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Memories With an Expiration Date

Posted June 12, 2017 3:17 PM by lmno24

You know that box of VHS tapes in your basement? The one you haven’t looked through in years? Well, you may want to dig it out because those memories may fade forever.

VHS tapes are slowly becoming unwatchable, as they have a 20-30 year life span. A group of archivists is racing against time to digitize the tapes. Researchers are calling this the “magnetic media crisis.”

Tapes are made through sounds and images being magnetized onto strips of tape, and using the same principle as when you rub a piece of metal with a magnet, it retains that magnetism. But when you take the magnet away, the piece of metal slowly loses its magnetism — and in the same way, the tape slowly loses its magnetic properties.

"Once that magnetic field that's been imprinted into that tape has kind of faded too much, you won't be able to recover it back off the tape after a long period of time," Howard Lukk, director of standards at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, told NPR.

Most VHS tapes were recorded in the 1980s and '90s, when video cameras first became widely available to Americans. So, even the best quality and properly stored tapes will eventually be unwatchable.

Groups like XFR Collective are working to make these memories permanent. They hope to make the service more cost-effective, as some companies charge a large amount of money. The service is offered by many shops, some libraries, and online companies, but the cost deters many.

But it’s a tricky thing to master, and many people don’t know the switch is a matter of time – not just an update to outdated technology.

At XFR Collective, the staff is made up of volunteers, and the process is very time consuming. They often have to spend hours watching the entire tape from start to finish, and that doesn’t even account for troubleshooting like dropped frames and tracking issues.

The group works collaboratively to digitize tapes in order of importance. They see anything from wedding videos to public access TV archives that aren’t available in any other format. They put the transferred footage onto an online archive.

The volunteers are tasked with an important job. If they don’t convert this footage, it could be gone forever, thus losing bits and pieces of our history.

But what about your personal collection of home movies? Many drugstores will transfer them to DVD or Blu-Ray, and lots of websites will make DVDs for you as well. But time’s ticking!

Sources:

http://www.mipops.org/magnetic.php

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/news/a44546/how-to-digitize-vhs-home-videos/

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/03/529155865/videotapes-are-becoming-unwatchable-as-archivists-work-to-save-them

https://archive.org/

https://xfrcollective.wordpress.com/

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#1

Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/12/2017 9:12 PM

I've got some VHS tapes stored in my cool, dry basement. I have a combination VHS tape and DVD player which isn't very old. The problem I have is that the NTSC to HD conversion is sucky, and the picture quality on an HD LCD screen is poorer than the original picture was on my old 27" CRT screen.

But I do have a 'Star Wars' tape in the original 1977 as-released in theaters edition. Do NOT tell George Lucas. Han shot first.

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#2

Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/14/2017 10:49 AM

Cave painting, tablet carving, wood burning, papyrus, animal skins, all just different forms of the VHS tape and all have a expiration date. Even digital has a life expectancy.

We all fade away sooner or later.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/15/2017 8:31 PM

From Dogbert in a Dilbert cartoon, we are all "temporary arrangements of matter, sliding toward oblivion in a cold, uncaring universe."

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/16/2017 1:31 PM

Dogbert left out ''an utterly trivial'' before ''temporary''.

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#5

Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/16/2017 1:48 PM

Well, well, well. I still have working 5.25 and 3.5 inch working floppy drives into which every year or so I stick a disk, call up the appropriate app (usually MS/DOS), and find out, for the most part, that I am screwed. The fade seems to begin at age 12, then everything is corrupted by age 20.

There is a budding 7 year old geek in my life to whom I have promised all that is digitized. Any ideas on how my bequeath (functional apps and all the data therewith related) will be fully intact when she turns 60 and is passing it along to another 7 year old geek for the unending cycle of life? For example, is there some totally light-based hardware (CPU, bus, etc.) and associated storage media that does not degrade?

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#6
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Re: Memories With an Expiration Date

06/16/2017 2:10 PM

DVD or SD memory cards have about the longest shelf life of solutions that are commercially available. Thumbs drives are still volatile but do last longer than floppys or IoData zip disks. Oh, and of course if you are really talented and have the technology, hard coding on a ROM chip.

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