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If you’ve noticed the picture on your video recorder is getting a bit fuzzy lately it might mean the tape heads are clogged, and may need a spring clean, but is it a job you can do for yourself?  Some manufacturers recommend it should only be carried out by a qualified service engineer, others market their own head-cleaner cassettes, and actively encourage their use, confusing, isn’t it?


In our experience a good quality head cleaner cassette, used strictly according to the instructions, can help to improve picture quality, however, there’s a few ifs and buts. The first is that quite a few machines nowadays have built-in head cleaners. They’re usually small round brushes that give the head drum a quick wipe over every time a tape is inserted. If your machine has one of these, and it’s suffering from clogged heads the contamination must be quite bad, and it probably requires professional help. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to stop you trying a cleaner cassette first.


There are basically two types of head cleaner cassette, ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. The dry types are spooled with a mildly abrasive tape that scours the surface of the heads. Video tape is slightly abrasive anyway, but these tapes are more so, and are quite good at shifting light contamination. Unfortunately, because they’re abrasive they can leave a light residue behind inside the machine, and may accelerate head wear, if they’re used too often, but the cleaning action is fast and, in the case of the Scotch cleaner cassette, instantly obvious as there’s a message recorded on the tape, that becomes progressively clearer.


Wet cleaner cassettes come in two distinct varieties, those that use an absorbent fabric tape, moistened with a cleaning fluid -- usually isopropyl alcohol --  and those with stationery or moving brushes, doused with cleaning fluid. Wet cleaners shouldn’t contribute to head wear;  they are good at removing stubborn deposits from the heads and drum, moreover contaminants are removed from the machine by the ‘one-use’ tape. The trouble with wet cleaners is the temptation to use too much fluid in the belief it will do a better job. In fact it can do the opposite, and if the cleaning liquid is not allowed sufficient time to evaporate from the head drum, and a cassette is loaded too soon afterwards, the tape can become stuck and tangled around the head drum or capstan roller, then it will definitely need expert attention. Most wet cleaners have devices to limit the amount of fluid, and timing mechanisms to prevent them running dry, but it’s still very important not to over do it, and always follow the instructions.


Never attempt to physically clean the heads with implements or materials made for cleaning audio tape recorders. Video heads are extremely fragile and can be easily fractured if they’re rubbed the wrong way. The best bet, if your picture is deteriorating, is to try a cleaner cassette first. Dry cleaners are generally safest, but try a wet cleaner if the VCR is kept in a particularly dusty or smoky environment, or you play a lot of rental tapes, but if there’s not an immediate improvement don’t persist, have it seen to by someone who knows what they’re doing.



We all know the statistics, a house is broken into every thirty seconds, and guess what is on the top of every villains wish-list? It’s not your silver candelabras and old masters they’re after, they’re difficult to sell and easily traced; no, it’s VCRs, hi-fis and TVs. There’s a ready market for these items, and we make it so easy for them. For instance, if someone broke into your home and made off with your home cinema system would you be able to furnish the police with the make, model and serial numbers of your equipment? Probably not, so why not make a list right now. While you’re at it mark every item of equipment with your name or postcode, the best way is to use one of those pens with invisible ultra-violet ink, though it’s a good idea to scratch some ID somewhere on the case as well, just in case. Perish the thought that crooks have UV lamps...


Make sure your household contents insurance is up to date, and be sure to check your AV equipment is specifically covered. Insurance companies are big on small print and pernickety exclusions. If you’ve any doubts check with your broker, and watch out for weasely new-for-old clauses, that could leave you out of pocket, especially if you’ve got a lot of expensive equipment, that may not be easy to replace with items of comparable quality. If you’ve got a camcorder check that’s covered too, they’re often excluded, along with other portable items, like cameras and laptop computers.


So far we’ve assumed the worst and your home has been broken into, but prevention is far better than cure, and there’s a lot you can do to increase your household security, without spending a fortune, or turning it into Fort Knox. VCRs AV amplifiers and TVs are like beacons at night, the displays and lights shine out through living room windows, flashing the message ‘break in and steal me’ to every passing villain. The solution is to make sure they can’t be seen, if necessary cover them up, or turn the equipment off. Video cabinets, especially ones with doors are a good idea, and if you’re really paranoid you could clamp, screw or otherwise attach the equipment to the cabinet, to make it harder to steal. But back to those preventive measures. Make life difficult for opportunist thieves, better still persuade them into trying someone else’s house by making your home look secure, permanently occupied and more trouble than its worth.


Fit visible deterrents to the outside of your home, alarm boxes, security lights, window locks and don’t forget to leave a light on or use a timer if you’re going to be away for the night. Best of all, have an alarm system installed;  a good one will set you back several hundred pounds but it’s money well spent as it will highlight any weak spots on your security arrangements, it may even entitle you to discount on the insurance, in any event it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.



When you become a parent for the first time you get a lot of advice, most of it blindingly obvious but it’s a tradition. However, what no-one ever tells you is that kids and AV equipment don’t mix. The key word is prevention, maybe if you’d been a bit more careful in the first place... but that’s another story. The trick is to get in first; the knobs, buttons and winking lights on TVs, video recorders and hi-fis are like magnets to small children, so make sure they can’t get at them. Your first step, before they take theirs,  is to get the equipment off the ground and out of reach, if you’ve been putting off buying that industrial-grade racking system, now is a good time. Lockable cabinets with doors are worth having too. You can’t afford to relax, kids grow at an alarming rate, and once they’re mobile it’s time to take more drastic measures.


VCR cassette flaps hold a fatal attraction for most children and if they don’t manage to get their hands stuck inside, they use them as a repository for sticky sweets and other, less savoury items, but only if you let them. There’s a couple of things you can do if you can’t move it out of their way. Mothercare and those large children’s DIY stores do a good line in VCR covers, though check to see if they have one to fit your machine, the one-size-fits-all type rarely do... You could always make one up for yourself out of a strip of perspex (so the remote control signals can still get through)  with some sticky-back Velcro pads, to hold it in place. Above all keep the main amplifier out of harm’s way, if they don’t figure out how to switch it on, or mess up the settings they’ll wind the volume knob right up, so the next time you switch it on you’ll see at first hand the component parts inside a loudspeaker. You have been warned!



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