Check your favorite electronics retailer for a good deal if you are a DIY kind of person. Just remember to use a quality recordable DVD disc when you do the transfer. Don't skimp on the blank DVD-R like you probably did with the blank VHS tape 25 years ago.

If you'd rather turn over this task to the professionals, there are businesses like Walgreens who provide this service. I'm sure there are others as well, so ask the photo department at Costco, Wal-Mart, Target or wherever you shop if they transfer VHS tapes to DVD.

For maximum shelf life of a VHS tape, store it upright, like a book in a bookcase. Keep it in a climate controlled room...not in a wet basement or a hot and dry attic. And always keep the dust sleeve on the tape.

But most of all, if you have anything on tape that is 15 years old or older, look into having it transferred to DVD as soon as you can. Ten years from now, you'll thank me for it.