A VHS tape (Video Home System) is a widely used media format used to watch and store visual media. VHS tapes were popularised in the 1950’s, later being introduced to home users in the 1970’s. Since the introduction of DVDs, streaming services, mobile phone cameras and other modern media, VHS tapes have become significantly less common. VHS tapes are known to slowly degrade over time. Research has shown that VHS tapes, even when stored correctly, will experience 10-20% signal loss from magnetic decay after 10-25 years. Given how long VHS tapes have existed, there is a chance your older tapes have already reached, if not exceeded, this time frame.

How does a VHS Tape Work?

  • Inside all VHS tapes contain:
  • Top and bottom pieces of the outer shell plastic (polypropylene)
  • A moving, spring-loaded door to protect the tape
  • Two reels to hold the tape
  • An 800 foot (243m) long, 12mm wide piece of oxide-coated Mylar tape that acts as the recording medium
  • Two spring-loaded locks to prevent the tape from unfurling inside the cassette
  • Screws to hold the whole thing together

When the tape is inserted into a VHS player, it uses a control to release and open the door, exposing the tape. It also inserts a pin into the hole to disengage the two locks on the reels. At that point, the driver can extract the tape and play it. VHS tapes are delicate and can be damaged very easily, even if taken proper care of.

Why do VHS tapes degrade?

All VHS tapes use a magnetic charge to store the video and audio data on the tape. These eventually lose their charge and weaken over time. These magnetic particles have a lifespan and eventually lose their charge, causing audio and visual distortions in tapes. While this loss of magnetic charge is inevitable with all VHS tapes, there are additional factors that can contribute to the deterioration of a VHS tape. This can include being too close to other magnetic forces such as a fridge or speaker. Moisture can also ruin a VHS tape; if kept in a humid climate, the binder layer is where the data is stored. Even in moderately humid environments, the binder can absorb moisture, making it sticky.

What can you do to preserve VHS tapes?

It is essential to transfer your VHS to digital format as soon as possible to prevent further decay and promote video quality. The best way to store VHS tapes before the video transfer is to store at room temperature, keep the tapes dry and keep them out of direct sunlight.

Once your memories are transferred to digital formats such as DVD or USB, they have a much higher life expectancy as they do not deteriorate over time in the same way VHS tapes do. USB drives are the recommended medium as they are affordable, transportable, and reliable. The life expectancy of a USB Flash Drive can be measured by the number of write or erase cycles. USB flash drives can withstand between 10,000 to 100,000 write and erase cycles. If the USB is used predominantly to store memories and are not being regularly erased, the USB drive will have a long life span and the content will not deteriorate.

The in-house DiskBank are well trained in safely transferring your memories without causing further damage to the VHS. The technicians can apply further touch-ups or editing to enhance audio, brightness, or visuals for a better watching experience. This is all included in a video transfer at DiskBank. If you have any further questions about transferring your film to DVD or USB, contact DiskBank or call us at (08) 9388 0800 to discuss your options with one of our friendly staff.