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How to Tell if Your Tapes are Blank

By Christian Roemer

VHS tapes were a revolution for a couple of reasons. First, they were super easy to record and replay. Second, they were really easy to store, given their rectangular shape. Third, they were protected better than previous film media since they consist of hidden spools under a resilient plastic case. One problem, however, with this new enclosed design is that it’s harder to tell if anything’s been recorded on the film.

At Southtree, we’ve had our fair share of times where we receive someone’s memories, complete with VHS tapes, only to find that the tapes are blank. Obviously we’d prefer to be able to digitize your favorite home movies instead of white noise. It’s also a bummer for you, because you might have had to make some decisions about which tapes you wanted to digitize, only to find that you accidentally sent blanks. Nobody wins. That’s why we’re going to teach you a couple of foolproof tricks to checking whether your VHS tapes are blank or not.

Check the wrapping

New tapes are always plastic wrapped with a nice Y wrapping. This is first and quickest thing that you can check. If your VHS has a factory seal around it, that means that your prized home movies probably aren’t on it.

Check the location of the film

This piece of advice isn’t fool proof, especially if you’re the special person that’s kind and rewinds. Since factory-sealed and blank cassettes will be fully rewound and ready for recording, you can check the where the film is rolled up. If you’re looking at the top of the cassette like you’re about to put it in a VCR, the film will be all the way on the left side. If it’s half-and-half, that should give you a little indication that the tape has at least been used before.

Pop it in a VCR

I know what you’re thinking, “Does anybody actually have a VCR anymore?” It’s a fair point. If you do possess one of those technological relics, you can always pop the cassette in there to see if there’s anything on the screen. There’s probably no better way to double check that your tape actually has stuff on it than to try and play it back.

While these are three quick and simple things to do to make sure that you actually have videos on your VHS cassettes before sending them off for digitization, the best thing you can do is organize your tapes well so that accidental blanks don’t happen in the first place. Labeling your tapes can go a long way to ensuring that you’re not just spinning empty wheels. Another tip is to store your cassettes in an organized and sensible way. Keep the blank ones separate from the full ones, and you’ll never have an issue.

It’s also important to make sure that you store your tapes correctly. Keep them in a cool, dry place without any magnetic interference.

If you really want to get into the true hierarchy of tapes, you can check out this charming guy’s video on YouTube. It doesn’t really help with blank tapes, but at least you’ll learn what the best tapes of all time were!

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