I'm trying to play back a VHS tape on a VHS-to-DVD copier, but I just get a "tracking" message on screen which won't go away, and the picture just shows interference (like you see on an unrecorded of tape). Any idea how this can be fixed?
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When it says "tracking" it is using its automatic tracking feature to try to get the strongest & cleanest video signal by automatically adjusting back & forth the speed of the tape in reference to its control track (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_track#:~:text=A%20control%20track%20is%20a,the...e%20recording..
It can do this automatically or manually.
When in auto, it has a range of speeds it can try (per speed family - SP, LP, SLP/EP). It will cycle through the available range to find the strongest control track "blip" signals and sync to what it determines is the strongest it can find. If the signal was recorded on a machine out of this machine's range, or if it is in a speed family the machine doesn't support, or if the control track portion of the tape (upper or lower edge, IIRC) has been thoroughly damaged, the playback machine will keep saying "tracking" and never "lock on" to the signal at the proper speed. And in most decks, it keeps a blue screen up during those moments.
Decks with manual controls don't have the ability to adjust as easily to those encountered speed variations, but they MAY be designed with a thumbwheel that has a greater range of possible values, thus possibly more able to accommodate badly recorded tapes. Or not.
So, the best thing to try is use a different deck and see if it works better.
Also, note: dual deck (dvd/vcr combos) are usually much more cheaply built and thus worse at handling questionable tapes.
VHS/DVD "combo" decks were made to play/records VHS, or play/record DVDs -- but not really VHS>DVD (regardless of whether a dub feature exists). That's because of the complete lack of any TBC, which is required for quality (or often even non-quality) conversions.
Some higher-end S-VHS>DVD combo decks did exist, but the expected source was mastery level recordings, not some crummy VHS tapes from a consumer VCR or most camcorders.
That simply is not true.
Samsung VHS to DVD Recorder VCR Combo w/ Remote, HDMI
"Designed to easily transfer VHS tapes to DVD with the press of a button."
LG VHS to DVD Recorder VCR Combo w/ Remote, HDMI
"Designed to easily transfer VHS tapes to DVD with the press of a button"
JVC VHS to DVD Recorder VCR Combo w/ Remote, HDMI
Designed to easily transfer VHS tapes to DVD with the press of a button
I could go on, but I'm tired of cutting/pasting.
Perhaps the quality doesn't match LordSmurf's idealized transfer system made mostly of unobtainium (i.e., you can't get working equipment that matches his specs, or if you can, it will cost you more than you can afford).
For most people, these recorders were a godsend, helping them get through the lengthy transfer process in a reasonable amount of time.
Hmmm....so I just tried playing back a different tape which played fine in the same machine a couple of weeks ago, and that won't play back either - I just see a screen full of interference. I guess that means there's a problem with the tape deck. Anything that might be resolvable?
Try the basics, open the tape flap and make sure the lower edge of the tape is not creased, open the deck and clean the stationary head to the right of the video drum
Last edited by davexnet; 17th Aug 2020 at 14:07.
If the tape is creased, don't but any more tapes in that machine. But if the tape in a cassette that you've tried to play is NOT creased, then try fast forwarding to the end, rewinding, and then playing. As decks get older, the rubber often gets hard and if the rubber still has a little life left, you can sometimes get it more pliable by running it at high speed. Of course if the problem is with the rollers that only get engaged during playing, then this won't help.
My advice is to use a cleaning tape instead. Some people here cringe at the idea of using a cleaning tape, but I recommend it because if you haven't cleaned heads before you have a high risk of damaging the heads, or actually pushing gunk into them. The cleaning tapes are indeed a little abrasive, which is why people here don't like them. They may be right that they can damage your deck, but I argue that is only true if you use them a few dozen times. Using a cleaning tape only a few times won't hurt anything.
If you do clean the heads by hand, the way a technician would, first watch a few YouTube videos on how to do it. As for the cleaning solution, you should use 99% isopropyl alcohol. Do NOT use 91% or 65%, two solutions that are commonly available here in the states at grocery stores and pharmacies. The extra water in those lesser product can cause corrosion as the fluid dries.
Also, you ideally should use chamois swabs like these:
MG Chemicals Single Head Chamois Swab (Pack of 15)
The reason you want to use these is that if you lay the broad flat side of the dampened chamois swab against the drum which holds the heads, and then slowly rotate the drum with your finger pressed on the top side of the drum, the swab cannot enter the hole where the head resides and knock it, scrape it, bend it, break it off, etc. If you instead use a Q-tip (really bad idea) it's rounded edge can easily get inside that opening. What's more, all those little hairs will break off and get inside the head opening, causing a mess.
BTW, the spinning thingy is NOT the "head." Instead, it is the little chips that you'll see at the bottom of that spinning drum that are the heads.
Last edited by johnmeyer; 17th Aug 2020 at 20:54. Reason: typo
While VHS to DVD quality is not guaranteed I don't think it is the OP's problem as he already stated he had the tapes working fine before. And YES you can use q-tips on stationary heads and sometimes it is the only option after the cleaning tape and some other means fail. What you CANNOT use q-tips on is the video drum.
Stationary or Rotating, it's not a good idea to use Q-tips on any magnetic head. The fibres can wreak havoc on the head gap.
Don't EVER use a drugstore Q-tip inside of any piece of electronics, no matter what part you try to clean. That was very bad advice given above.
The only reason you don't use q-tips on video head drum because it get stuck on the heads sharp edges and it can break them or chip them. If in doubt just ask a repair technician.
If you know of an old-school electronics repair shop that still performs VCR service as a routine offering, your best bet is to bring your combo recorder there and have them clean the heads/tape path professionally. But most such places have shut down, those that remain are often staffed by nitwts who only know how to do minor repairs on cell phones and video game consoles: if the choice is between such a slop shop or do it yourself, go for DIY. Use the advice already given here, and maybe view a couple of related "how to" youTube videos. The least invasive method is to use a "wet cleaning tape" - when I get the symptom you described, I cycle a tape like this thru the affected VCR a couple times, let it sit an hour to be sure the inside is dry, then check everything is normal with a known-good testing tape.
But many newer VCRs don't handle cleaning tapes very well: they can jam or get ejected before they run the cleaning cycle. Sometimes even a wet cleaning tape is insufficient to get the gunk out, so the only option is to yank the VCR out of the stack, open it up and use the chamois swabs and cleaning solution manually. If your combo isn't crowded into a stacked shelf, getting inside it with manual cleaning swabs would be preferable to a cleaning tape. I only use a cleaning tape if the VCR is inaccessible and I'm time constrained.
Again, the most important thing is to not re-contaminate the VCR after cleaning by trying to play the same tapes that dirtied it in the first place. If you cannot avoid this because the tape(s) are irreplaceable, consider buying a separate VCR just for playing damaged or sticky tapes, and connect it to the inputs of your VHS/DVD combo recorder. A decent basic Panasonic or JVC vcr can be had cheaply from friends, family, Goodwill, etc. It is better to risk repeated dirtying and cleaning of a cheap disposable VCR than the now impossible-to-find combo recorder: don't use the VCR in the combo unless you've pre-tested each tape in another VCR to be sure it is clean.
Last edited by orsetto; 19th Aug 2020 at 18:23.
Well I took the plunge and cleaned the heads with a sheet of paper and some Isopropyl Alcohol. It's now playing everything fine.
Thanks for all the advice.