ASK: "MisterBetamax " NOTATION



Q: I want to convert my Beta tapes over to DVD and would like to know which Beta machine you would recommend I buy, since mine has died? (Q#1)
A: Any purchase you make should be dependent on how important your tapes are to you, how they were recorded, how critical picture excellence is to you, how important sound clarity is to you and lastly, how much money you are willing to invest in your project. But before I get into choosing the model best suited for your needs I want to cover the value of getting your Beta repaired. Many times this can be more economical than purchasing a replacement and it is always better to play your tapes back using your original Beta machine. It will reward you with the best chance of success without having the need for constant tracking adjustment. It most cases it will also provide the best picture stability. Simply put your tapes and the machine they were recorded with were compatible with each other. (Provided your original machine was working properly when your recordings were made.) Plus you don't have to worry about which picture format they were recorded in or the tape speed (more on that later). To get information about having your Beta VCR repaired by me click here (clicking this link will replace this ASK section with a repair form). But if you are like me and have tapes that were recorded through the years using a number of Beta machines having different picture formats (standard Beta, SuperBeta, BetaHi-Fi, Betamovie, etc.) then having the original machine is not a factor. (Same applies if your machine is beyond repair.) But this does make things a little dicey. You might not know exactly how each tape was recorded. If that is the case then you are going to need to decide which model best suits your situation. To make it easier you might want to consider purchasing a Sony SuperBetahi-fi model. These higher end models are capable of playing all three tape speeds in both the picture grades (except ED Beta*). They will record and play both standard Beta and SuperBeta, plus they will handle both monaural and Betahi-fi stereo. Another advantage is the later design SuperBeta machines have some more advanced picture circuitry. This can help make older tapes play and look better. Going with a more featured machine might require a slightly higher investment than the middle-of-the-road units, but If you weigh the value of your time and the importance to you of your recordings, then the equipment investment can really become secondary. But if you know, for example, that all your tapes were recorded in standard Beta in the BII speed, then you focus your attention on models that are a little less featured, but will still cover those recordings. There were Betas made by manufacturers other than Sony and they made some great models, but none of them reached their level of picture sophistication. Some Sony units will allow you to turn off their dropout compensation circuit (DOC) by using an edit or detail switch. This DOC correction circuitry, while good for cleaning up minor errors in recordings, can get in the way of a direct-from-tape connection. Turning it off bypasses the video emphasis and extra signal processing for the regular broadcast picture and provides a clearer signal between master and slave (the play back unit and the recording device). More information on this dubbing process would be explained in the Beta VCR owner's manual. But whichever unit you decide to purchase I advise to NOT destroy your old Beta cassettes after your done and that you hold on to the machine you used for playback. This is recommended because the magnetic tape inside those cassettes has already been proven to have a long shelf life and it has recently been discovered that some recordable DVDs can start to degrade after just a few years. Ouch! What's that again? Before you invest countless hours transferring your precious video tapes to DVD check out these related articles by clicking here. To examine a Beta format playback compatibility chart click here. To open a panel that lists most of the recorders along with their years, speeds, picture type and model numbers click here. To go to a page than shows which machines can be repaired after all these years click here (this link will take you to a new page). If you would rather not tackle the task of transferring your Beta tapes to DVD there are a number of companies that offer this service. If you need help locating a professional, reliable source I have a number of customers that I can recommend. To inquire use the "Contact MrBetamax" form or click here".
*The Extended Definition Beta format used special metal formula tape to achieve over 500 lines of picture resolution, but even these units were backward compatible to the conventional Beta formats (SuperBetahi-fi BIs, BI, BII and BIII).

Q: My Beta is having several operational issues. Do you have a way of troubleshooting my Beta VCR that goes beyond the tips printed in the owners manual? (Q#2)
A: I have compiled a chart that has most of the troubleshooting tips found in the instruction manuals plus many that aren't. To open this chart click here.

Q: I have some beta cassettes that have tape inside that is broken and they are very important to me. Is it okay to splice them? (Q#3)
A: Splicing video tape is not recommended. It's nearly impossible to get the two tape ends mated perfectly and the impact of the video heads hitting a space or overlap could cause them damage. Just as bad would be the splicing tape adhesive squeezing out into the mechanism and messing things up inside the VCR. The answer to your dilemma would be to have the tapes loaded into separate cassettes so they can be played individually with no risk of damage to your machine. A duplicating facility should be able to perform this service for you. If you are unable to locate one, contact me regarding your particular need.

Q: I looked inside my Betamax and it looks like some of the electronics are missing on the printed circuit boards, why are these areas empty? (Q#4)
A: When the designers traced out the original circuitry they allowed for the boards to be used for several machine models. This was a cost saving measure and in no way detracts from your unit. Also upgrades and production changes will sometimes allow for components to be deleted without any loss in performance or quality. On the other hand additional electronics are sometimes added onto boards, these can be piggy-backed onto transistors, ICs and other components. Sometimes small circuit boards are even stuck in places onto a main board.

Q: I have white specks showing up in my playback picture, are my heads wearing out and how do I tell when they are going bad? (Q#5)
A: Tapes recorded in SuperBeta when played in a standard Beta machine can exhibit comet tails or bursting around the image edges. This happens because the higher luminance signal of the SuperBeta recording over drives the electronics of the machine. This is not a defect or an indication of worn video heads. If is not the cause of the specks and if adjusting the tracking, using a good dry type cleaning cassette or having the machine professionally cleaned will not remove the picture noise then the heads will need replacing. Identifying video heads that are wearing out requires some detective work, but before getting into how to do this let me clear up what I mean by a "good" cleaning tape. The only cleaning tapes I recommend is the dry type, high lubricant variety. These are still available from Sony or from me. They are the only ones that are truly friendly to your machine. You can order my cleaning cassette by clicking here (this link will take you to a new page). The wet type cassettes with the special paper or dense cloth that you pre-moisten would be a second choice. Be advised that the loosely woven cloth wet systems should never be used because they can damage the heads in your machine. Keeping this in mind, I can not express enough how important it is to have your precious Beta professionally serviced. This is the only true way to maintain the picture quality and operating functionality that the unit is capable of producing. If no technicians in your area can do this then contact me about doing it for you. Now about how to tell if the heads are wearing out. Video heads that are going bad will start to produce small specks of white (and black) that show up mostly to the right of picture items that vary greatly from dark to light and vice-versa. As the heads degrade the bugs will start to have comet tails and will eventually increase into lines. Heads that are wearing out also seem to get dirty more often and require more cleaning. The DA4 video heads (found in the higher end SL-HF750, SL-HF900 etc.) seem to have more of a problem with plugging (oxide building up around the head gap) than the simpler two head varieties. Once the heads start to go bad, replacement is the only correction. To see more on how to tell if video heads are going bad, check out the "Beta Refurbishing" section and the page on video head evaluation. To go directly to that page click here

Q: How can you tell if video tape is wearing out? (Q#6)
A: Video tape can wear out in a variety of ways but by far the most noticeable is the increase in dropouts. These will appear in the playback of a recorded picture. Not to be confused with the video heads wearing out as in the question above, dropouts are random and come in both white or black varieties. The toughest quality test for a tape to pass, and one of the best ways to see how well a tape can reproduce an image, is to record what is called a blank raster (a black video signal). Dropouts will be seen as streaks, black spots, lines or specks every time a oversized lump of oxide or a missing magnetic particles is traced over by the video heads. If your playing back a failing prerecorded tape (repeatedly) the image will become noticeably grainy and coarser as the tape starts to degrade. This is because it is losing oxide, the recorded picture is actually falling off the tape. Dropouts show up in these tapes even though the image is already there, but it shows up more when making recordings. One side note, your video recorder has special circuitry to detect and mask over a certain amount of dropouts. Some units are even capable of inserting a previous scan line to replace one that has disappeared due to a large loss of video information.

Q: How long do tapes usually last? (Q#7)
A: Video tapes last a very long time but will last even longer if stored in a cool dry place free from static electricity and stray magnetic fields. And it does not seem to matter too much whether you store them vertical or horizontal but I prefer the vertical. The storage systems once market by Sony, the VK series, had them placed vertical and it seems that I read somewhere that this is the preferred way. How long is lasting a long time? I have tapes made from my SL-7200 of twenty-five plus years ago that still play quit well, and that is a pretty long time.

Q: Who makes (made) the best video recording tapes? (Q#8)
A: Almost every recognizable name brand in the recording business (made) a decent video tape, but if you put my feet to the fire I would put my most sacred recordings on Fuji, 3M, (Eastman) Kodak, Maxell, Memorex, TDK or my house brand, CopyRight. Please keep in mind that this is only an opinion. I do recommend spending the extra pennies for the high grade varieties, if you can get them. They usually produce a better picture and, in my opinion, that's what video recording is all about. One more thing don't buy bargain brands, they are not worth it. Why risk messing up your priceless Beta machine when the cost of getting it back into shape is so not do it!

Q: How often should video heads be demagnetized? (Q#9)
A: Sony recommends it that it be performed every 500 hours. Their service manuals explain it this way: "If the video heads should become magnetized, the signal-to-noise ratio deteriorates and slant beat patterns and noise will appear in the picture." They suggest it be done to the audio, control and erase heads in addition to the video. What it does is scatter or demagnetizes the microscopic particles in the flux producing media (or cores) of the various heads. The media in this case is the laminated, pressed or composite material used in their manufacture. The cores produce the magnetic fields necessary for recording in response to electrical impulses passing through wires that are wound around them. The opposite occurs for playback. The magnetic information on the tape excites the core creating an electrical signal in the wire winding that the electronics turns into a picture or sound. The degaussing procedure should only be done by a professional because it requires special equipment and a special method. Too strong a degaussing field or an accidental impact can shatter the delicate video heads.

Q: What is the best recording speed for the best overall picture quality? (Q#10)
A: The fastest speed with the widest video heads will render the cleanest picture. This would make the SLO-383 (or any dedicated Bx1 recorder) the unit of choice for video signal strength alone. (There are other considerations such as SuperBeta, Hi-Band and ED Beta.) If you want a Hi-Fi unit then the choice would be machines that have the capability to record Super Hi-band BIs such as the SL-HF1000, SL-HF750, SL-HF2100, SL-HF900 (modified), etc. From a subjective standpoint, keeping in mind the size of the recording heads involved, it seems that the best overall speed is the BII mode. It still produces a slight guard band on the tape and the (SuperBeta) picture is almost as good as recordings made in BIs. Note: a guard band is an area of unrecorded tape between the tracks that acts as a barrier to help prevent unwanted cross talk from occurring. For more information see azimuth recording in the "Beta Refurbishing" section or click here

Q: My Betamax shuts down after a few seconds of playing and then only the eject or power switches will work, what is wrong? (Q#11)
A: Most newer Beta VCRs are programmed to shut down if they detect the take-up reel is not rotating. Something is stopping the forward movement of the tape in the machine and it will require a professional repair.

Q. My Sony SL-2305 will accept a tape but plays for a few seconds then stops. When I eject the tape a length of tape is hanging out of the cassette. What can be done to fix this? (Q#12)
A. There can be several causes for this type of problem (see question above) but for this model the most likely cause is a bad pendulum arm assembly. Sony used a design for a short time that leached adhesive and stuck up the drive gear preventing its rotation. The only fix for this is a replacement.

Q: How many manufacturers made beta Machines? (Q#12)
A: Here they are the actual manufacturers in no particular order: Sony, Sanyo Toshiba, NEC and Aiwa. Brand names that appeared on Beta machines: Zenith, Sears, Realistic, Pioneer, Marantz, Murphy, Magnasonic, Rent-A-Beta (International), Navco, Titan, General, Lear, Bush, Pontiac Motor Division, and J. Arthur Rank. I have a cassette tape box that also lists two other brand names, Wards and Hitachi, although I have never actually seen a machine. (For more info see the "The Betamakers" chart by clicking here.)

Q: My picture blanks out and the sound goes in and out during playback, what's wrong with my machine? (Q#14)
A: If the problem happens with various tapes then it is probably the ACE head assembly. (An acronym for Audio, Control and Erase.) It has the responsibility of producing the synchronized start of the picture by recording and sensing (in playback) a control pulse on the video tape. This pulse tells the video circuits how to regulate drum servo to match the two fields of the playback picture. This signal is different from one sometimes seen at the bottom middle of the picture as a white bug running back and forth. This burst is the head switching signal that fires off each frame, two per second. If the ACE is worn it cannot make good contact with the tape and the pulse signal is lost causing a no picture condition. Repairing this malfunction will require a professional replacement. But before you take it to the shop check this if you have a cassette(s) that seems more prone than others to problems. Flip open the access door and examine the tape. Do it by pressing the small lever lock inside the little square hole on the cassette door. Check and see if there is any wrinkling along the bottom edge. If there is this can produce poor stability and may indicate something inside the unit is running out of line causing damage to the tape as it travels through the machine. Still a service job but you'll know not to risk anymore of your tapes by using this unit.

Q: My EDV-9500 Beta machine seems to have a lot of white specks in the picture, what causes this? (Q#15)
A: The first suspect is the video heads. Try using a good quality cleaning cassette (see question on these further down this page). If this doesn't work and you have another machine make some recordings on both then observe and compare the two. Through the process of elimination you may be able to draw some conclusions about the heads, they may be defective. (To find out more on video head evaluation click here.) Replacement would require a professional repair. There could be another culprit. Assuming that the heads are good and the color noise or confetti is mostly in the black areas of a good recorded signal, then this could be caused by bad capacitors in the color circuitry. The offending capacitors would need to be replaced, this too is a job for the service professional.

Q: My SL-HF2100 displays vertical black and white bars when first playing a picture then is ok once the picture comes on, sometimes this may take several seconds to clear up, what is happening to cause this? (Q#16)
A: A capacitor in the video head amplifier circuit is failing and causing a delay in the signal from the video heads. When this is happens the SL-HF2100 video circuits have nothing to work with for a playback signal until the faulty capacitor reaches full charge and the digital bars are the result. This will require professional repair.

Q: The picture is unstable on my beta and it seems to tear off and on in the middle, what is the cause? (Q#17)
A: Most likely cause is the video drum servo control circuit, it is unable to hold a stable speed. The is a repair problem. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: Why does sound on my VCR go up and down in pitch, also the tracking has no effect on it? (Q#18)
A: The problem is like the one above only this time the capstan servo circuit is the one giving the problem. This too is a repair service problem. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: My machine lights up and the clock works but none of the buttons do anything, what is the problem? (Q#19)
A: The most likely problem is in the power section of the unit or in the system control circuits. This is a problem requiring professional repair. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: Why didn't Sony produce a 25th anniversary Betamax? (Q#20)
A: My best guess would be that they felt there just would not be enough demand to justify putting out the effort. I find this especially sorrowful knowing as I do that with the digital to analog technology available from Sony, any product on the par with the SL-HF2100 or ED Beta could be outstanding.

Q: Why did Sony stop making machines, were they not aware of the prices that their old machines are commanding on ebay and other auction sites? (Q#21)
A: My best guess is they know the prices their past Betas are auctioning for, but are unmoved. For a large corporation like Sony to reproduce something for a small niche market just doesn't add up to them, dollar-wise. Beta has always been, and still is, the best medium for serious people who want to record, edit and preserve video. ED Beta was unsurpassed for home video picture quality. S-VHS, DVD, or laser couldn't top it. Only digital, HDTV or line interlacing could compete. Sony could make more machines, of course, but that would take an act of God.

