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Restorers bring old tape, film up to date
There's a way to save the best birthday you
ever had before it turns to rust and crumbles away. But you'd better not
wait too long.
You may think the sweet family memories caught on
VHS videotape or even flickery 8 mm film are preserved forever. Problem is,
it's likely that the iron oxide magnetic coating -- basically the same
chemical as rust -- on your old videotapes is flaking away. Colors are
fading on your old 8 mm films, and mold may even be growing on them.
Even if old videotapes and films weren't deteriorating, it's gotten hard to
view them. Many people put the old VHS player in the same closet with the
tapes when they bought a DVD player.
The aging of old media may be painful for consumers, but it's creating a
business opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Take Nick Cate. He's the owner of Cate Video Services, a video transfer
company. He is equipped with plenty of horsepower to transfer old movies and
videos to modern DVDs.
A former information technology employee at Delta Air Lines, Cate says the
business is both a way to support his family and a personal mission.
"I lost my parents, and there's no video of them at all," he said. "I can't
tell you what I'd give to have 30 seconds of video of them walking down the
Cate bought a turnkey video business from Home Video Studio -- where the
price tag starts at $100,000 -- shortly after taking a post-9/11 buyout at
"It was always Nick the video guy when I was at Delta," he said. "I did this
as a hobby, and people from school and church were always bringing me tapes
Robert Hanley, founder of Home Video Studio -- now with 71 independently
owned businesses around the country -- said consumers are beginning to
realize their old videotapes are doomed if they don't take action to
"Yes, definitely, it's a growing market," he said. "We have tons and tons of
videotapes that date back to the '80s. And those tapes weren't meant to last
more than 10 years -- they are starting to fade out."
Tons of videos? It sounds dramatic and even exaggerated, but don't tell that
to Margaret Aurand of Sugar Hill.
"I have an entire room in my house dedicated to old media," she said.
"Everything from 16 RPM vinyl records with speeches on them to large-reel
tapes to 16 mm film ..."
Many of the films and videos contain footage of her father. She considered
transfering some of the old images that are on film and videotape to DVD but
has battled technology along the way. She tried to do it herself, using a
computer. But complicated software and poor technical support hampered her.
"It is daunting," she said. She's hesitated to try a commercial service but
said she'll someday take her videotapes and films to someone like Cate.
"I take the vulture method of technology acquisition," she said. "I sit on
my branch and watch and wait, and then flap down and get it."
Roger Merritt, owner of Omni Images, a commercial video transfer firm and
photography studio in Kennesaw, lately has seen more and more vultures
flapping down from the branch.
Unlike Cate's home-based business, Merritt operates out of a strip shopping
center in Kennesaw. He has seen a pattern developing for the video transfer
side of his business. Cate deals mostly with consumers, but 90 percent of
Merritt's business comes from other businesses. In some cases, old
videotaped promotional presentations are transferred to DVD. In others,
Merritt shoots new video.
But he's also seeing more walk-in customers with family videotapes ready for
"Usually it's not something that people are thinking about," Merritt said.
"Then they'll have a birthday, or some function, even a funeral service, and
bring the tapes in to transfer them ... maybe three or four tapes."
The ease and quality of the DVD copy often makes believers -- and repeat
customers -- out of them, he said.
"We will see them two or three times a year after that," said Merritt.
As with Cate, prices vary wildly for transfers, depending on what the
customer wants to do. Basic transfers, moving two hours of video to a DVD,
are the most inexpensive. But if narration, editing or music needs to be
added, the cost can go up. Consumers can also use the Internet to find
mail-off services that will send back a freshly minted DVD. Similar services
are available for 8 mm film and slides.
In general, costs today are much less than a few years ago.
"I can remember when we charged $250 for a video transfer," Merritt said.
"Prices have dropped and probably will continue to do that."
That's likely to keep new customers coming.
Jackie B. Hamilton of Atlanta has six or seven family videos she would like
"There are pictures of my grandson and family recordings, Christmas time,
and different holidays," she said.
But last time she checked prices for a transfer, the cost was between $50
and $60 a tape.
"That's more than I want to pay," she said. "So I'll wait."
KEITH HADLEY / Staff
Nick Cate of Peachtree City transfers old home movies, as well as VHS tapes,
to modern DVDs.
KEITH HADLEY / Staff
"It was always Nick the video guy when I was at Delta. I did this as a
hobby, and people from school and church were always bringing me tapes to
transfer," says Nick Cate, who decided to go into the business full time.
MEDIA LIFE SPANS
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?
• Videotape: Images and sound can start disappearing after two years.
Consumer videotape has a normal life span of 10 years.
• Film: Stored properly, it can last a hundred years, but mold and fading
usually happen much quicker. These tips also apply to photographic slides
since the same type of film stock is used.
• Photographic prints: Fading, especially for color pictures, can occur in
five to 10 years. But archival prints made on special paper and using
techniques designed to increase longevity should last longer.
• DVD and CD: Homemade discs have a shorter life span than those that are
commercially recorded. Life span can be from 20 to 100 years depending on a
variety of variables, including quality of the original disc and storage
HOW TO STORE IT
• Videotape: Store in a cool, dry environment, but not below 46 degrees. Do
not store close to strong magnetic sources such as loudspeakers or electric
motors. Use plastic containers instead of the original cardboard packaging.
• Film: Think cool -- even colder than for videotape -- and dry. Zero
degrees F for color film is preferred but, if not realistic, try 30 degrees
with 25 to 35 percent humidity. Black-and-white film can be stored at 25 to
50 degrees with 25 to 35 percent humidity. Store in plastic polypropylene
cans, and remove all paper labels from inside the cans.
• DVD and CD: Keep away from strong sunlight, avoid writing on them with
ink, store vertically in individual jewel cases. A cool, dry climate is
Source: Independent Media Arts Preservation Inc., a nonprofit group involved
in film and video preservation.
Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution