What can be restored and what cannot is the question always asked by those in charge of the archive units of the channels and television producers in the world. For the media archives that exist in Latin America, VidiPax offers a wide range of evaluation and restoration services ranging from the assessment of the state of each of the tapes in recording formats whose origin dates back to 1956 to the transfer to the new high-definition digital formats.
Magnetic tape restoration
Magnetic tapes were never intended to be a long-lived means of preservation. It has been a powerful mode of visual documentation that records everything from clips and sound cuts in the world of news to home recordings. According to the American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), magnetic tape is inherently unstable and fragile. It is subject to "damage and deterioration from exposure to poor environmental conditions and inadequate management practices. Even if properly cared for, magnetic tape can last only a few decades."
The problem is a consequence of the medium itself. The audio and video tapes are made up of three layers: a polyester base, an adhesive support and metal oxide particles. The polyester base supports the tape and reduces friction and static electricity. While chemically stable, magnetic tape is vulnerable to physical problems as a result of conditions such as excess pressure (tape pack stress) or failures in winding (poor wind).
The adhesive support, made of polyurethane material, holds the magnetic particles in place and contains lubricants that help make the reproduction of the tape smooth. However, this support is chemically unstable. Through a process known as hydrolysis, the tape degrades into more stable molecules that are sticky and soft. This causes the problem of sticky cover (sticky Shed) clogging the heads and making reproduction impossible.
Finally, the metal oxide particles and the magnetic content of the tape are threatened by the adhesive support and base as they expand and contract. If it extends more than one percent of its original measurement, a tape may prove impossible to reproduce.
Even when magnetic tape is stored in ideal conditions, if an operating machine is not available, the information may be unrecoverable. Recording machines quickly become obsolete and difficult to achieve. Those machines that still exist suffer from poor maintenance and are rarely trained to provide optimal reproduction. In addition, the expertise needed to maintain and operate this equipment is hard to find.
In New York, the VidiPax company is fully equipped to restore and remaster virtually all magnetic tape formats. Its procedures cover the full range of services, from the initial evaluation of the tape to the remastering in a new format. It has highly trained technicians to monitor each tape through all the necessary stages to ensure that the final results are as reliable in reproduction as the original.
The New York facility is home to the only laboratory in the world designed for media restoration purposes. There quality control is the priority. As magnetic media preservatives they provide a clean environment for tapes and their care. These facilities maintain a constant temperature and strict control over the percentage of humidity suitable for these media. The environment is protected against dust and particles in the air that could contaminate the tapes.
In addition to this, they have specialized equipment used for the maintenance routines of the reproduction machines. All heads and guides undergo a cleaning process after each reproduction or transfer to avoid cross-contamination between materials. As a routine, the alignment tapes provided by the manufacturer are also used to ensure performance on the machines in accordance with the technical specifications.
Finally, VidiPax facilities have sophisticated surveillance and security systems.
It is the most important part of any project. To handle large projects, this company uses database management systems specifically designed to meet the needs of its operations and customers. At every stage of the process, including initial reception, cleaning and reproduction, restoration technicians make observations about each tape. At the end of the process, the customer receives a complete report of the conditions of the tape that reflects these observations.
For example, once the material arrives, the specialist looks at the evidence of problems such as dust, mold or inconvenient packaging. During the cleaning process, the tapes are never left unattended. Information on the transfer processes is included in the tape condition reports as well. Production technicians record observations of audio levels, dropout, electronic noise, and overall tape quality. Thanks to the system that manages the database, the status of each tape can be tracked by identifying each of them with labels to locate any material at the stage that is found.
The restoration process is one in which each videotape, degraded by time, is temporarily or permanently brought to its normal playback condition. Obsolete or deteriorated tapes require duplication to new formats. The philosophy of the Vidipax company states that "changing the material by altering the listening experience or vision distorts the way we interpret the story."
In this company no chemicals or heat are used for the cleaning process. Instead, multiple transports of pellon are employed that roll slowly against both sides of the tape. This material, pellon, is a non-abrasive, lubricant-free product specially designed for cleaning magnetic media.
The purpose of the cleaning process is to remove dirt and other debris while correcting the rewinding at the same time. If the degeneration is severe it may be necessary to apply several cleaning steps through the special machines.
In severe cases of oxidation when the presence of mold and mildew is noticed, it may be necessary to perform cleaning by hand. The tape heating method shall only be used as a last resort when the other measurements are unsuccessful since excessive exposure to heat or chemical washing may damage the substrate or support holding the magnetic oxides in place, resulting in increased dropout and loss of quality.
Reproduction and transfer
The VidiPax playback system is designed for restoration. This is significantly different from the systems used for videotape editing and duplication establishments. The purpose remains to achieve the highest possible quality of reproduction without changes in the visual quality of the image. Although it is necessary to constantly monitor the synchronization and color quality of the image, for this only visual improvements such as digital noise reduction and dropout compensation are used when the client requests them.
Considering that the technology used to improve image quality is constantly evolving, applying it to original recordings may leave artifacts that will prevent the application of improvements in the future.
During the playback of material that was originally recorded on old or obsolete equipment, the technician may need to make some adjustments to the playback unit. The tension of the tape and its contact with the heads are always controlled very closely for optimal reproduction. It may require the attempt to reproduce in several different units to achieve successful playback.
The mission of this company is to restore and protect the audiovisual heritage of humanity for the future. If you have collections of audio or video tapes that you cannot play as a result of physical deterioration or lack of appropriate equipment for playback, it is very likely that this house can help you.