Q: Why did Beta get beat out by VHS? (Q#22)
A: Looking back on the past reveals a lot of variables that could account for the struggles Sony had with Beta in the marketplace. In some ways they were there own worst enemy. Their system was without a doubt the better of the two but Sony just couldn't convince the masses that it was worth the price differential. To make matters worse they made the tape length numbering (recording time) system hard to decipher. The average consumer wasn't interested in trying to figure out what L-500 or L-750 meant at what speed. VHS kept it simple with a 2-4-6 hour recording scheme that buyers could easily understand. Another stumble was the BII only SL-8600 machine. Some BI people saw it as Sony turning their back on them, when really it was an attempt to produce a cost effective answer to pressures from lower priced VHS machines. Sony didn't have a crystal ball and they knew they had the best format if they could just get that across to the public. They had built their company on innovation, creativity and quality, and they were fighting to protect their reputation. It's not easy being a large company trying to always stay on top. The competition is always there looking for a nick in your armor, so they can eat into your market share and expand theirs. To their credit Sony stuck with Beta for a long time, a decision that could have killed a lesser company. Over this period some great products and creative technological ideas were born.

Q: The tape goes into my machine but then comes right back out, why? (Q#23)
A: Something is wrong with the threading or loading operation of the machine and professional repair is required. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: My cassette goes into my unit but gets cocked, is something broken? (Q#24)
A: If the cassette jams and gets cocked going in then the loading assembly is defective and repair is needed. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: After a few seconds my tape stops rewinding then I have to eject my tape and try again, sometimes it takes several tries before a tape gets fully rewound, what can I do to correct this? (Q#25)
A: Most likely the video drum has become polished and more drag is being produced during rewind on the tape than the motor can overcome, causing the unit to shut down. The motor could also be getting weak or the unit may need lubrication. This is a service problem. Also now would be as good a time as any for me to harp on not rewinding tapes in a Beta machine. It's true all machines are capable of rewinding, but do not do it (particularly with the Sony units). What it does is polish the surface of the video drum and make it difficult for the machine to maintain proper operation due to the excessive drag that results. Buy a rewinder, preferably one that does not use the stop-and-pop method to stop, this can cause fish-eyes, bunching and breaks in the tapes (see: the "Tape Damage Report" on how to inspect your tapes for damage. I offer a good winder and I recommend it highly (see: "Winders" in the Betamax Accessories section). Note: clicking on this last link loads the Winders display page in this center section.

Q: With good Betas getting harder to find as each day passes, what is the best way to prolong the life of my machine(s)? (Q#26)
A: Check out the information above about rewinding. Buy a end-of-tape sensing tape rewinder or a Sanyo unit that threads the tape back into the cassette when winding. Don't rewind or fast forward tapes threaded inside the unit you are wanting to conserve. Baby it, and use only the best tape money can buy. Give it plenty of ventilation and keep it out of dusty, dirty or smoky atmospheres (cigarette smoke over time will ruin your Beta). Get it serviced every 500 hours like Sony recommended and when something goes wrong get it fixed by someone familiar with the particular needs of the Beta format.

Q: Can I still buy a new Sony Betamax? (Q#27)
A: Sorry, no new Betas. Sources other than new are: me, ebay and private sales.

Q: How do cleaning cassettes work and which ones are the best? (Q#28)
A: Several types of cleaners are popular. My favorite is the heavy lubricant variety developed by 3M. As you probably know all good brands of video tape have a very light lubricant coating on their oxide surface to help reduce head wear and improve tracking characteristics. What 3M did was discover that a extra heavy coating of lubricant could roll off deposits and oxide build-up while being friendly to the surfaces it was coming in contact with. They also found that so much lube lifted the recording surface from the heads and made poor recordings, not too much of a concern though when the idea turns out to be a cleaning tape. They got a patent for their process and their product is marketed as the Scotch brand. Several other companies buy their tape, load it and sell it under their own brand names or license the process for their own manufacture. Sony and my CopyRight brand are of this type and are highly recommended for periodic use. (Click on "Cleaning Supplies" in the right column to go to my cassette.) Of coarse cleaning bad video heads won't make them any better so if the cleaning tape doesn't correct a poor picture problem then video head replacement may be needed. My least favorite, which you shouldn't find anymore, was the loosely woven cloth type that used a solvent. Here you would wet the fabric tape which was then loaded into the machine to clean the heads, etc. Bad because the fabric could flake off and pile up on the heads requiring service or repair to correct. There is a wet cloth variety that is better, It has a special, tightly woven cloth tape that is less likely to shed while delivering the cleaning solution to areas inside the machine. I've observed these as they operate and they seem to do a decent job, but I recommend using caution and not overdoing it. Another kind of cleaner to avoid, which I don't think you can even buy any more, is the sandpaper type that used a rough surface tape to actually buff the video heads to remove build-up. These were brutal on the heads. They were also hard to distinguish from the lubricant tape types so know what your buying. The reality of it is nothing beats professional cleaning.

Q: Did any manufacturer other than Sony offer a consumer Betamax with BIs recording capability? (Q#29)
A: NEC offered a very nice four head model, the VC-N65EU which recorded and played BI, BII and BIII. It was also a SuperBetaHi-Fi unit.

Q. My machine is producing a white line like a pulse every few seconds in the picture. What is causing this? (Q#29)
A. Assuming it is one of the later design units, this can be caused by faulty capacitors that are not doing their job in the capstan circuit. They are there to absorb the burst or spike of electricity produced when the switching of the motor coils occurs, which produces the rotation of the capstan motor. They leak and can cause a mess that will require replacement and cleaning, something requiring a technician.

Q. The capstan seems to be running too fast and in reverse in my unit. Why is this happening? (Q#31)
A. The most likely cause is the capacitors have leaked and caused corrosion damage to the printed traces on the circuit board underneath. Loss of the electrical continuity then produces faulty running characteristics. It is can also be due to a defective capstan IC, hall sensor or other component. This is a professional repair.

Q. How would you rank the quality of the VCRs from the different Beta manufacturers. (Q#32)
A. This is a tough question to answer because there are so many variables. Overall I would have to give Sony the highest marks, as you would expect because it was their baby and they did most of the innovating. They lead the field for creativity and made some very nice machines that are still in great demand today. The others were not exactly slackers either. Sanyo machines are easy to work on and very durable, they have some good technology too. The same can be said for Toshiba. Aiwa only produced two entries, but they were very creative and the units were full featured. NEC produced several strong models with lots of appeal. Now that one can look back and closely examine the big picture you are struck with one sad fact. Had the format continued to have a strong following, given today's digital technology and the creative edge of the companies that were in the forefront, Beta may have......oh well, enough of that.

Q. How many different competing formats were there when Sony introduced the first Betamax and what did their cassettes look like? (Q#33)
A. The major formats in the beginning were from Sanyo, Quasar and Cartrivision. There was also a PAL system from Phillips Electronics introduced in Europe. The Cartrivision was the first to introduce a movie rental system. More information on these units can be found on the web but you won't see much on the how their cassettes were designed and how they worked. If your interested you can click here to learn more

Q. How many different cassette changers did Sony make and did VHS have any? (Q#34)
A. I am not aware of any VHS changers. There attitude must of been why get involved when the public was already sold on their product just the way it was. Sony felt if the issue was total recording time, then let's give them what they want. You could record up to twenty-four hours with one of these babies using four six hour tapes. There were five models produced for the US market before Sony decided to abandon the project. They were: the test marketed AG-120, then the AG-200, AG-300, AG-400 and the AG-500. They were all very interesting and it was a marvel to watch them perform. You can see each of the models, information about how they worked and which changers went to which model by clicking here  Also see question further down.

