Sunday, October 11, 2009

Worse Than A Broken Heart

As more camcorders start employing alternative media to record videos, such as hard drives and memory cards, the traditional magnetic tape is starting to fall to lesser usage. Conversely, an abundance of Mini-DV and even 8mm video camcorders are still in use today. In fact, High Definition Video (HDV), which records on regular Mini-DV tapes, is still popular among some professional videographers.

Whether it's for audio, video, or data storage, magnetic tape has always been a delicate medium, even though some formats have proven to be appreciably more durable than others, such as VHS. At some point we all had or at least know someone who had their tapes broken or "eaten by the machine".

At Ted's Video Services, we specialize in repairing audio and video tapes. Specifically, we repair those broken or "eaten" tapes, but we cannot recover lost recordings. Our Video Tape Repair Service has been a blessing to customers, but it also means they have permanently lost some seconds or even minutes of some of their precious memories due to tape damage.

Here are some tips on the usage and care of your video tapes to help minimize problems:
  • Be cautious of what brand video tapes you buy. Unfortunately, even name brand tapes can be susceptible to high failure. When you find a brand and model tape that works well with your camcorder (no drop outs, etc.), keep using it. Different brands of Mini-DV tapes use different types of lubricants (dry vs. wet), and thus it has been recommended that you do not mix brands of Mini-DV tapes in your camcorder.
  • Always have a video head cleaning tape, but do not overuse it, because this causes more wear on the video heads.
  • Store tapes in a cool, dry place, and far away from strong magnetic fields--like those generated by large speaker drivers or AC transformers found in powered subwoofers and A/V receivers. And for crying out loud, don't leave tapes on top of equipment that produce heat!
  • When videotaping, be careful when moving between drastically different environments. Instructions manuals for camcorders usually specify the ideal operating ranges for temperature and maybe humidity. If moving from a cold to warm environment, condensation may occur within the video camera, so let the camcorder and tape get acclimated to their new surroundings before continue shooting.
  • On the spine of all audio and video tapes, there is a small square tab or sliding cover which, when removed, will prevent accidental recordings. All too often I see customers bring in tapes in the condition that would allow them to be inadvertently recorded over. I recall one customer who accidentally recorded over his own wedding video! IMPORTANT NOTE: On 8mm video tapes (i.e., Video 8, Hi-8, Digital 8) erasure prevention is a bit counterintuitive. That is, "opening" the tab in these 8mm video tapes allows erasure.
  • Blank tapes often come with little pamphlets of guidelines on usage and maintenance. It is advisable to take a minute to look these over, because there may be information that is unique to that particular tape.
  • Finally, do not reuse tapes. Blank media is relatively inexpensive now. Even in this economy, it is not the time to be frugal if you're going to be shooting something important, like your baby's first steps.
Obviously magnetic tape, even for digital recordings, are prone to wear and tear, and don't get better with time. You want to transfer your audio and video tapes to more durable formats like CD, DVD, or hard drive. Although not mandatory, we always advise customers to transfer their audio or video tapes once they have been repaired.

If you have a tape in need of rescue, please contact Ted's Video Services at (510) 796-2200 or (800) 221-1108, or E-mail We're here to help.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Going International

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the country. And therefore it should not come as any surprise that Ted's Video Services, based in Fremont, California, does a lot of international video conversions.

You see, not all countries use the same video system. For example, here in the United States, we use NTSC (National Television Standards Committee), which is being replaced by the new digital ATSC (Advanced Television Standards Committee) system. Even the NTSC used in Japan is slightly different than the one used here.

China and lot of countries in Europe, like England, use PAL (Phase Alternating Line). Some jokingly refer to PAL as "Perfect At Last" because it was created after NTSC, which had some inherent technical flaws.

Other countries use SECAM, which stands for Séquentiel Couleur Avec Mémoire. You can probably guess where this system was developed.

NTSC, PAL, and SECAM are the primary systems used in the world, but there may be variants of these systems like NTSC-M, PAL-N, SECAM-H.

Curious to know which country uses which international video system? Simply do an Internet search for "international video standards".

On a side note, commercially released DVD's may have DVD Region Codes and Macrovision copy protection that would also prevent you from watching the video in another country or copying it. Obviously, this is to address copyright issues and the fact that movies are generally released in certain countries before other countries.

So although a VHS tape or DVD may look physically identical as any other one recorded in another country, you may not be able to play it here in the U.S, and thus you would need to have to have it converted to NTSC. If you have any questions about converting videos made in other countries, please feel free to contact Ted's Video Services at (510) 796-2200 or E-mail us

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hard Drives

I chuckle when I read some people's online reviews about hard drives they just purchased, some of which who complain about all kinds of problems they had, and swear they will never buy [INSERT HARD DRIVE MANUFACTURER HERE] ever again.

