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Expensive video tapes aren't worth the extra cost

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Expensive video tapes aren't worth the extra cost
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1989, The Syracuse Newspapers

For years, I have insisted that expensive video tapes are a waste of money.

My tests have shown no worthwhile difference between regular videotapes, which sometimes cost as little as $3, and the so-called "high-grade" tapes that sell for $10 or more.

Confirmation of these findings now comes from Consumer Reports magazine in its September issue. In a test of the major tape brands, the editors of the non-profit magazine found that the high-priced tapes had no advantages over their cheaper brand-mates.

At the same time, Consumer Reports cautioned against the use of off-brand tapes—the kind that come with store names on them instead of the names of tape manufacturers. Such tapes are often no cheaper than the sale prices of regular brands, and they could even damage a VCR if they cause tangles or excess head wear.

The editors found that today's name-brand videotapes are nearly all excellent, regardless of brand or price. This is good news for VCR owners, since it makes tape buying as easy as shopping for the lowest price.

Videotape, the magazine said, is now a commodity item, sold in grocery stores the same way fruits and vegetables are. Brands are much less important than prices.

Although tape companies have insisted that their higher-priced tapes are demonstrably better than their cheap ones, this has never been proved in my own tests, nor was it evident in a daylong visit I made to one of the world's largest videotape factories last year.

The only clear benefit of the expensive tapes is a much higher profit for the manufacturers. Consumer Reports showed a copy of an ad in a trade magazine, directed at video-store owners, in which one of the major tape manufacturers boasts of the extra money they could rake in if they push the sales of the high-priced tape.

So-called "high-grade" tapes cost only a few cents more to make, in most cases, than regular tapes, but often sell for $4 to $6 more. Since there are no industry-wide standards for premium tapes, one company's regular tape could actually be the same as another company's top-of-the-line tape.

Consumer Reports also found that tapes labeled "hi-fi" performed no better in audio recording than tapes that made no claims in this area. Despite claims from some tape manufacturers, the VHS Hi-Fi recording process does not require a special kind of tape. Indeed, because the hi-fi signal is recorded below the surface, it is less likely to be affected by flaws on the outside of the tape.

Scotch EG tape, which sells for an average of $4.70 for a T-120 cassette, was the highest-rated regular-grade tape. Three "pro" tapes were rated slightly higher, but the differences were minor—so small, in fact, that the magazine pointed out older VCRs probably would not show any improvement at all from the three "pro" tapes.

The three were Fuji SXG Pro, which sells for about $9; Maxell RX Pro, which sells for about $10, and TDK HD-X-Pro, which can be bought for about $7.


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