VIDEO CAMERA 1993

 BootLog.co.uk

HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff

SHOP WINDOW -- TAPE HEAD CLEANERS

 

HEAD

HEAD-MASTERS?

 

INTRO

Sooner or later the video heads in your camcorder and VCR will need cleaning -- we look at a selection of head-cleaner tapes, and the continuing debate over their use

 

COPY

Even after all these years the use of head cleaner tapes in camcorders and VCRs remains a contentious issue with plenty of sharply divided opinions. We have been using head cleaners on camcorders and VCRs for as long as they have been available; we've tried most of  them, at one time or another, some work, others are a waste of money, and one or two have given us genuine cause for concern. The ones that work can be a useful first-aid measure for ailing machines with dirty or clogged tape heads, which results in a progressively noisy or unstable picture, but they are most definitely not a substitute for the skilled attention of a qualified engineer. Many camcorder, VCR  and video tape manufacturers are clearly comfortable about their use and quite a few of the major brands, including the market leaders, produce cleaner tapes of their own.

 

So what are the concerns? The main worry is the potential for accelerated wear and/or damage to a video deck, caused by over-use or mis-use. A second argument rages over the efficacy of the various cleaning methods, we will look at both issues in turn. Damage to VCRs and camcorders caused directly by cleaner tapes can and does occur but in our experience this is mostly down to the user not following the instructions. Wear and tear is harder to pin down. Normal video tape is deliberately abrasive, giving it a light head-cleaning action, consequently video tape heads do wear out. Our guess is some head cleaners can reduce head life, but by weeks rather than  months or years.

 

There are basically three types of tape head cleaner: wet, dry and brush-action. In a wet cleaner the cassette is spooled with an absorbent fabric tape, which is impregnated with a cleaning fluid, (normally isopropyl alcohol), by various means. During each cleaning operation a fresh length of  tape makes a timed pass through the deck and around the head drum, taking with it any dirt or residue back into the cassette. Dry cleaners employ an especially abrasive or 'uncalendered' tape that literally scours the heads and tape path. A couple of cleaner tapes on the market  use a combination wet or dry system.  Most tape cleaners can be used only once, though there's often enough consumables (tape and/or fluid)  for 100 or more cleaning cycles. The contaminated tape should not be rewound and used again. The third method uses micro fibre brushes, placed against the spinning head drum. Automatic brush-type cleaners are now built into a significant number of VCRs but we have also found a brand of cassette-type cleaners that use this method. Brush-type cleaners have the advantage that they can get into the air grooves and crannies on the head drum that other types of cleaners miss.

 

Apart from extra wear what else can go wrong? Wet cleaners need the greatest care. If too much fluid is used, or the residues are not allowed time to evaporate and a cassette is loaded too soon afterwards the tape can stick to the spinning guide rollers, pinch wheel or even the head drum itself, with messy and expensive consequences. There is some concern about using wet type cleaners on new machines, where the drum and heads have not bedded in properly and rough or sharp edges can snag fibres in the fabric tape, causing additional clogging. Lastly, isopropyl alcohol is flammable and an irritant and the dripper bottles  -- some look just like dollies feeding-bottles -- should be kept well away from children. Dry cleaners are far less contentious but they're not without problems of their own. Due to their abrasive action they can leave a deposit inside the machine, which could eventually add to the contamination and cleaning problem. This far we haven't encountered any problems with brush-type cleaners.

 

Originally we proposed to carry out a series of comparative tests on each of the cleaner tapes but after some lengthy experimentation we finally gave up. We encountered two major problems; the first was in producing a standard contaminant. We tried various substances, solids and liquids, using a variety of application methods -- Pepsi Cola painted in strips on lengths of tape was one of the more successful ones -- but it was impossible to get consistent results, with the different types of cleaner.. The second was in recreating repeatable and comparable conditions for  both formats. It would have required a set of identically aged test machines and after each session we would have had to strip, analyse, manually clean and then realign each deck. It could be done but by the time we'd finished the VHS and 8mm formats would have been obsolete...

 

However, our experiments were not in vain, and we amassed a lot of useful data which, combined with cleaning operations carried out on machines in the office, plus past experiences has enabled us to make some meaningful judgements about the capabilities of the various types of cleaner tapes, under particular conditions, but we would like to repeat our earlier warning that if a couple of  run-throughs with a good quality head cleaner tape -- in strict accordance with the manufacturers instructions -- hasn't cured the problem seek professional help.

 

We've collected together a section of cleaner tapes, most of them are designed for camcorder use but we've included a few full-size VHS cleaners as well, in general they work in the same way, and are as proficient as their VHS-C stablemates. Here are our findings.

