video transfer

Preservation-quality restoration, transfer and digitising of analogue and digital video tape
close-up of shiny ¾ inch / 19mm D-2 video tape in cassette

D-2 video cassette, shell open to show ¾ inch / 19mm tape inside

introduction to our video services

Greatbear are specialists in the conservation and digitising of analogue and digital video on cassette and reel-to-reel tape. We regularly work with archives, museums, universities and individuals. We believe recordings on tape are valuable, whatever they are, whoever owns them and in whatever quantity.

We own and have restored a studio-full of video equipment with some of the best and most appropriate machines for the transfer of magnetic video tape from all eras, including old and rare video formats. All our transfers are made to high bitrate video files (unless otherwise desired), using AJA and Blackmagic ingest hardware.

We have a range of time base correctors and processing equipment to ensure stable transfers. We also use tools such as waveform monitors, video monitors, audio and video vectorscopes to help us accurately view and check the video and audio signals prior to digitising.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our video transfers. We use the International Association of Sound & Audiovisual Archives Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings, delivering FFV1 lossless files or 10-bit uncompressed video files in .mkv or QuickTime compatible .mov containers. We create viewing files as H264 encoded .mp4 files or DVD. We can deliver any other digital video files, according to your needs.

Scroll down to read a step-by-step guide to "what happens to your video tape" at the Greatbear studio.

Visit our media identification page to browse the formats we digitise.

We're friendly, flexible and love talking tape! If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us 

The table below summarises the range of analogue and digital video tape variations we are able to work from.

CarrierCarrier DetailTape WidthAnalogue / Digital
CassetteDV (MiniDV / HDV)¼ inch / 6.35mmDigital
DVCAM¼ inch / 6.35mmDigital
DVCPRO¼ inch / 6.35mmDigital
Video8 (Sony 8mm) / Hi8 / Digital85⁄16 inch / 8mmAnalogue
Digital (Digital 8)
VHS (S-VHS / VHS-C / D-VHS)½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Digital (D-VHS)
Betamax½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Betacam (Oxide / SP)½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX½ inch / 12.7mmDigital
HDCAM / HDCAM SR½ inch / 12.7mmDigital
U-matic¾ inch / 19mmAnalogue
D-1 (Sony) / D-2 (Ampex)¾ inch / 19mmDigital
D-3 / D-5 / D-5 HD (Panasonic)½ inch / 12.7mmDigital
D-9 aka Digital-S (JVC)½ inch / 12.7mmDigital
M / MII½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Philips N1500 / N1700½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Video 2000½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
Reel-to-reel¼ inch Akai b/w¼ inch / 6.35mmAnalogue
½ inch (Sony CV2100 / EIAJ )½ inch / 12.7mmAnalogue
1 inch type A / type B / type C1 inch / 25.4mmAnalogue
2 inch Quad2 inch / 50.8mmAnalogue
DiscDVD4 ¾ inch / 120mm diameterDigital
CRVdisc111316 inch / 300mm diameterDigital

what happens to your video tape?

After clients decide they want to send us their tape, they often ask: 'what happens next?'

To answer this question we thought we'd put together a step-by-step guide outlining the journey your tape undergoes once you decide to work with Greatbear.

Please note: this guide largely refers to our domestic customer inquiries. For work conducted with archives, heritage institutions and media professionals there are most likely to be additional steps, such as developing a plan to capture metadata.

1) Send us your tape

We recommend you send your tape using a quick and tracked delivery service, particularly if the material is rare or valuable to you. We recommend using a fast service because it minimises the amount of time your tape is not in a temperature-controlled environment. You can use a covering letter to tell us about your tapes, or fill out the customer tape assessment sheet and enclose it with your package. You can also visit us in person. We like visitors and understand that people feel nervous about sending material in the post. Make sure you phone us first to ensure that someone will be in to meet you.

2) Reception, labelling and database entry

When we receive your tape each individual reel, cartridge or box is given a unique identifying number and entered on our database. All tapes are given a 'sitting period' of at least 24hrs. in order to acclimatise to conditions in the Greatbear studio. It is risky to play tape back immediately because it will undergo subtle changes in shape as it adjusts to its new environment. Playing it back prior to acclimatisation risks damaging the tape. If your tape is displaying signs of mould infestation it will placed in quarantine and treated immediately so that active mould can be driven into dormancy. After 24 hours the tape will have stabilised, making it safe to move on to the next stage of the digitisation process: assessment.

3) Assessment

We offer customers free assessment of their tape primarily because it can be difficult to know what treatments are necessary without examining the tape's physical condition. This is also why we are hesitant to advertise generic prices for our service because the condition of each tape will vary depending on its storage and playback history. Often we can figure out the condition of tape by visual assessment.

The tape pack may not have been stored in the most careful way, leading it to become loose and bumpy. We also have many years of experience working with particular tape brands which consistently degrade due to their chemical composition. Ampex tapes, for example, almost always develop problems with the binder, known as binder hydrolysis or 'sticky shed syndrome.' Playing back tapes suffering from this condition without treatment can severely damage them and our machines. Recordings are usually recoverable however, following the appropriate treatment. On other occasions we may need to play back the tapes as part of our assessment because problems may not be so obvious, for example in cases where tape is squealing yet not suffering from typical binder hydrolysis.