Q. Why didn't the first BetaHiFi units receive stereo? (Q#35)
A. When Sony developed their system for combining the audio and the video signal (Betahi-fi) a state side standard for stereo television broadcasting had not been decided. In order to increase the desirability of their new BetaHiFi stereo recorders and to present them to the public as designed to be upgraded, they made them with MPX adapter plugs on the rear panel. Sony and other manufacturers would later make stand alone stereo receivers and amplifier units to interface with these machines. Several later models were made that were "HiFi ready" and had a multi-pin receptacle in the back. These would interface with a multiplex unit and would turn them into a Betahi-fi stereo VCRs. Only Sony made their adapters. To learn more about the adapters and to see the various models click here

Q: The tracking control on my beta seems to have no effect, what gives? (Q#36)
A: The most likely cause is the variable resistor (potentiometer) is bad that regulates the voltage to the tracking circuit. The circuit itself could be faulty and not allowing the tracking adjustment to have effect. It needs professional repair. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: I have a EDC-55 ED cam that powers up but won't get a picture because the lens closes down. What is causing this? (Q#37)
A: The most likely cause is a faulty DC-DC converter in the camera head. I have found that the capacitors fail and consequently the required voltages needed to power various functions within the camera are lost. This results in faulty operation and the auto exposure circuit is sometimes effected. This can also result in no picture. It gets worse. Leaking capacitors on the boards in the camera can eat away the printed traces and cause all kinds of problems. I know this sounds funny but closely smell different areas where there are openings to the inside out the unit. See if you can pick up an acrid odor (it smells like vinegar mixed with salt) it is an indication that bad things are happening inside. To restore proper operation requires that the capacitors be removed, the boards cleaned of all traces of leaked fluid and the caps replaced. This requires a professional repair and it can be very costly, depending on the extent and nature of the repair. To see how this this camcorder is refurbished click here

Q: Why do some machines produce lines (noise) in pause and others do not? (Q#38)
A: Noise in pause is present because information needed in that spot is not being picked up by the spinning video heads. When the information was recorded on the tape it was traveling around the video drum, this stretched out signal in comparison to the now stationary tape in pause. That is, the heads that wrote the information are tracing at the same size as the drum but the paused recorded signal is longer due to it's movement when being recorded. Higher end machines use extra heads or digital effects to clean up the picture by filling in the lost information with a second reading or pulling up information from memory of the last clear picture. (To learn more about this see the question below.)

Q: I have a GCS-50 and a switch on the front indicates it is for a framing servo. What is it and what it is used for? (Q#39)
A: The framing servo switch is used for more accurate editing. With a name like servo you would think this is a motor but since it refers to circuitry within the machine that controls a motor, it takes on that identity. Here is what it does. When you pause a Beta machine with still picture capability the capstan will stop at random, which produces noise bars somewhere in the picture (see the question above for information on this). The location will change with each subsequent pause because the frame is not precisely lining up to exact start the picture in the right spot (frame) each time. Also noise is created because the long skinny magnetic signal placed on the tape when the picture was recorded is stationary and now doesn't line up correctly with the path of the spinning video heads. (The path was recorded as the tape was moving which spread it out, when the tape is stopped most of the signal can be picked up but some is missed because the video heads cannot swipe all the signal from start to end.) Now to get around all this and produce a clear pause picture involves several methods. One is to provide a couple of extra video heads to double trace the same signal and fill in the missing information. (This is one of the reasons the still picture is not as sharp as the moving one because only one half of the thirty frames per second is being looked at.) Another is to align the tape exactly at the start of the frame of the picture so it can start at the top like it should. This method still requires at least one extra head to fill in information not picked up. These units actually move the capstan ever so slightly after pause is initiated to line up the picture. That is to say they frame the still picture. The SL-HF500 and SL-HF600 are examples of machines that do this and it is done by sensing the pulses on the control track and stopping the tape at just the right point. You can hear these units operating a special head switching relay as they perform this function and watch as it produces a clear still picture on the screen. Here we see the framing taking place as it relates to the servo (capstan motor) being controlled. If you add another video head (two for recording and two for still) you get the best of both worlds, this is how the GCS-50 produces a rock-steady still picture. Turning on the framing servo switch for editing insures (as much as possible) that the edits being made will take place on the frame increments, which is very accurate. You see the actual edit frame as presented and lined up. By the way the GCS-50 doesn't have to have the relay mentioned earlier because it has two heads creating the clear still picture (or more correctly, two dual azimuth heads, for a total of four). The tape therefore doesn't need to be moved (but very little) to produce still frame alignment, it is done when the capstan comes to a stop. Pretty clever. Check out the GCS-50 and the SLO-383 in the VCRs section for the application of the framing servo mode.

Q: I watch my Beta recordings on a big screen TV and I notice some kind of noise that appears as a vertical bar in playback. I notice mostly where the screen is almost black. I can move it from left to right with tracking but it will not go away. Knocking the tracking way off makes it get worse. It isn't noticeable from a distance but I know it's there and I wonder why and how to get rid of it? (Q#40)
A: What your describing sounds like a very slight wrinkle in the tape path envelope or the interference bar seen in many Beta II recordings. One of the difficult things to do in the Beta format is get the tape path perfectly flat. The tape travels through the machine with very little tension and isn't stretched over the drum as with the other format. This characteristic demands that extra pains be taken during path alignment to produce the "ideal" flat envelope. The bar becomes noticeable if the tape isn't completely flat or when wear causes cupped areas at the pockets where the hold down fingers are stationed on the drum. Try using a thinner tape, such as is used in the L-830 cassettes, and see if it goes away or lessens. If it does this will may verify that it is being caused by the path alignment or wear (thinner tape flattens out easier due to the softer nature of the tape). The remedy would then would be a tape path alignment and/or upper drum replacement. If the bar is only seen in Beta II and isn't improved by a thinner tape, then what you are probably seeing is the noise bar common to most Beta II recordings. This slight wavy vertical bar pattern is caused by an electronic beat introduced by the electronics when it down converts the signal during processing. This is the nature of the format and can't be adjusted out.

Q: I recently purchased a SL-HF860D Beta VCR off of ebay and it doesn't power up completely. The display comes on but the power light and function buttons don't work. Also, is there any way to avoid getting a unit that doesn't work correctly from an auction? What questions should one ask before placing a bid? (Q#41)
A: Okay we will examine the VCR problem first, then I will give some thoughts on ebay auctions. The most likely cause of the problem your describing for that model would be in the power section. The DC-DC converter has failed or possibly a switching transistor is bad. This is a professional repair. About ebay. It is an auction and like all auctions it will always involve some risk. Ebay can try but they can never eliminate the uncertainty of bidding from a photo and description. You are bidding on something that is going to be sold to the highest bidder. You have seen the many times that items are offered "as is" and that is to indicate that the seller is offering no assurances as to the items operation or condition and accepts no responsibility for it. I have won many things from Ebay auctions over the years and I am pleased most of the time. Many items just would not be available to me any other way. But worse than the risk of the unit being misrepresented is the packaging and shipping issue. I have received numerous items that must have been nice when they were shipped but arrived destroyed due to poor packaging. (See my section on proper packaging.) If you purchase something that must travel by freight, do what you can to impress upon the shipper that the people that will be handling your goods en route simply cannot be expected to handle it with kid gloves, not in the real world. Ebay receives high marks in my books for making such a varied and versatile array of items available to a wide audience. I know of no questions you could ask a seller that would render any guarantee that could be trusted completely. Feedback is a fairly good barometer except many sellers wait for their buyers response before posting one of their own. This practice pollutes the data somewhat and could easily be corrected with a data blocking system for both parties. Ebay does a reasonable job of policing it's wrongdoers, which is small comfort if you end up with an item that was misrepresented. I see warranty offers now and some other things coming in the future, but for now ebay auctions involves taking on some risk. It is, after auction.

Q: I would like to buy a changer to fit my SL-2700. Which one should I buy? (Q#42)
A: The SL-2700 accepts the AG-500, which is quite hard to find. When you do they are usually "new old stock" that somebody set aside years ago and never used. I find these ever so often and offer them in my Website. You can check their availability by visiting my "Betamax Accessories" section. The AG-400 can be used also, but you will have to work around the attaching plate incompatibility problem. Which prompts me to say that when you acquire one of these changers be sure to get the attaching hardware. They aren't much good if you can't mount them on the machine. Here's a run down of which changers fit what machines. The SL-7200A, LV-1901A and SL-8200 can use the AG-120 or the AG-200. The AG-200 can also be used on the SL-8600. The model AG-300 is for the SL-5400, SL-5600 and SL-5800. The SL-2500 and SLO-420 uses the AG-400. The AG-500 is used for the SL-2410, SL-2415, SL-2700 and SL-2710. For further information on changers click here.

