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When was the last time you chucked out a video tape because it had worn out?  The blank tape industry has become a victim of its own success and if the bean counters are to be believed, manufacturing blank video tapes could soon qualify for charitable status. It's also the age-old problem of too many products chasing too few consumers, prices are shaved to the bone and hardly anyone makes a profit these days.


That's good and bad news for us, the tape-buying public. On the plus side, blanks have never been so cheap and the quality remains impressively high. The downside is that it can't go on -- more brands will follow Scotch and pull out of the market  -- and this is the first year in living memory when there hasn't been any significant new product launches.


The truth is there can be very few improvements left in the pipeline and even the cheapest branded tapes are at or close to the edges of the VHS performance envelope. Evidence of that comes from JVC who have launched S-VHS-ET (expansion technology) format VCRs in Japan, which record S-VHS signals on bog-standard VHS tape.  


Even if tape quality was a big issue it would be harder to spot the iffy cassettes these days. Many mid-market VCRs now have sophisticated tape tuning systems, that optimise their recording and playback circuitry to suit the performance of the tape, effectively masking flaws in the tape's magnetic coating and reducing the impact of noise.


Nevertheless it would be a mistake to say all blank tapes are equal, they're not, and we still find that some brands of tape work better in some makes of VCR than others. Unfortunately it's almost impossible to generalise, so much depends on the individual characteristics of the machines involved, and to some extent the day on which you brought the tape. Blank tape is produced in batches moreover some companies change the source of their tape, buying magnetic stock on a kind of spot market, so there can be quite variations in consistency. The simple advice is to try as many different brands and grades as possible and when you find one that works for you and your VCR, buy a crate load…


Since tape is so cheap these days it's well worth trying higher-grade formulations, especially for important recordings. HG tapes normally have smaller and more efficient magnetic particles. That means more information can be packed onto the tape, which leave less room for noise. High grade tapes often have extra coatings, that reduce shedding (flaking of the magnetic layer that produces dropout or flashing white spots on the picture), extra coatings also mean less friction, and less wear and tear on your VCR. All that adds up to a crisper, more detailed picture with more lifelike colours and less noise.


As we've said this hasn't been a particularly memorable year for blank video cassettes but we've been keeping our eye on the market and trying as many tapes as we can get our hands on. There's been only one newcomer of note since our last roundup earlier in the year, joining the HE top tape list.





A dependable tape that has never disappointed. Fuji's hallmark double coating process always gives excellent results on stereo machines. Picture and audio noise levels are well below average and dropout is at or close to zero. A good choice for important one-off recordings and camcorder editing applications.



Super VHS tape normally has the best low noise characteristics and performs well on normal VHS video recorders but at around £10 a throw price has been a problem. Not any more JVC's new S-VHS formulation called SV retails for around £5.00 for a 3-hour blank and at that price it has to be worth a try.    



Consistently low levels of picture noise and near zero dropouts have become a familiar feature on this tape. Colours are bright and lively with plenty of fine detail. It is suitable for almost all types of recording, from everyday watch and wipe to more demanding jobs like archiving and movie making.



This is a very old friend, going back more than ten years. The key feature has always been reliability, performance improves from year to year with very low noise and there's negligible dropout. It's ideal for long term storage too, we have recordings made on early TDK E-HG tapes made in the late 1980s that still look almost as good as the day they were made  



ă R. Maybury 1998 1611




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