 

 

ALLSOP 0218   14.99

The higher than average price for this cleaner is explained by the pack of lens tissues and blower brush included in the outfit. We were unable to evaluate our sample as the soft, ribbed fabric became tangled around the pinch wheel, or would not run for more than a couple of  seconds and was not drawn back into the cassette. No warnings about waiting for cleaner fluid to disperse. Very unsatisfactory.

 

Format                                   8mm

Cleaning system                    wet, one-use

Number operations            30

Performance                  0

Value for money            1 (for the blower brush and tissues)

 

ALLSOP 0219             14.99

Supplied with pack of lens tissues and blower brush. Non woven fabric passes around entire tape patch and should remove light soiling. Tests satisfactory though very brief instructions fail to warn about waiting for fluid to evaporate and only cursory flammability warning on dripper bottle.

 

Format                       VHS-C

Cleaning system wet, one-use

Number operations            30

Performance                  5

Value for money            5

 

 

BIB V-42                       7.98

Somewhat over-packaged inside VHS-sized cardboard box. Sample repeatedly jammed in one of our two test machines, quality of construction poor. Unsatisfactory.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations    200

Performance               3

Value for money         3

 

BIB V-45                       7.98

We detected some cleaning action, though it  only dealt with light soiling. Very noisy in operation. Passable.

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            200

Performance               5

Value for money         5

 

 

FUJI 8CL-10                  6.89

Efficient and well-made dry cleaner, fine for routine cleaning operations though unable to deal with very heavy contamination. Good value. Recommended.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations             300

Performance               7

Value for money         8


FUJI VCL-10                  4.89

Good quality dry cleaner, well made and very good value. Three passes  produced a very small reduction in noise levels on one of our well-used office VCRs. Worth trying.

 

Format              VHS

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            400

Performance               6

Value for money         9

 

GENEVA VR-175       15.99

No doubt about the warnings on the pump-spray bottle of cleaning fluid supplied with this wet cleaner, 'harmful or fatal if swallowed...' Mind you, it won't harm the ozone layer, as the box proudly proclaims. The cleaning fluid was quite good with our experimental contaminants, though it was very slow to evaporate, Geneva suggest waiting a minute, we would have thought 5 or 10 minutes would be better. We're also unhappy about the suggestion that a camcorder needs cleaning every week! Effective but rather expensive.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system wet/dry, one use

Number operations            30

Performance               8

Value for money         5

 

GENEVA VR-180       15.99

Similar to the 8mm cleaner, down to the deadly cleaning fluid and questionable advice in the instructions. Good for shifting slimy deposits, though with only enough consumables for 30 cleaning cycles it does work out to be very expensive.

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system wet, one use

Number operations            30

Performance               8

Value for money         6

 

 

LINXS 90110                  23.99

Unusually comprehensive instructions, including some important safety messages, but no warning about waiting for cleaning solution to disperse. Wet or dry action, some cleaning action. Poor value.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system wet, one-use

Number operations            30

Performance               5

Value for money         3

 

SCOTCH VHS-C          9.99

C-cassette version of Scotch's very successful 'message' cleaner which gives a visible indication of the cleaning process with an on-screen message that should become clearer as the cleaning session progresses. Simple, safe and effective. Recommended.

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            240

Performance               8

Value for money         8

 

SCOTCH 8mm            9.99

No message this time, just a dry abrasive tape spooled inside a shell, which we were surprised to discover, is identical to the ones used on the Geneva and Linxs wet cleaners. Fairly effective but not especially good value.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations    30

Performance              6

Value for money        6

 

 

SCOTCH VHS            9.99

Our favourite VHS cleaner, because you can see it working as the on-screen , message becomes clearer. Proven and reliable. Recommended.

 

Format              VHS

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            240

Performance               8

Value for money         8

 

SIMA SHC-V                 9.99

Reasonably well made wet/dry cleaner with handy compartment for bottle of cleaner fluid. Better than average instructions with safety warning, recommending a 5-10 minute wait after using the cleaner. Some cleaning action. Fair value.

 

Format              VHS

Cleaning system wet/dry, one-use

Number operations             70

Performance               7

Value for money         8

 

 

SONY V8-25CLH  10.99

Safe and dependable dry cleaner, as recommended by Sony themselves, so it must be okay. Our sample did quite well with light contamination but made no headway on sticky deposits. A little pricey, but that's Sony for you.

 

Format              8mm/Hi8

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            200

Performance               8

Value for money         7

 

 

SONY L25CLN              9.29 --TO COME

 

Format              Betamax

Cleaning system

Number operations

Performance

Value for money

 

SONY V25CLN            10.29 -- TO COME

 

Format              VHS

Cleaning system

Number operations

Performance

Value for money

 

 

TRACKMATE TM281  14.99

One of the stars of the show, and good value as well, the brush can be cleaned when it becomes soiled. The brush emerges from the cassette to give the head and air cushion grooves a repeated light scrubbing, it has no effect on the rest of the tape path. It's important to follow the instructions, though, as one of our test machines spat it out, when the timing control wasn't set properly. There's also no warning about waiting for the cleaning fluid to evaporate. Recommended.