Q: The display in my SL-HF900 is getting dim. What can be done to correct this? (Q#43)
A: Two things will most likely cause this problem, a failing power supply or a failing display tube. In the SL-HF900 it seems to be more common for the power supply to be the cause, which is good because the tubes are no longer available new. Usually a transistor or zener diode begins to lose it's value and the display continues to get dimmer as the part(s) travel down the road to failure. Tubes can get dim because they gas off, which is the loss of the gas that carries the electrons to the phosphors printed on the back plate in the display. Fewer electrons being able to hit the material means fewer atoms will fluoresce and the characters shine less brightly. Either way this is a professional repair. If the tube is bad a replacement would have to come from a parts machine. That would be hard to find because SL-HF900s are usually too valuable to part out.

Q. I have heard that some Beta units can be used to produce animated sequences. Which ones and how is it done? (Q#44)
A. It is true that some models, by repeatedly pushing the pause button while the machine is in the record mode, will record one frame advanced at a time. The SL-HF900 will do this and so will many of the late model high end machines. If you attached a camera or use a still frame source such as a computer, spot generator, etc. and move the subject slightly each time you pushed pause, the recorded video would play back as animation. I tried it with the SL-HF900 and it worked well, but was very time consuming. This particular event occurs because that high end units during pausing in record wind back the tape a few frames each time, this is to find and align with the the last recorded control pulse. This action, called mirco-timing phase alignment, helps the recorded segments line up better and produces edits between scenes that are smoother. Each time you press pause during an animation session the roll back advances one frame due to an overlap produced as it searches for the next pulse. This actually is good information to keep in mind should you want clean edits between scenes, keep your fingers off the pause button between edits or you could mistakenly add a frame you didn't want. If you should inadvertently press pause twice, then to get a clean edit would require that the edit points be lined up again. To do this you would have to stop the tape, rewind, play and then pause again at the location you wanted as your edit point. This animation "feature" was not a built-in design function but an anomaly produced by the micro-timing phase process when using this step-by-step recording. If you want to know more about true pre-roll editing, that is when both machines switch at predetermined edit points while the tape is moving, check out the SL-HF1000, GCS-50 or the SLO-383 in the VCR section.

Q: My SL-HF360 locks up sometimes when I try to program the timer after inserting a tape. I then have to unplug it and reset everything, how can this be fixed? (Q#44)
A: I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that this is a flaw in the system control IC programming that slipped by the designers at Sony. It seems that if you time it just right and press the timer programming button just after a tape loads, the unit resets and then locks up. Not one button will function..nada, the only option is to unplug the machine and start over. The good news is that the SL-HF360 is a great low end unit that will give you great performance without complaint as long as you give it a second or two after the tape loads before pressing the timer setup button. So this is a glitch and there is no fix.

Q: I am going overseas, can I take my Beta with me? If not, how do I best store it? (Q#46)
A: Using your Beta in another country involves several things. First is the power supply consideration. Check the household current standard for your country of destination and purchase a converter that alters it to match your unit. Next, you may want to consider taking along a television and some prerecorded tapes, because the broadcast standard may be different. For a list of the different standards click here. Storing your Beta for safekeeping I recommend using the original box, if unavailable then use one that will allow you to stuff about two inches of padding all around your machine (see my section "PACKING" below for more information). Enclose the manual and the remote without the batteries. Doing it this way will keep everything together when you come back and want to use it again. Store it in a cool, dry place and if you can find some desiccant packages, toss several of those into the box as well.

Q: Which Beta unit is the most difficult to repair? (Q#47)
A: The question has several answers. The SL-7200A, SL-8200 and LV-1901A would qualify as the most awkward to work on because of their weight and size. The most mechanically challenging units are the SL-5400, SL-5600 and SL-5800. The most intricate are the Betamovies and combo units. The most technically difficult and electronically sensitive is the EDV-9500. The most complicated are the SL-2500, SLO-420 and SL-2700. The most difficult type of repair is an intermittent problem that doesn't show itself until after a unit has been operated for several hours and then doesn't show up again until more time has passed. None are easy when they won't behave.

Q: I recently arranged my cables that were laying all over the place behind my component cabinet into tubular casings. Now I'm getting noticeable bars that keep running across my screen at different times. I've tried rearranging my cables but it doesn't help. It doesn't do it all the time. Is this a ground problem? What can I do to get them out? I have several Betas and a switcher going into my television. (Q#48)
A: Even though it seemed the right thing to do, putting all your cables in those nice tubular casing can create picture problems. It's called "harmonic beat" and it is created by sympathetic interference generated when cables lay side-by-side. They act something like a transformer and pass electrical current to one another causing surges at various peak levels in the video signal. (It seems to effect the video more so than the audio, but in audio circles it is called hum.) The problem is multiplied by having several pieces of equipment operating at the same time. The best answer is to take the cables out of the casings and lay the video lines at right angles to each other creating a totally random path for the signals to travel. Now for the practical answer, move the video cables for each item as far apart as feasible and when they intersect try to have them at right angles to each other. Most sets don't offer a ground anymore but you can buy a AC line filter. It smoothes out the house current and cuts down on any spurious stray signals that may be being generated in your area. This helps if you have someone in your area that is using any type of equipment that creates line noise, such as a welder. If nothing works, you may be located too close to a power station or high tension line (I wanted to cover as many bases as possible) but I doubt this since it wasn't happening before. In this last case you'd have to move.

Q: I recently purchased a Sony SL-HF450 off of ebay and it has a computer type nine pin plug in the back, what is this for? (Q#49)
A: The most likely purpose of the plug was to hard wire remote operation of the unit. Some duplication labs or recording facilities elected to modify consumer Beta units to fit special needs, or just to save money by avoiding the purchase of higher priced professional machine. It made good economic sense if their requirements didn't dictate the need for a more rugged pro machine. The plug will probably not be an issue and the machine will operate normally. If it turns out that some function is missing because the circuitry is expecting a connection that isn't being made when using the plug, then it would have to be re-wired. This would be a professional repair.

Q: A friend of mine says that he used to service music jukeboxes that had Sony VCRs in them and played music videos, have you ever heard of such a thing? (Q#50)
A: What your friend is referring to are the Video Jukeboxes that appeared in the late eighties. Manufactured by Rowe/AMI Corporation these units had a SL-2000, SL-2005 or (later on) a BetaHiFi unit mounted in them that played a video of the artist on a television screen as the music was playing. It was possible to select the different songs because Rowe wrote programming for their controls that took advantage of the Beta machines linear tape counters, which made the jukebox capable of finding the different selections on the video tape. The units only played some of the selections with video playback and they cost more than the regular songs played from just vinyl. They were very popular early on but mostly disappeared in the early nineties. There are, however, video jukeboxes still being made in England but they no longer use the video tape technology. To learn more on this subject click here

Q: I have noticed on ebay references made to the GCS-50 being a SL-HF1000 less the tuner, timer and other consumer features but it looks similar to the SL-HF900. What's your opinion? (Q#51)
A: Some of Sony's professional machines have an obvious shared design with the consumer lines. The SL-420 is perhaps the model that is most closely related, being very similar to the SL-2500, right down to having the same timer and even accepting a changer. The SL0-340, SLO-1400, EDW-10, GCS-1 and others also have obvious family ties with the consumer lines. The models SLO-1800, SLO-383 and SLO-300 are stand alone designs and have no home companions. The GCS-50 is a cross breed with ties most closely related to the SL-HF900, due to its similar frame components and board designs. Some of the printed circuit boards even share the same numbers. The early promotional photos of the GCS-50 used an altered SL-HF900 as the picture model but the keyboard layout was changed when it was put into production, in order to be more consistent with the professional line button set up. It does have the flying erase heads and the same drum as the SL-HF1000 but I feel that comparing it to the SL-HF1000 is actually selling it short. The GCS-50 has better picture control circuits and features a stronger editing format than the SL-HF1000, which you would expect from a machine costing almost three times the price and having no tuner or timer. Each unit was designed based upon a projected marketing segment and they are outstanding examples of Betas desirability. They will be missed when you can no longer find them. To see a side by side comparison of these models click here

Q: How do you arrive at the prices for the units you offer for sale? (Q#52)
A: If the item is new it is based upon a predetermined resale markup as reflected by the manufacturers suggested retail price. Refurbished items are figured using the cost of the item, the number available and the time consumed in their refurbishing. Repairs are based upon materials cost and the man hours invested. Every item and repair receives a warranty, unless otherwise stated, and most everything offered is unique to the format. To learn more on how I refurbish a Beta click here

Q. My Beta has a switch on the back that says 50-60 Hz cycles, what is is for and what does it do? (Q#53)
A. The manual explains to set it for your country's house current cycles, which is 60 cycles in the USA. Many Beta units were sold in various countries so the frequency on these units was made to be adjustable. The clock/timer uses the megaHertz frequency to keep time, set it wrong and the clock may run fast or slow. To see a chart of the various nations house currents click here.

