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How to turn normal tape into S-VHS tape

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Cheaper S-VHS, and how to turn normal tape into S-VHS tape

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

Super VHS has been in trouble ever since it was introduced in the late 1980s. It's one of the brightest developments in video, and yet most VCR buyers are staying away from high-performance Super VHS models.

The reason: Super VHS VCRs are too expensive, and the special tapes they need cost far too much, too.

But that may be coming to an end. Recent advances in circuit technology should help reduce the cost of making Super VHS recorders by about 50 percent within the next year or two.

Blank tape for Super VHS recorders could drop in price soon, too, for a different reason: Manufacturers are facing an unusual new competition that is likely to force them to slash the high profit margins they are now enjoying on Super VHS tapes. It's the kind of competition that you can get in on. I'll show you how below.

Super VHS, also called S-VHS, provides a sharper picture and steadier colors than VHS. Combined with VHS Hi-Fi sound tracks, Super VHS recorders almost match video laser discs in quality, yet have the advantage of being able to record as well as play.

But prices of S-VHS recorders have remained high. While new bottom-of-the-line VCRs sell for about $200, Super VHS models often start at $600 or more. And although even the most basic S-VHS recorders have more features than the cheapest standard models, consumers look at the price differences first and the features second—and often they balk at paying the huge extra cost.

This seems especially true when the cost of blank Super VHS tapes is figured in. They list for as much as $20, and usually sell for $10 to $15. Regular tapes are usually $3 to $5.

The new VCR circuits are being developed in Japan, the home of Super VHS. They stem from research into the next generations of VCRs, which will record and play back improved-definition television (IDTV) and perhaps high-definition television (HDTV) as well.

By placing more of the circuitry of Super VHS recorders on integrated solid-state chips, engineers can help trim expenses dramatically. Such chips, if used in high-volume production, can cut component costs by 90 percent or more.

As for the tapes, the special versions needed for S-VHS recorders are supposed to be the only kind that Super VHS can work with. But enterprising videophiles have discovered that S-VHS recorders can be tricked into using regular VHS tapes in "Super" mode.

All that's needed for this kind of "guerrilla consumerism" is to drill a tiny indentation in the standard cassette shell. A 3/16-inch drill works fine.

The precise spot where the indentation should be drilled is easy to find, since it lies right on the channel that runs across the underside of the cassette housing. 13/16ths of an inch from the bottom rear edge.

The precise spot where the indentation should be drilled is easy to find, since it lies right on the channel that runs across the underside of the cassette housing, 13/16ths of an inch from the bottom rear edge.

The indentation should be drilled with its center 3/16ths of an inch from the left edge of the cassette, looking at it upside down and with the tape door at the top. You can see right away where the little hollow should go if you turn both an S-VHS cassette and a regular cassette upside down. Look at the lower left, and you'll see the area.

Tests conducted by AudioArt Labs using standard tape converted by this method showed that recordings were very close to the overall quality obtained with actual S-VHS tapes. Resolution (the amount of fine detail) was as good as with Super VHS tapes, although there was more noise (seen as "snow").

The lab report suggests that you convert all your good-quality blank standard VHS tapes to Super VHS use if you have a Super VHS VCR.

Those who do not have a drill or don't want to take the chance of damaging their tapes are out of luck so far. But a similar situation involving floppy discs in the PC industry brought forth many do-it-yourself hole-punching devices, and the same is possible in the VCR field.

If a similar proportion holds true in the video area, Super VHS tape makers may be in for an unpleasant surprise, and lower S-VHS tape prices are the only possible alternative. Otherwise, S-VHS tapes costing three times the price of regular tapes will remain on the shelves.

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