Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Alive, Tape is Dead.

It's been some time since we have posted here on The Media Doctor site...but we're back now with a vengance.  Let's talk about the Death of Tape.

For years now, I have been eagerly awaiting the death of video tape.  I have been so excited about solid state technology that I often tell classes at the University of Akron that I will have a party when the last piece of video tape rolls off the press.  Call it a tape-based funeral!  Free head cleaner for all!

But after nearly a year of working with solid state media, my opinion has changed.  Fact is:  tape is good.

What caused my change of heart?

Well, back in the ancient days of video tape, I would go out and shoot.  Then I'd capture the video into my trusty Mac Book Pro.  Then I'd edit.   Then I'd spit the edited version back out to tape.  My original tapes would sit on a shelf for years.  All was well.

Today I am shooting mostly on Panasonic's P2 format.  Cards are still ridicuolusly expensive, at several hundred dollars each, for maybe an hour or four's worth of space.  Total cost of several hours of DVCPro tape?  Maybe $60.

But that isn't the real problem.  No indeed.  The real problem is this:  once I copy all my P2 media to a hard drive, I need to re-use the P2 cards again almost immediately.  So I wipe them clean and start the next shoot.

And my investment in shooting the previous material is left to the whims of my hard drives.  And anyone who has used hard drives for years will tell you that as storage space has climbed and prices have plummeted, the trade off has been shortened drive longevity and stability.

So, this past spring, while shooting on location in Trinidad & Tobago, I came back to the hotel room each night and moved data onto several hard drives, making multiple copies.  Flash forward to a couple of months later and the drives wake up one morning all confused...."This hard drive must be formatted" says my Mac Book Pro.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!   $15,000 in travel expenses down the drain?  In a panic, I call the manufacturer, who tells me to buy a piece of software to rebuild my drive's file allocation tables.  If successful, I MAY get my data back.   

I do.  I make a total of SEVEN complete backups of the data on five different drives in three different physical locations.

And today I yearn for the days when those original tapes would be sitting safely on a shelf somewhere, ready to spring to life again for anyone with a working deck.   I hope we can avoid that tape funeral for a long time, even if I am living in the world of the hard drive.  It was a simpler time.


  1. Ah, to have Umatic again...NOT.

    As much as I detest real-time tape ingest via Panasonic's now-arcane (yet still viable) DVCPro tape system, it does work and is pretty reliable. I'm still shooting with a Panasonic camera that has not needed any service in the past 17 months. It gets subjected to wicked heat and oppressive humidity, sand and surf, yet it still passes that 9mm tape through like a champ.

    What *is* great about digital file recording is that you don't have to ingest (transfer from tape-to-hard drive). It's already a timeline-ready file.

    Oh, and about 3/4" Umatic: it was the last tape format that you could "re-core", or re-load with fresh tape. The oxide coating on the old magnetic medium was not very robust like metal evaporated tapes are today. And you could sit on your BVU-50 deck when you got tired.

    Great post, Doc. You're inspiring me to fire up my keyboard again!

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