Q: Can I get my Beta refurbished? (Q#54)
A: Refurbished Beta VCRs are units that I offer through my Website. This designation is exclusively reserved for devices that have received an extensive process of repair, reconditioning and, in many cases, improvement and upgrading. This is done to insure the best looking and best operating unit obtainable. The time invested and work involved varies depending on the condition of the individual unit. Once completed these reawakened instruments are offered for purchase (See "Betas For Purchase" in the right column). (For more information on refurbishing click here.) I would be happy to recondition your Beta. This service features a procedure including parts and labor for returning it to top performance. These include, but are not limited to, evaluation and testing, internal cleaning, lubrication, replacing or renewing the upper video drum, replacing the pinch roller, and renewing the reels, guides, tension arm and tension band. The video drum grounding upgrade is also included, if it can be installed and the unit doesn't already have it. The prices vary depending on the model. (Discussion on methods and items mentioned is available in the "Beta Refurbishing" section.) To access the submission form for inquiring about reconditioning press the "Get it Repaired" navigator button at right. Be sure to explain the service you desire in the text area provided. You should receive a response within forty-eight hours. The warranty is the same as for a repair. (For a definition of terms click on the "Business Statement" link below.)

Q: Do you repair VHS? (Q#54)
A: No. All of my parts inventory and expertise is concentrated on repairing only Beta.

Q: Is the Sony name an acronym for something? (Q#56)
A: The Sony logo is from the Latin word sonus (sound) and the English word sonny (meaning my little son*). The company started life as Tokyo Tsushin Keenkyujo, or roughly translated: Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute. They changed their name after they successfully introduced a small transistor radio to the U.S.A. (and the world) called the Sony. The product became so famous, they renamed the whole company. Now let's do the other Beta guys. Aiwa was founded in Japan in 1951 as Aiko Denki Sangyo Co., Ltd., and from this the Aiwa brand name was derived. In 1959, the company name was changed to Aiwa Co., Ltd. The name "Aiwa" sounds like the Japanese words for "love" (ai) and "harmony" (wa). Around the world, the Aiwa name stands for high quality products that are fun and easy to use. In 2002 Sony acquired full ownership of Aiwa but still produces products under their brand name. Sanyo was founded in 1947 as Sanyo Electric Works and was a manufacturer of bicycle generator lamps. It soon moved into small appliances, washing machines and radios. The name means three oceans based on the company vision to market on a global scale. NEC or Nippon Electric Company, Ltd. was established in 1899 in partnership with the Western Electric Company of the United States to become the first Japanese joint venture with foreign capital. Primary initial manufacture was telephones and switching systems. Toshiba was formed from the merging of two older companies. Tanaka Seizo-sho formed in 1875 (Tanaka Engineering Works), Japan's first manufacturer of telegraphic equipment and Hakunetsu-sha and Co., Ltd. formed in 1890 and later named Tokyo Denki (Tokyo Electric Co.)., Japan's first plant for electric incandescent lamps merged in 1899 to form Tokyo Shibaura Denki (Tokyo Shibaura Electric Co., Ltd.). The company was soon well known as Toshiba, which became its official name in 1978.
*For an interesting footnote to the Sony name click here.

Q: Is it true that the clock time ran out on the SL-HF2100 in the year 2006? Can it be reprogrammed to overcome this? (Q#57)
A: The SL-HF2100 clock/timer will not accept a date beyond December 31, 2005. The timer control IC of the VCR was designed this way by Sony and it cannot be altered or corrected. There is a way around this nuisance. Consult a perpetual calendar and pick a year that has the days of the week where you need them and then program the unit using that year. Years available are from 1991 thru 2005. You can substitute 1995 for 2006, 2001 for 2007, etc. and you must use the RMT-2100A remote to set the clock, no other remote will work. Why December 31, 2005? Because January 1, 2006 was the date that the US congress designated as to when all the television stations (in the USA) were required to switch over to HDTV and discontinue their standard broadcast service. What actually happened? Regular broadcasting continues to some extent and HDTV has now became the mainstream of broadcasting. To see a "by the years" substitution chart click here.

Q: In what years were the different models made and how many of each were sold? (Q#58)
A: I can provide you with the various models, their years of release and the suggested list price but none of the manufacturers revealed their sales numbers. To see the Betamax Timeline chart click here.

Q: Does "Beta" signify the loading method? What does it mean?(Q#59)
A: When Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony (with Masura Ibuka), set Sony engineers to the task of developing a video recording system with a cassette small enough to fit in ones pocket (roughly the size of a paperback book) their initial try was called "Alpha" after the capitalized first letter in the Greek alphabet. The tape path did sorta look like two "A"s side by side. (This later was to be renamed the "M" load.) The system worked well enough but had some major drawbacks that Sony eventually decided were too significant to put it's name on. It was too rough on the tape because it had to be stretched around the video drum to keep it aligned. This meant that for fast forward and rewind the tape to be wound back into the cassette to prevent damage, an awkward and bothersome procedure. The cassette also was too large and the picture wasn't up to Sony standards. As a result this design was discarded and later sold off to a small company called Japanese Victor and eventually became VHS. Sony continued on to developed another system, loosely modeled after their already successful professional U-matic format. It possessed the desired properties that Sony was looking for, ease of use, no strain on the tape and less friction. Because it was their second strategy it was named "Beta" after the lower case "B" in the alphabet. Plus the tape path did sorta looked like a lower case "b" when it was wound around the video drum. Eventually the Beta was combined with max, meaning ultimate, and the name Betamax was created.

Q: I record a lot of movies, some of which I save. Invariably I end up with a sizable length of time left over at the end of a tape. My question is how did the L-500, L-750 and L-830 lengths come to be decided on and can I buy other lengths of tape? (Q#60)
A: Let us get in the Wayback machine and travel back to when Beta was under development. The recording of television programs was the emphasis behind the machine, so it only followed that thirty and sixty minutes recording time in (the BxI speed) would be the norm. Even though the Cartrivision system which existed just prior to Beta had offered selling and renting movies, its failure seemed to send a message that recording movies was not going to be a key factor in the feasibility of home video recording. After the success of the first Betamax a company called Magnetic Video petitioned Fox Studios for the rights to market movies on video. Fifty titles were offered to test the waters. Sales were moderate a first but it was enough to spark what would later become a revolution in how the world would view movies. Next came the format war, the issue of recording time and things got dicey. Times were increased by reducing the recording speed and now the same cassette tape lengths yielded more time. The K-30 was renamed the L-250 and would record for one hour in BxII, the K-60 became the L-500 with two hours. Soon would come the L-750 for three hours of recording and even a slower speed that would add another 50% of recording time. Even though the cost of a tape dropped considerably over time it didn't seem to matter in the long run. The total allotted time per cassette showed to be the deciding factor. As for movie running times Sony and other tape manufacturers wound custom length cassettes for the duplication labs but the lengths we are all familiar with became the consumer standards, with the L-750 becoming the big seller. If you record movies for posterity then you are always going to run into the problem with time left over or tapes of too short of length. The average movie duration is 93 minutes, which means that two movies in BxII will almost fit on one L-750 but you may have to give up the last of the credits. You may never know who was the Gaffer or the Best Boy. I have L-370s for sale that run 95 minutes which will cover this situation but the trouble is that Hollywood doesn't make just movies that are 93 minutes long, that is an average. So the only remedy would seem to be keeping a supply of L-370 tapes on hand for movies of 95 minutes and less, L-500s for movies of 95 minutes to 2 hours. Then use the L-750s for those over two hours. I also have available L-530 cassettes to cover up to 135 minutes and L-625s for up to 155 minutes. All times here are based upon recordings made in BxII (times will be longer if your doing BxIII). Check the special lengths link in the "CASSETTES" section if you want more information or click here.

