One of the first steps we take when carrying out your library migration project is to check the condition of your legacy assets and carry out any tape repair or reconditioning work required. This might be quite extensive in the case of tapes in the worst state of repair. Or it can be simply a case of cleaning and re-tensioning the tape, as well as checking for any imperfections.
We will first check the physical condition of the cassette shell itself. It’s quite common for this to need some repair. This can sometimes only be done if a store of blank cassettes of the same format exists to donate parts – or even allow a complete re-shell of the cassette.
Similarly, some tapes will need leader repair work. This is relatively straightforward: the tape becomes detached from the cassette spool and needs to be re-spliced.
One solution that is quite widely known is tape baking. Perhaps surprisingly, this is exactly what it sounds like. We use laboratory ovens to literally bake tape for three, four or five days at very consistent temperatures. The goal here is to resolve the stickiness that forms with tape substrates, drying the tape out sufficiently to allow a window of opportunity to replay the tape successfully and without damage to either the tape or our VTR machine. The tape will revert to its former state after a week or so but by that point we will have digitised it, and will have the electronic file asset.
Mould damage, caused by excess moisture when storing the tapes, can be a major challenge to remedy. Severe mould requires us to adhere to full health and safety processes, such as face protection when handling and cleaning. Some mould outbreaks are so severe that they have required experimental treatments to be tested, such as the use of formaldehyde.
Even for assets that haven’t suffered such drastic damage, cleaning the tape before the ingest process is generally a good idea. Our Indelt TC-Matic Betacam tape cleaner is one of our key tools for carrying out this process. Not only does the TC-Matic rigorously clean and re-tension the tape, it also utilises reflective and pass-through sensors to detect holes or damage to the tape. This data is recorded to an xml file. This process allows us to remove as many flaws as possible prior to starting the ingest process. And that of course in turn means we can produce the best possible digitised file from your asset.
What should be apparent from reading this is that correct storage of your tapes is vital. Even then, it is inevitable that tape-based formats will suffer some degradation over time. And that only gets worse with age. Yes, there are tape repair processes we can carry out to get the most digital file out of the video tapes you provide. But it is vital to consider beginning a library migration project sooner rather than later if you’re serious about preserving and potentially monetising your archive content.