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system brush, multiple-use

Number operations    replacement fluid 2.99

Performance               9

Value for money         9

 

TRACKMATE TM291  14.99

Similar in concept to Trackmate's 8mm cleaner, with a moving brush that cleans the heads and air-grooves on the drum. Good for removing loose dust and debris though insufficient pressure or stiffness to cope with really stubborn grime, and no cleaning effect on the rest of the tape path. Effective and good value as the brush can be washed or replaced. Recommended. 

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system brush, multiple use

Number operations    replacement fluid 2.99

Performance               9

Value for money         9

 

TDK VCL-11                  6.99

Safe and effective dry cleaner for light accumulations of dirt. Simple to follow instructions and a reasonable price. Well worth thinking about

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            100

Performance               8

Value for money         7

 

TDK V8-25CLH            7.99

Another quality dry cleaner, works well on routine contamination, little impact on heavy-duty grime. Worth considering.

 

Format              8mm/Hi8

Cleaning system dry, one-use

Number operations            100

Performance                    8       

Value for money            8

 

TDK VCW-11             13.99

One of the better quality wet cleaners. The instructions could be clearer, though, possibly with a diagram to show exactly where the 'liquid hole' is. Welcome advice about waiting for five minutes, before loading a tape cassette. Quite good at shifting our experimental grime deposits. Pricey but an effective choice for badly contaminated machines.

 

Format              VHS-C/S-VHS-C

Cleaning system wet, one-use

Number operations            100

Performance               8

Value for money         7

 

TDK 8CW-11                 13.99

One of our test machines wasn't very happy with this one, refusing to play for more than few seconds. Similar system to TDK's VHS-C wet cleaner but not as effective. Not particularly impressed.

 

Format              8mm/Hi8

Cleaning system wet, one use

Number operations            100

Performance                  5

Value for money            3

 

VIVANCO VRC 02         9.99

A remarkably elaborate wet cleaner with an electronic timing circuit to control the duration of each cleaning cycle. All the more remarkable considering the complexity of the electronics (two chips a light-sensor and two LEDs), the comparatively low price, and the fact that it is a disposable item. Good for stubborn grime. Worth considering.

 

Format              VHS

Cleaning system wet, one-use

Number operations            50

Performance               8

Value for money         9

 

VIVANCO VRC 07         7.99

An unusual hybrid wet or dry cleaner spooled with a non-porous abrasive tape. Well made and easy to use with better than average cleaning abilities. Worth considering.

 

Format              VHS-C

Cleaning system             wet/dry, one-use

Number operations            50

Performance               8

Value for money         8

 

VIVANCO VRC-08         7.99

Another combination wet/dry cleaner that works well on both loose dust and dirt, and more ingrained contamination. Definitely worth thinking about.

 

Format              8mm

Cleaning system wet/dry, one-use

Number operations            50

Performance                  8

Value for money             8

 

USEFUL ADDRESSES

 

ALLSOP.  Path Distribution, Unit 15 Hayward Industrial Park, Tameside Drive,

Castle Bromwich, Birmingham B35 7BR. Telephone 021-749 2240 

 

BIB AUDIO VIDEO PRODUCTS Kelsey House, Wood Lane End

Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP2 4RQ. Telephone (0442) 233233

 

FUJI PHOTO FILM  Fuji House,  125 Finchley Road,  London NW3 6JH.

Telephone 071-586 5900

 

LINXS Josty Ltd,  Perry Avenue, Teesside Industrial Estate, Thornaby,

Cleveland TS17 9LN. Telephone (0642) 769000

 

OPTEX  Tasco Sales Unit 1, M40 Ind Park, Loxley Rd, Wellesbourne Warks CU35 9JY. Telephone (0789) 474747

 

SCOTCH, 3M House,  PO Box 1, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 1JU.

Telephone (0344) 858000

 

SIMA Prisma Europe Ltd, Priory House, Pitsford Street, Birmingham B18 6LX

Telephone 021 554 5540

 

SONY UK LTD Sony House, South Street, Staines, Middlesex TW15 4AT. 

Telephone (0784) 467000

 

TDK UK LTD, TDK House, 5-7 Queensway, Redhill, Surrey RH1 1YB.

Telephone (0737) 773773

 

VIVANCO Unit C ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS

Telephone (0442) 231616

 

---end---

R.Maybury 1993 2207

 

[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]


Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.

admin@rickmaybury.com