Firstly, some hard drives come with a 5-year warranty, which is rare in consumer electronics. You find this kind of warranty typically in loudspeaker systems and maybe in some very high end gear.

There could be a number of causes of hard drive problems, for example, heat, like in DVR's, but failure usually occurs after years of service.

What a lot of folks are not aware off is that external hard drives come pre-formatted out-of-the-box in a file system that may not be the most efficient to use with your particular computer, whether it is a Mac or PC.

Some manufacturers even pre-install software on the hard drive, and come with software utilities that anti-virus/anti-spyware software may identify as malware. I know this from experience.

You almost never need to install these utilities. The one exception to installing one is perhaps a backup and recovery utility, like Retrospect, if you are using the hard drive for that particular purpose.

What I always advise folks to do after getting a brand new hard drive is to format it in the file system your computer's operating system uses. For example, NTFS for Windows XP and Vista, and Mac OS Extended for Mac's.

As a result, you would wipe the hard drive clean by erasing all contents on it, and optimize the performance of the hard drive. For example, a lot of external hard drives come pre-formatted in FAT32 which does not utilize the disc space as efficiently as NTFS.

So what do hard drives have to do with video services, you ask?

At Ted's Video Services, we specialize in transferring videos onto hard drives. That is, we can import analog and digital video (VHS, 8mm video, Mini-DV, etc.) for a particular editing software. Presently, we can digitally import and capture video for the following non-linear editing (NLE) software:

Mac: Apple iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express
PC: Windows Movie Maker

Why would you want to do this instead of just transferring the videos to DVD or Blu-ray?

For one thing, you can edit the home videos yourself (add titles, music, etc.) and produce your own DVD's, or share your videos on the Web, like on YouTube or Facebook, with family and friends. Windows Movie Maker and Apple iMovie are surprisingly robust for basic editing software, and they come free with Windows and Mac OS, respectively.

Of course, Ted's Video Services specializes in professional video editing, but this level of service might be overkill for editing your home videos. Furthermore, you can enjoy first-hand the creative process that goes into video editing, and you can take all the time in the world to do it.

Moreover, we use professional-quality video capture devices to digitize the videos for the best picture quality.

Sometimes customers bring in old home movies they want to transfer--8mm, Super 8, 16mm--but don't know what's on them. We can transfer these home movies onto hard drives as well.

But wait! There's more!!! . . .

Ted's Video Services can also edit videos transferred directly to DVD, cutting and trimming scenes from the original video. However, unlike our full, professional editing service, this DVD transfer editing does not allow for titles, transitions, adding music, special effects, etc.--only basic editing, as in cutting out bad scenes.

For more information, please feel free to call us at (510) 796-2200 or (800) 221-1108 to inquire about which video transfer options would work best for you.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

When Light Turns Green

When I was growing up in Michigan, I always made a conscientious effort to recycle aluminum cans. Recycling the cans just made a lot of sense to me not because it was good for the environment, but because the metal could be reused again. Why throw it away? Even more, in Michigan you get cash refunds for every can. Mind you this was the late 1970's, and I was just a little kid.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, but back then people were nowhere environmentally conscious as they are now. Now, most folks have changed their lifestyles all in the name to be "green".

There are a lot of obvious things we can do to be environmentally friendly, e.g., turning off the lights, etc. Here are some perhaps not so obvious things I do in my business whenever possible:
  • Instead of printing hard copies of receipts, invoices, and other documents, I use deskPDF to convert the forms to electronic PDF documents. This also makes it easier to search and find documents on the PC, and reduces inkjet and toner usage.
  • Turn off computers, instead of putting them in standby, when I know I'm going to be away from the office for more than three or four hours.
  • Charge my cell phone (as well as my MP3 player) in the car instead of using household electricity.
  • Print on both sides of sheets of paper to reduce the number of sheets used in a printout.
  • Recycle inkjet cartridges. Staples offers store credit via their rewards program for every cartridge you bring in.
  • Use a thermometer/hygrometer with an exterior sensor to monitor outside temperature and humidity, and optimize interior climate control for less AC usage.
  • When I have a small order at a store, I usually tell the cashier I don't need a bag (for less plastic waste).
  • Turn off the electrical power to the studio equipment at the end of each day. Conversely, it's been said that it's best to leave a Mac computer on all the time--something about UNIX and background maintenance--but in the years I have had my Apple G5, I have not experienced any major issues turning it off when I didn't need it.
On a personal note, I installed a shower head with an adjustable valve to reduce wasting water. Dimmable fluorescent light bulbs are now available, and once incandescent bulbs die out, I replace them with fluorescents.

