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Facts and fallacies about video and videotape

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Facts and fallacies about video and videotape

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

Judging from many of the questions I am asked, I'm sure there are a lot of myths about videotape out there. Here are some of them, along with the facts.

MYTH NO. 1: High-grade videotape gives you a better picture than regular videotape.

Fact: No, not necessarily. Sometimes so-called high-grade tape works better, and sometimes it doesn't. Manufacturers can call anything they want ``high grade,'' so you have no guarantee that your extra dough is buying any extra quality anyway.

My own tests and those of Consumers Union have found no advantage to expensive tapes for most consumers.

MYTH NO. 2: Use a new, unused tape when you are making a priceless recording.

Fact: A tape that you have never used before is the worst bet for an important recording. There are two reasons: First, you don't know if the tape has any flaws that could ruin your taping; second, tapes actually improve with each play for the first dozen times. The spinning video head drum polishes the tape and smoothes out any imperfections.

MYTH NO. 3: Tapes make your VCR's heads dirty, and so you have to clean the VCR's heads every now and then.

Fact: Dirt makes the heads dirty. Good tapes are clean, not dirty, and you can play good tapes for months or even years without mucking up your VCR.

Dirt can get into your VCR in many ways-through dust and smoke in your house, through dirty rental tapes, and so on-but the use of reputable blank tapes won't make the VCR dirty. After a long time, tiny bits of tape residue may find their way onto parts of the VCR, but they seldom cause any problem.

MYTH NO. 4: VCRs can only be cleaned by repair shops.

Fact: When VCRs are truly filthy and don't respond to a head cleaning tape, they do need a visit to the doctor. But otherwise, they can safely stay at home.

MYTH NO. 5: Wet head cleaners are bad. Or: Dry head cleaners are bad.

Fact: Potentially, any head cleaner is bad-if it is misused. But the safest head cleaner is one that is least likely to be misused. That means that wet head cleaners are the worst, and dry ones are the best.

If you misuse a wet cleaner by applying too much liquid, the head-cleaning tape can stick to the spinning head drum and wrap itself right around it. The bill to fix this sort of calamity could be $85 or more.

A dry head-cleaning tape can't do that. The one I recommend is the Scotch head-cleaning cassette. Unlike the others, it's an actual magnetic tape with a slightly rough coating.

Recorded on the tape is a message that appears on your screen. If you can read the message, the heads are clean. What could be simpler than that?

MYTH NO. 6: Rewinding tapes in a VCR can damage the tape or the VCR, so you should use a tape rewinder instead.

Fact: Taking the cassette out of the VCR to put it into the rewinder and then taking the cassette out of the rewinder to put it back into the VCR (and doing this repeatedly) will cause a lot more stress on the tape than merely leaving it in the VCR and rewinding it.

MYTH NO. 7: The SP speed (fast recording speed) is the best one to use. Slow speed isn't good enough.

Fact: Modern VCRs often do very well as the slow speed, usually called EP, for ``extended play.'' You'll often find the picture and sound are almost as good at the slow speed-and you get six hours of recording time instead of two hours.

But the slow speed is even better than the fast speed for some functions. Special effects are nearly always better at the slow speed. And you get rewind and fast-forward times that are three times as fast per minute of video.

I'd use the fast speed only for baby's first haircut and things like that. Otherwise, slow is the way to go.

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