Q: Why does S-Video produce a better picture when dubbing from one machine to the other than just using the video in and out? (Q#61)
A: S-Video allows a better picture because less processing is taking place when transferring the video information from one machine to the other. To say it another way you are recording the from one to the other using less electronics to get in the way of the picture. To get a better look at what this means in terms of signal path and quality click here

Q: You mention several times throughout your Site about static electricity. How big a problem is it? (Q#62)
A: It is something that must be considered in every aspect of electronics. On the sub-atomic level everything carries an electronic charge. It comes from the electrons moving around from one atom to another. It seems that they just don't stay married to the same atom and once a bunch of them get together they can start to wander, or they can be picked up. They can even be bunched up in large quantities and held together temporarily. If a large enough quantity gathers up they begin to take on a strong potential to discharge to an opposite charge and will eventually make a jump for it. The spark on the door knob from your finger after you walk along a carpet is electrons gathered up on your body traveling to a mass (the knob) that has an opposite charge than you. Lightening is another example of static electricity, only on a much larger scale. Going back down to the size we are concerned with, as in related to electronics, it causes problems when it jumps around in a circuit and messes things up. The circuits incapsulated inside ICs (integrated circuits) are microscopic and operate at very low voltages. They are not able to take the high volumes of electrons that static can contain and the force can fuse together or break the tiny components in their circuits, causing their destruction. To keep this from happening precautions must be taken when handling ICs and design engineers must build electronic gear so that static can be safely drained away and never gets to the potential where it could damage the delicate ICs. This is why you see devices, keypads and buttons with grounds straps leading to the case. This is to neutralize the static forces and keep surfaces in a safe, no-charge state.

Q: I noticed in your Refurbish section that playing an alignment tape is necessary to adjust a Beta VCR. If Betamovies only record, how do you adjust them? (Q#63)
A: The Betamovies require a special procedure alone with a special tool that allows them to be adjusted with an alignment tape. For more information click here

Q: The L-830 cassettes seem easily damaged by scans in reverse and forward. What causes this and how can it be avoided? (Q#64)
A: Ideally all recordings that you are going to be scanning or skip scanning should be made using the thicker grades of tape found in the L-500, L-370, L-250, etc. cassettes because it is stiffer and will be less affected by slight wear and misalignments of the tape path. When a Beta is new or refurbished the tape path components, and especially the rubber pinch roller, are in top condition and can handle the thinner grades of tape with little problem. During recording and playback the abrasive nature of the video tape removes the surfaces that it comes in contact with, which over time corrupts the path. Add to this the dirt that can build up plus the degrading of the pinch roller rubber from age and you can easily see how tape travel can become unstable or distorted. Because the thinner varieties of tape require a very precise alignment to maintain proper contact with the guides, they are the first to suffer when used in a Beta that needs an overhaul. The thinner tape base film can roll over or crease easier than the thicker base found in the shorter length cassettes. It is always a good idea to have any device that uses a physical process (like recording on tape) to be regularly serviced. Sony makes this very clear in their service manuals, however the message seldom gets out to the masses. How do you see this alignment damage so you know service is required? One sure way is to open the door on a cassette that is giving trouble and examine the top and bottom edges of the tape for curling or wrinkles. Sometimes creases can be seen running long ways down the tape. Both are definite signs of trouble. This kind of damage is not a failure of the tape. Extensive test have been performed and as long as the path is within factory specs these thinner tapes perform normally. Another way to spot trouble is to notice how the picture misbehaves during the playback and scans. To help you in spotting these problems I have composed a graphic, along with an explanation of what occurs on the screen during and after a tape damage event. To access it click here One other thing I harp on, get a winder. Don't rewind in your machine, it will only shorten the life of you precious Beta and make repair required sooner.

Q: What is micro timing-phase editing? (Q#65)
A: When Beta was young and recording was performed in the most simple of methods transitions between scenes was accomplished in one of two ways. The first option was for the tape to be stopped during the time the signal was not being recorded, to resume recording the function buttons were pressed. During the time interval the machine came to rest and all movement was halted. The second method was to activate a pause function, this put the machine in a standby mode with the video drum turning and the tape halted. Both of these types of "edits" (called crash edits) were very crude, and noticeable in the picture when it was played back. Evidence of the edit was displayed as picture tearing, flips or loss of sync. To correct this situation and provide clean, noise free edits the micro timing-phase system was developed. Special circuitry incorporated in various Beta models would reverse the tape slightly when record or record pause was requested before allowing forward movement of the tape. No signal was sent to the video or audio heads during this reverse movement. Once forward movement began a slight delay prior to actual recording allowed the electronics to try and match the signal coming in to the signal already present on the tape. If everything operated on schedule the transition from one scene to the next when played back showed almost no disturbance or phasing at the edit points. One of the reasons for the better performance of these edits was that the tape is already moving at the time when recording is introduced by the circuitry. This is a great improvement over a situation where the tape is starting up from a dead stop, as in the crash edit method. All of the above is assuming an off-the-air recording session. When dubbing from one machine to the other micro timing-phase is a great improvement over the crash edits but pre-roll and assemble editing offers the best situation. (Also see question below.)

Q: What are pre-roll edits, insert edits, etc.? (Q#66)
A: Pre-roll, butt, assemble and pre-roll are terms used to describe particular types of editing processes where various video scenes or segments are joined together to complete a particular production. Insert editing is where a particular segment is placed within a scene than has already been recorded and it is replacing the information that is already on the tape. A little more detail please. First there was crash edits. This is where the tape was stopped or paused to edit the incoming material. It is messy because there is a noticeable break at the point of transition from scene to scene. Butt edits are similar except the term is usually used to describe a more sophisticated electro-mechanical method whereby the machine used is capable of cleaning up the editing point. Found in the more modern units it is the slight reversing of the tape prior to the point of edit, which helps to overcome the inertial problems present when the tape moves from a dead stop (as in the crash method mentioned above). Pre-roll and assemble editing is this last step taken to a higher level and is usually used in dubbing material from one machine to another. With assemble editing the desired points are programmed into a master unit (either a compatible VCR or control console) that plays the desired segments to be recorded onto the slave. After all the segments starting and ending points have been entered the two machines are placed into a standby mode. Next a start function is initiated and each segments is automatically called upon and recorded to the slave as dictated by the controlling unit. Pre-roll adds increased accuracy to produce cleaner edits. In this method the tape in each machine is reversed slightly prior to the edit points and the recording is started while both tapes are already traveling forward. A graphic may help make this last type of edit easier to visualize, click here. Simple pre-roll edits are just using the feature of the pre-roll when joining one scene with another. Cleaner edits are accomplished this way but only two segments are being joined.

Q:Will I be able to use my Beta when analog TV stops broadcasting? (Q#67)
A: Yes. The adapter that converts the HDTV signal to analog has two outputs and one input. It has RF 75 ohm coax in and out and composite video with left and right stereo out. Your Beta can accept both types of outputs and HDTV sets accept composite in (check your actual model to verify this as it is not possible to know them all). To see the converter and the outputs click here

Q: What is edit preview? (Q#68)
A: Edit preview can mean several things but the most common is running through and reviewing segments programmed into an editing console or machine prior to actual assemble editing. This is done to make changes should an assembly error be detected. Another is a special function available with many of the machines that accept a camera. In this instance pressing a special function button while the recorder is in the record-pause mode will cause the tape to reverse a short distance and playback several seconds of the last recorded scene. The machine will then resume the record-pause mode. Being able see the last several seconds of the previous segment facilitates better continuity between scenes and not having to change modes offers convenience.