And although I am a techno geek, I am ironically not an early adopter. In fact, I consider myself a "late adopter" especially in this day of buggy, unreliable software and low-quality, cheap electronics.

Point being, I don't go out and get the latest and greatest. Whether it's for business or personal purposes, I carefully research and invest in equipment to avoid and minimize obsolescence.

Less electronics means less toxic waste in landfills.

Now if you will excuse me I have to go hide from electronics sales reps.


Monday, March 2, 2009

White Balance

White balancing is that funny thing your camcorder does sometimes that make your videos look too blue or too orange. Digital still cameras are also susceptible to this problem.

Our eyes are not as sensitive to this phenomenon. In fact, if it weren't for video cameras, I wouldn't be writing about it.

Let me break it down for you:

In general, anything that emits light has what is called color temperature, which is expressed in units of the Kelvin (K) scale. As you recall from chemistry class, zero K is considered the theoretically absolute lowest temperature, unlike the Celsius or Fahrenheit scale where there may be a below zero temperature value.

And, people, the unit is Kelvins--not degrees Kelvins, or Kelvin degrees. Moving on . . .

To give you an idea, sunlight has a color temperature of approximately 5600 K. Incandescent lights, about 3000-3200 K.

What is considered "pure white" in the video world?  6500 K. Anything below that will have an orange-light brown tint, and is considered "warm". Light above 6500 K from a television will have bluish tint, considered "cool".

(In the video industry, there is an actual point on a colorimetry chart called D65 representing.)

"But, Ted," you ask, "how can I improve the quality of my videos so they don't look too blue or too orange? Help me, Ted. You're my only hope."

Well, the automatic white balance control in video cameras usually can do an acceptable job as long as the lighting condition stays within a small range of color temperature. In other words, let's say if you're in a room that is all lit by incandescent lights, the camera should adjust its white balance correctly.

Where things get problematic is when you mix light sources of different color temperature, for example, a room with open windows but also has lamps with incandescent light bulbs--a videographer's nightmare. The camera gets confused and does not adjust properly, resulting in the video often appearing too blue.

Another example is when you move from inside shooting to outdoor shooting. Even moving from a sunlight area outside to a shaded area, like under a tree, will shift in white balance.

So here are things you can try:
  • When possible, do not mix light sources of different color temperatures (e.g., close window shades to block out daylight)
  • Prior to shooting, completely zoom in on a white sheet paper or white wall in the area where you are shooting. Note that camcorders typically have a manual white balance adjustments, but on consumer units they are usually buried under layers of menus. In professional videography, white balance cards are often used.
  • In worst case, some video editing software, like Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, Adobe Premiere Elements, will do color correction. Color correction is in fact considered part of the workflow among professional video editors.
Of course, the best thing to do is just to hire a professional videographer to shoot your important events. ;-)


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Long Live Blu-ray

It's a sad fact: Consumers have become beta testers to the electronics industry.

Blu-ray and its rival, HD-DVD, exemplify this. Clearly, there have been a lot of issues with the first players and their widespread acceptance was inhibited by a format war, circa JVC's VHS vs. Sony's Betamax. These high definition videodisc players are equipped with connections (e.g., Ethernet, USB) so, if necessary, you can update the firmware to make them work properly.

This is an unusually odd trend, indeed.

I remember days when you would buy a piece of electronics equipment and the fricking thing would just work. Nowadays, a lot of electronics are so software driven and released pre-maturely. And as a consequence consumers have to rely on tech support help, Internet forums, software/firmware updates, and knowledge bases at manufacturers' websites.

Ted's Video Services has been offering videography services in 1080i High Definition Video since 2006. Now that the format war is over and Blu-ray has been victorious, Ted's Video Services can now offer videos on Blu-ray, and we will want to make sure the disc will play in your machine. As always, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

If you would like more information, please contact us at (510) 796-2200, or E-mail


"Smiles, everyone! Smiles!!!"

"My dear guests, I'm Mr. Roarke, your host. WELCOME to Fantasy Island!"

And not to date myself any further, I welcome you to the blog of Ted's Video Services, where you will find useful information relating to digitally preserving your precious memories, technology, helpful consumer tips, and so much more! Best of all, it's all FREE information, and we all know knowledge is power, right?

By the way, gratuities are greatly appreciated. Just kidding.

Hope you enjoy the blog.

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