4) Treatment

Once any problems with the tape have been ascertained, we can proceed with the appropriate treatment. For tapes experiencing binder hydrolysis, the tape is dehydrated at controlled temperatures in our Thermo Scientific Heraeus B20 laboratory incubator for at least 48 hours or longer, depending on the brand, size and age of the tape. This process is sometimes referred to as 'tape baking'. Dry-shedding tapes may require intensive cleaning before an accurate transfer can be made. In such cases tape is carefully wound and rewound allowing each section of the tape to be cleaned using non-dusting and non-abrasive fabric.

Other examples of pre-transfer treatment include re-shelling cassettes, re-spooling reels and cassettes in order to correct the tension in the spools and in some cases, re-lubricating tape so it can move smoothly through the transport.

5) Checking

In contrast to many audio cassette based formats, video tape is usually automatically wound out of the safety of the cassette shell on loading into a video tape recorder. It's this process or loading and unloading that can be risky so we always check our machines with non valuable testing tapes before loading a customer's tape to be digitised.

6) Machine Cleaning

Prior to digitisation our playback machines have to be cleaned. Machines are cleaned regularly, according to the requirements of each format. Open reel video formats, for example, are quick and easy to clean because the tape path is clearly visible. Machines are cleaned before each transfer, and sometimes more frequently, depending on the condition of the tape.

7) Calibration

In a digitisation context, calibration refers to the process through which playback machine specifications are adjusted in order for the tape to be played back in the clearest, most accurate form possible. Migrating professional video tape recordings can be relatively straightforward if you have access to calibration information about how the tape was recorded and if colour bars and audio tones were recorded on the tape before the main content. This precious metadata was often but not always meticulously written on tape boxes by video engineers so that recordings could be played accurately in different studios.

For those digitising magnetic tape this information is a gift because it helps us playback the tape according to its original specifications. Of course not all professional recordings include this information, and in such cases we can adjust the specifications of the playback machine visually and aurally. Almost all domestic tape recordings are prepared in this manner because it is incredibly rare that detailed information about the recording history is documented. For a full list of equipment we use for calibration purposes visit our video studio equipment page.

8) Digitisation

Once all the above processes are complete we are ready to replay the tape and either digitise analogue recording or capture the digital stream for digital video recordings. We use recommended 'non-lossy' archival standards (10-bit uncompressed Quicktime .mov for video or FFV1 lossless video files in a .mkv container) to achieve the best-possible quality transfer.

9) Video restoration

Once we have the 'raw transfer' there is the option to apply various restoration technologies. We only do this if it is explicitly requested from the customer because, in line with professional archival practices, we understand that such actions compromise the authenticity of the transfer. We do, however, understand this issue is not important to all our customers, and in such cases applying restoration technologies may be desirable.

The audio and video restoration services we offer include noise reduction, speed correction and volume correction for audio; chroma and luma correction, noise reduction and colour level adjustment for video.

10) Encoding file format for use and access

Large, uncompressed archival files can take up a lot of data space, making it difficult to publish and share information online. We are able to encode additional files for ease of use and access. For video the most common encoded files are H264 and MPEG2, while for audio it is MP3 and AAC. If you want your file encoded differently, just ask! We do however recommend you have both an uncompressed, high quality transfer for archival purposes and a lossier, compressed copy for access. You can specify which file formats you want on our downloadable customer assessment form.

11) Creating delivery media

Once the files are finalised we transfer them to the delivery media. We strongly recommend file delivery on an external hard drive rather than optical disc. We are happy to provide a hard drive or other usb media of an appropriate size and specification, the cost of which will be added to your invoice, or you can send a hard drive along with your tapes. We also deliver viewing files online.

12) Packing finished transfers to send to customers

If you would like to have your tapes returned to you post-digitisation, we will carefully pack them in recycled bubble wrap and jiffy bags / boxes, and send using a tracked delivery service, at cost to the customer. Customers are also very welcome to pick up their tapes and transferred digital files in person, but as always, do phone in advance to arrange your visit.

Alternatively we can arrange to safely dispose of any tapes you do not want returned. We will dispose of all uncollected tapes after 8 weeks, so please remember to communicate your wishes regarding your tapes post-digitisation.

We hope this gives some insight into what happens to your tape when you send it to us. If you do have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

multiple blue plastic tape boxes packed n box with spines showing green and white numbered labels

DVCAM tapes arriving to be transferred at Greatbear

black plastic tape shedding a white powdery substance being wiped gently with white cleaning cloth

Mould inside U-matic cassette shell

multiple open video cassettes with black tape on white spools, lying on metal shelf inside incubator

Ampex tape in Greatbear lab incubator

upright open reel 1 inch video tape machine, with front panel removed and human forefinger touching circular drum inside

Checking drum eccentricity & head tip penetration on Sony BVH-3100PS 1" video machine

horizontal layers of rack electronic machinery with knobs, buttons, green and red lightss

Section of video processing rack at Greatbear studio

2 images of a rectangular metal voltage meter with graphical analysis

AMIA Open Source vrecord capture software screenshot