How long will my video tape last?

As more and more of us switch over to DVD, what will become of our old videotapes of shows and our personal videos we made on our video camcorders? One of the most frequent questions I encountered when I was the Marketing Manager for Maxell was “how long will tape last?” As one of my very last projects with Maxell in 1989, I did a 30-second TV commercial that dealt with this subject.

There has never been any clearly defined measurement of just how long tape will last. For the commercial, we concluded that tape will last somewhere between 30 and 50 years. Some experts may dispute this, but I’ve been in the tape industry for 30 years now, and tapes made in the mid-70s are still working quite well, albeit with some deterioration. Having stated that, tape-manufacturing technology has vastly improved since that time, so it is conceivable that as time progressed, so did the quality of tape and its durability.

To help with longevity, here are a few suggestions:

  • Store tapes vertically in their sleeves (plastic storage album is better), in temperatures ranging from 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 40–60% relative humidity. A rule of thumb has always been that whatever temperature humans are comfortable with, so are tapes.
  • Store the tape “tails-out” (at the end, not rewound); this will compel you to rewind the tape when ready to play, equalizing the tape tension to the VCR.
  • Keep away from magnetic fields.
  • Exercise the tapes every few years by rewinding, then fast forwarding again, leaving the tails out.
  • Do not lay the tapes horizontally and stack tapes on top of one another. Often the edges of the tape “telescope” in the pack and the weight of the stack can damage the edges. On a VHS tape, the control track, which is along the bottom edge, acts like sprocket holes on movie film, and if damaged, will destroy your recording.
  • T-120s (E-180) uses a thicker base film than T-160s (E-240), thus more durable and a better choice for long-term storage.
  • Transferring to DVD can’t hurt either. There are many combo DVD/VHS units available, and I know a great place to buy both blank tapes and blank DVDs (click here).
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