Service Your Decks
Many administrators and those who decide to venture into video digitization think that it’s merely encyclopedic knowledge (i.e., just google the steps) and that you can simply buy the equipment, put together a word doc listing the steps, and hand it all off to a student to complete. This is a gross over simplification of everything and probably is not the approach you want to take. No one likes surprises.
One key thing to be aware of is that the equipment used to play a U-matic tape from 1983 was probably made in 1983. When I was purchasing my current equipment, library admin was adamant that I purchase a brand new U-matic deck and one with a warranty. One thing that I’ve learned is that no one wants to be made to feel ignorant about anything. Being a smart ass gets you nowhere. I said that there are no new U-matic decks being produced and also explained the scale of what we will be taking on with in-house video digitization. My purchase was approved and we moved on.
Many institutions have inherited playback equipment from somewhere else on campus, as is the case for many of my decks. It’s important that the consumables in the decks (rollers & belts) are replaced and it has been tested before you begin using it. This is often one of those things that no one thinks about when they decided to do things in-house. Skipping this important step can easily destroy a tape.
If you’re mechanically inclined, then you may be able to do some of this work yourself. Replacing rollers and belts is pretty straight forward. Issues related to the capstan and drum motors may be too much and you may want to contact someone with a broadcast engineering background. SMPTE is a good resource when looking for someone as is your local PBS studio.
This U-matic deck that I purchased last year will likely be sent down to Ken Zin's U-matic Spa down in California for a little TLC.