How can I take advantage of the medium of VHS?
May 18, 2012 9:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to make a music video straight to VHS. How can I maximize the glitches and poor quality associated with the medium?

I'm looking for techniques to mangle the video. I want horrible tracking, color offset, flashing, etc. Leave the tape in the sun? Run a magnet over it? I still want to be able to play and view the video.

As I want to use a VCR-only operation, what sort of techniques can I utilize to keep the video and audio synchronized?

Would you recommend any VCR's? Looking for cheap and common, but with higher resolution speed control.

I have easy access to high-end video equipment, but lately, I've been going backwards in time with my gear. This music video gives me a chance to really flex the aesthetic of 80's, 90's video. Looking for recommendations on how to achieve properly washed out lighting, over-saturation, or any other "VHS-ey" effects.
posted by synthedelic to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Record in extended play mode.
posted by The Deej at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dub it a couple of times after you finish it, that's pretty much all you need to do.
posted by kindall at 9:52 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Karl Klomp's dirty video mixer may give you some ideas.
posted by jade east at 10:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where will it be viewed in final form? If it's on the web or other digital form, you can worry about audio sync as the final step in digital post, eh?
posted by victory_laser at 10:09 PM on May 18, 2012

Are ultimately digitizing the video? If so manipulating the VCR output might cause some bad effects.

* See if the digitizer (PAL/NTSC video decoder) has an option for vcr input and disable it.

* Try attenuating the vcr cvbs output. You can just add a series resistor. Try values between 100ohm to 1kohms. Bigger values will cause more attenuation. This will only work if the digitizer has a luma AGC (which a VCR generally does not).

* Try adding a series capacitor to the signal. Try 0.01uF to 10uF. Lower values will have a bigger effect. This may work at the input to the VCR as well.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:26 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great ideas!

Extended play mode, of course- I would have overlooked that, thanks, Deej.

Kindall- Yeah! I was thinking of repeated dubbing- monotonous, yet effective.

Jade, that may or may not be the inspiration for this three channel video mixer I made!

The final form will most likely be a web release via Youtube. I've got a couple Composite-to-USB digitizers. This Dazzle one seems to work well. And yeah, I can totally fix timing in Final Cut no problem. I'm thinking of this project as a sort of challenge right now- straight to vhs without a computer. Still an option to keep in mind, thanks, victory_laser.

Yeah, I'm ultimately digitizing the video. I have some pretty lofo tapes and successfully translated that poor quality to the computer.

I'm not too knowledgeable about electronics, Golden Opportunity. The video mixer I made above, similar to the Dirty Video Mixer uses potentiometers. These are basically variable resistors, right? Would I get different results with a 'static' resistor? Thanks.
posted by synthedelic at 10:45 PM on May 18, 2012

potentiometers. These are basically variable resistors, right?


Would I get different results with a 'static' resistor? Thanks.

No. A potentiometer would be better actually (0 to 1kohm range). If the digitize doesn't have an AGC it will just make the video darker. If it does, it will get noisier and may cause some interesting effects (horizontal flagging or jogging) if it starts to lose horizontal lock. The capacitor has a better chance of causing horizontal locking problems which may cause color locking problems as well.

You could also try splitting the signal and adding it back together with your mixer with a delay of a few micro seconds between the two sides. This would cause ghosting like you see on analog broadcasts. A very long (100 feet or more) coaxial cable might give you enough delay.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:16 PM on May 18, 2012

(100 1000 feet or more) probably not realistic.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:21 PM on May 18, 2012

You have easy access to high-end video equipment? Because that sounds to me like you might have access to the engineer responsible for that high-end equipment and low-end equipment. He or she would know which VHS machines would be glitchy in the way you want... might even have access to commercially-unsuitable but perfect-for-your-needs decks.

Anyway, if you want the consumer VHS look but you don't have twenty-year-old equipment, shoot with one-CCD security cameras fed into a GVG 100 switcher and record to VHS and a high-res format at the same time. For tape-to-tape editing, see if you can find the JVC BR-S800U or Panasonic AG-7350 recorder. They don't have time-base correctors, so all the nice head-switching and tracking misalignment will transfer over just fine.

You may have trouble keeping the tape effects when you digitize depending on your composite-to-USB dongle. Consider creating the final master with a camera aimed at a high-res CRT display showing your final edit with all the effects that would be lost running through a modern digitizer.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:42 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try to find a really old tape and record on top of it. Maybe buy a Disney VHS video from the local thrift shop, and cover the write protect tab and record over it.

Get an old VCR too from the thrift shop, one with dirty recording heads. That'll help.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:07 AM on May 19, 2012

yes, what infinitewindow says about re-recording your monitor output is a useful tip. We used to call it "re-scanning". You can get all kinds of cruddy video effects at this stage, and if you loop your camera you can get flaring video feedback, which is also fun.
posted by ovvl at 7:34 AM on May 19, 2012

Open the hatch of the tape and pinch/wrinkle the tape in as many places as you like.
posted by rhizome at 10:59 AM on May 19, 2012

Use unshielded, untwisted wire -- think lamp cord -- in place of proper patch cables.

Take your final edit, play it back over an old CRT monitor, and then videotape said monitor with a crappy camcorder or security camera.

Bonus points for using an old plumbicon (tube) camera anywhere in the process.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:21 PM on May 19, 2012

Take apart a VCR and look for things you can degrade. For example, if there are belts, maybe try getting some replacement belts that are a little too big, so that they slip every now and then. Or perhaps coat them in baby powder so they have less friction. Maybe there are some pinch rollers you can sand down to have a smaller diameter, so that they don't quite hold tension. Try to introduce non-uniformity into the capstans: bend them so they're not true, or file/grind them so they're not round. Any kind of mechanical tensioner/guide should be fair game. (It might be nice if you had a healthy supply of thrift store decks so that you can get in there and really mess things up without worrying about having to fix it.)

And don't forget the old classic: using your hand to mess with the tape while it's recording. Push it in and out of alignment, slow it down, give it bits of slack, etc. Or lay your finger slightly on the rotating head to make it drag a bit and slow down.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:37 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great thread, great answers. Not sure if anybody in here will be alerted or notice this update, but:

I finished the video. Using this setup with Hi8 cameras and VCR's, a video mixer, and other gadgets. I was able to finish the project without any Computer computers and premiered it to the public via VCR. Eventually recorded and digitized for the youtubes here.

It's actually a lot glitchier than I wanted. The signal is so warped, that one projector wouldn't accept the input from the VCR. The other projector lost the signal when it became too busy. In the video above, the TV loses the signal every now and then. I used my handmade video mixer, and repetitive dubbing, and it just spiraled out of control. I learned so much from the project. Most importantly, don't do a VCR-only challenge ever again.

posted by synthedelic at 12:33 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sooooo cool. Love it!
posted by infinitewindow at 9:55 AM on August 2, 2012

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