Sunday, April 20, 2008

Head Cleaning for Dirty Minda

Let it be said that a good VCR is hard to find.

I know, what kind of homeless hobo still has a goddamn VCR? Well, I keep one less as a means to keep the format alive and more as the proper weapon to put it down pain-free by recording every single tape I can find to a DVD-RW. The JVC HR-S9800U* is one of "the" VCRs out there, combining a built in Time Base Corrector to fix the geometry in the tape signal to Digital Noise Reduction to cut down on that analog video noise that makes VHS tapes look... grungy. Most VCRs made after the advent of DVD just kinda' gave up making the lowest form of video storage this side of VCD looking any good, and VCR quality has since gone down hill ever since.

*Okay, it's actually a Go Video deck, which is a rebadge of the 9800 model. So... blah.

Recently my wife and I took the mechanical baby and cleaned off the heads. Head cleaning tapes basically just push the dirt and grime in your VCR around and don't remove anything more than a non-faulty tape would, but some 70% pure alcohol, q-tips, and sheets of ordinary white paper can clean all the delicate parts without the need to take it down to a repair shop and pay $100. There are all sorts of little jigs they can use to fix alignment problems and they may well have additional belts and pulleys to replace genuinely broken parts, but honestly, the local repair shop constantly has 30 TVs waiting to be repaired that sit there for months, and when I inquired about a tune-up I was told that it would be a $50 retainer fee and then I'd have to pay whatever else was needed when all was said and done. Yeah, thanks, but no - I'll run this poor little bitch into the ground until it simply no longer plays anything at all and then risk giving it to the local Dr. Frankenstein.

Cleaning the tape heads did improve the image - not dramatic, night for day, glory glory hallelujah praise baby Jesus improvements, but there was far less chroma noise, which after the VCR's native noise reduction led to a stable, noise-free transfer. For 20 year old VHS tapes that ain't bad. Unfortunately, the reason it was scrubbed down was in the hopes that it would fix a certain issue that the machine was evidently just born with, an unfortunate vertical jitter which - should you care - can be seen on the HEAVY clip I uploaded a while ago. It doesn't happen on all tapes, but when it's there, it's always in the same place. It's either a tracking error (and this VCR has no tracking alignment - they figure the DigiPure and Calibration made such button mashing obsolete... pricks...), or possibly a fault in the hardware, neither of which I can directly impact short of MacGuyvering the guts of the unit with a screwdriver, and my expertise simply does not go that far.

Roughly 90% of tapes it loves and plays back just fine, it's just those 10% of tapes that the machinery simply doesn't have a hard on for, and there's literally nothing you can do to fix it. Turning the TBC/DNR off helps, a little, and the built-in tape stabilizer (which can only be used without the TBC) also helps, a little, but short of the entire tape jittering like a withdrawl fueled heroin addict the extra noise and geometry distortions instantly cancel out any good that making the tape stable may have provided. And - more often than not - these settings do absolutely shit to fixing the jitter bug. It's just the oft ignored achilles heel of all high-end JVC decks, and I'm absolutely dumbfounded that with all the love these machines get over at that this issue isn't more well known.

In short, if the JVC doesn't like a tape, it'll jitter its' ass. My options are as follows:

1) Record it anyway and live with it.

2) Buy a second VCR.

After the $200+ that went into my current VCR, I'm a bit wary of blowing a huge chunk of change on a middle-of-the-road Samsung or Sharp or what have you, though honestly for ~$50 on eBay just for those tapes that refuse to cooperate may be the only solution for tapes like HEAVY and MARYU SENKI 2-3, which the JVC turns into an absolute trainwreck. The only downside is that a ~$50 deck of any make won't have a built-in TBC. I've had it up to here - uh, you can't see it, but I'm slapping my chin - with stand alone TBC decks, after that 50 pound pro unit I bought which did absolutely nothing. Want to know what a VHS tape without a TBC looks like?


So, yeah... while this is an extreme case, you get the idea, what with all the crap geometry and everything. Is a tape like HEAVY really worth it? Maybe not. But I'm currently sitting on a half-hundred pilfered (so to speak) tapes, and so far 5 of them have shown jitters - some not so bad, others unwatchably awful. While I do the best that I can, I'm only one man, with only one VCR.

I think I'll hook up the VCR directly to my TV and see if the jittering is any better. If it isn't, it's a signal issue and could probably be fixed somehow, say, using an external TBC. Which, of course, my SCC isn't. Cripes, can't my hardware throw me a bone here? If I still get jitters with everything going into the TV, the signal itself is screwed, and there's literally nothing I can do about it sans buying a new VCR. I'll experiment and then return to bitch anew once I have the verdict.

In other work-ish related ramblings, the subtitle patch for DEMON CITY SHINJUKU went so well that I've already finished another disc. I'm going to yell at my cable provider and hopefully switch up my internet connection before I post it at Asian DVD Club, but once I'm ready to share a screencap confirming the title will be posted here to get your asses downloading. I'll give you a hint: Manga Entertainment released a non-anamorphic version of it, and I've (thankfully) done some minimal subtitle fixes so you won't have to read "Augh!" and "Hahaha!" anymore. You also won't see any "[Telepathy]" subs, since y'all are smarter than that. Anyone here will probably dig it.

Also, I leave you with the following too-fucking-awesome image from KAZE WO NUKE!

I'm gar for obscure anime.

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