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Home /Science / How to Know if Your Tapes Are Damaged

How to Know if Your Tapes Are Damaged

By Dillon Wallace

Finding an old stash of family home video tapes is the chance to relive a time we’ve forgotten. So many childhood memories of little league games, family vacations, band practices and more can transport us back in time –– bad fashion sense and all.


Luckily, there are digitizing services like Southtree that can convert your old analog VHS tapes to digital formats, like a thumb drive, DVD or cloud download. No VCR required on your end.


However, without a VCR (because let’s be honest, who really has those anymore) how do you know which tapes are playable and which tapes are damaged? Because if we’re being honest again, there’s a strong chance our VHS collections weren't properly stored away over the last couple decades.


Moisture monster that lives in the basement

Water damage is a problem almost all homeowners deal with at one time or another. Basements, in particular, are the biggest culprits of creating water damage because they’re typically more prone to moisture by being underground –– floods, leaks –– you name it. If that cardboard box of VHS tapes looks like it’s taken a dip in a pool at some time in its life, there’s a good chance you’ve got some water-damaged tapes. Unfortunately, those tapes might not be salvageable as the film itself will appear warped and the footage diluted.


Heat havok that roars in your attic

Attics are another popular storage locale for VHS tapes, and while video tapes are fairly resilient to heat, they will eventually degrade from it through visible color deterioration and audio degradation. It might be harder to tell if your tapes are heat damaged by appearance alone, so it’s something you might just have to take a chance on sending in to see if they’re salvageable for digitizing.


Magnetic mischief that occurs in storage

Did you know your VHS tape information (both audio and video) are stored in the form of a magnetic strip? The VCR uses special heads during playback to pick up on those magnetic signals and translate them into images and sound on your TV. While your tapes are magnetic, they are not magnetic friendly. In fact, storing your VHS tapes next to magnetic forces will actually erase footage. So, if your box of VHS tapes was stored with your favorite collection of refrigerator magnets or anything else that uses a magnetic charge, there’s a strong chance the damage is irreparable.


Physical force that happens when moving

VHS tapes are old and by association obsolete. But the memories on them are ageless. Priceless even. However, that’s not something people tend to take into consideration when porting their old video tape collection around. While the film itself is encased in a heavy plastic shell, there are still a lot of moving parts that can break down if not properly cared for or stored during moves, playback, etc. Give your tapes a once over (and maybe even a little shake) to see if there’s anything that appears damaged or sounds broken.


Digitizing devices that saves memories

Knowing if your tapes are damaged via water, heat, magnetic or physical damage is the first step to digitizing your past. Companies like Southtree will professionally convert your old analog media into digital formats, but they can’t fix a tape that’s been damaged beyond playback from one of the four forces above. Hopefully after reading this, you’re one step closer to identifying which tapes are physically digitizable, so you can relive those precious memories again and again –– for many years to come.

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