Q: What is a video frame (or field)?(Q#69)
A: It is one of the individual pictures (or fields) used to create or display a video picture. There are thirty of these in every second of the NTSC video signal. The term frame was carried over from the days of movie film when a single frame meant one individual picture or cell on a reel of movie film. For more definitions of audio, video and electronic terms check out this glossary by clicking here.

Q: I have a large collection of 8mm films of my family that I would like to transfer to video and then to DVD. I have a telecine adapter but the recordings display an annoying flicker or rolling bar when played back. Why is this happening and how do I get rid of it?(Q#70)
A: The problem you describe is common and has to do with the frame rate difference between film and video. To better understand why this happens lets look at how motion is created before the human eye. When many single pictures are received visually at a rate greater that roughly 18 frames per second the brain strings them together so that minor changes in the content of the picture appear as motion (the changes have to be incremental from one frame to the next). The more frames per second the smoother is the motion. Motion picture film usually travels by at twenty-four frames per second (because it syncs up nicely with the audio at this speed). Thirty was chosen for television video (simplified version) because it works well with the sixty cycles of AC house current and two frames fit perfectly between each second in time. The difference does cause some problems when film is transferred to video or vice versa. Direct transfer causes a strobe effect that is generated by the difference in counts between frames. To overcome this a special system that divides or multiplies each the frames by five is employed. The system is called 3/2 pulldown (because of the rate of transfer), it is fairly complicated and requires special equipment. It allows the segmented pictures or video to be mathematically matched to a number common to both that removes the strobe. Unfortunately tackling this problem is going to require using one of the video companies that specializes is this transfer service. For a description of the 3/2 pulldown process click here For more information than you ever thought you needed about movies and transferring film to video check out "How Film Is Transferred to Video" by clicking here (opens in new browser window)

Q:Which Beta models sold the best? (Q#71)
A: The Betamakers didn't release any figures regarding the number of model sold. The best I can offer is a chart that was the result of a survey conducted in late 1989 by a video magazine. To see the chart click here

Q: It seems to me that Beta VCRs are a little noisier than they need to be. Is this my imagination or is it done on purpose? (Q#72)
A: When the first VCRs came on the scene they were all noisy. Large motors, big solenoids and beefy levers made resounding snaps and pops when they operated. As VCRs improved through the years new innovations in design allowed for those mechanical components to become smaller and quieter. VCRs today can function with virtually no sound emanating from them. So, why then did the Beta units not become silent, or at least very quiet? While it's difficult to surmise why exactly, I do have a theory. The ability to hear the operation of a mechanical piece of equipment operating offers a verification that a function has or is actually taking place. I have several types of electromechanical units that are silent and not being able to tell when they are operating manifests an uncomfortable air of uncertainty or mystery. Front panel or on-screen displays also don't help take the away the ambiguity, they only verify that the displays are working. Perhaps the Betamakers felt that their consumers wanted to have the assurance that their units were actually doing something. It's only a theory, but as for me I like knowing when devices are operating. And yes, they are somewhat noisy.

Q: My SL-HF840 has the picture frozen and it will not play any tapes. It records okay because tapes I record on it will play on my other Betas. What is going on? (Q#73)
A: Try forcing the digital circuits to reset by unplugging the unit and shorting the blades of the 110 volt plug with a screwdriver. Wait about 30 seconds and then plug it back in again. This action will reset the digital circuits. Turning the VCR off with the power button won't be enough. It must be left unplugged for a short while, shorting the blades insures the system is neutralized. This method can solve a number of other problems too. Any time your Beta seems locked up or behaves weird, like your channel indicator numbers seem scrambled or your clock goes to all 8's, try resetting it. The primary cause is static electricity or power surges. Static electricity is that shock you get when you walk across a carpet on a dry day and touch something like a door knob. This burst of electricity can confuse the digital circuits of the CPUs and ICs in your Beta. Fortunately, this phenomenon occurs only rarely since manufactures design their units to handle most stray static shocks. Resetting fixes most of these problems, it's like a restart on your computer

Q: I leave my SL-HF900 on most of the time and tune the stations for my TV through the VCR. Does it harm it to leave it on all the time? (Q#74)
A: Leaving the SL-HF900 on all the time impacts it in several ways, how much depends on the mode setting of the VCR. When the SL-HF900 is turned on with no cassette in the machine the pinch solenoid is retracted and held, which readies the threading transmission for anticipated cassette insertion and loading. The solenoid closing can be recognized by the audible click when the power button is pressed. Leaving the VCR on in this standby mode consumes power, generates extra heat and shortens the life of the pinch solenoid. If you loaded in a cassette it would be better for the SL-HF900 because the solenoid comes to rest once loading has been performed. Turning it off would burden the electronics the least, short of unplugging it. One side note, the SL-HF900 is one of many units where the pinch solenoid closes when it is turned on without a cassette loaded inside. To tell if your model is one listen for the audible click when it is powered up on empty.

Q: Do you really have a dog named Max? (Q#75)
A: Mad Max, the binary boxer, only lives in your computer.

Q: Was the Vidimagic, which combined a Betamax with a video projection system, the only model of it kind and how easy is it to operate? (Q#76)
A: I know of no other model than the Vidimagic FP-60 that combined both, which certainly makes it very unique and desirable. Of special interest is the projection section can be used independent of the VCR. The unit includes a tuner with RF input (VHF/UHF antenna). Convergence problems common with systems that use individual projection tubes for the three primary colors of light are of no concern with the FP-60. It uses a single special high energy single tube design that eliminates convergence, making it very easy to set up when moved from place to place. It also is capable of producing a huge picture. Sony also produced a less well known version of the Vidimagic that did not include the Betamax, the FP-62. To see a side by side comparison of the both units click here

Q: What causes the white specks showing up in my picture from time to time, it seems to be like some sort of static. (Q#77)
A: Since this is an intermittent problem I'll rule out the Beta VCR as the culprit and say you probably have some kind of electrical disturbance taking place in your area. Spikes or electrical discharges are finding there way into your signal either from the AC line or they are being transmitted in the air from nearby. An AC line filter or noise suppressor can help if it's coming over the power line. Changing the antenna can help if it is airborne. The last resort is to try and locate the source and have it corrected by persuading the individual to responsible to act, hopefully in a positive way.

Q: My recorder now only records in black and white instead of color, what has happened. (Q#78)
A: Because the signal reproduction is different for a black and white picture than it is for a color one the VCR (and television) has to make a distinction between the two. Circuitry within the unit has degraded to the point that it is out of adjustment or it has failed and all of the chroma (color) information is being killed or lost. This is a problem requiring a professional repair. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: Which Beta was the best ever made? (Q#79)
A: I get this question in emails from time to time. I have answered these on an individual basis but since there seems to be an increasing demand for my opinion on this subject I am going to risk publishing a list of "Beta's Best". I have put together a chart that you can access by clicking here. Please do not mistake this as an attempt on my part to set myself up as an authority, nothing is further from reality, this is only an opinion.

Q: The numbers on my clock are flashing from left to right in a wave type fashion. What causes this and what can be done to correct it? (Q#80)
A: A capacitor is most likely failing and letting AC line pulses bleed into the fluorescent display. Sometimes it more noticeable after the unit has been left unplugged for a while, being more visible at first then smoothing out slightly as the capacitor charges up. This requires a professional repair. Click on "Repairing Your Beta" in the right column.

Q: What does the model numbering mean? Is there a system, rhyme or reason for the stepped increases or the odd and even numbers? (Q#81)
A: It's difficult to pin down what the various model numbers and letters stand for. Almost all electronics manufacturers engage in mild subterfuge when it comes to model numbering. It makes better advertising copy and looks more prestigious to list a model as XX1234 than it does as: Model 1, Model 2, Model 3 etc. When it came to Beta it seems that NEC, Sanyo and Toshiba did follow a loose pattern of increasing the number after the letter designations with each successive model (example: Sanyo 4500, 4600, 4800....7150, 7200 or Toshiba V-M41, V-M42 etc.). Sony on the other hand did some fancy footwork with their numbers, but upon examination a loose pattern seems to emerge. The higher end models usually did carry the larger numbers. Some examples: SL-10, SL-20, SL-25, SL-30, SL-60, and SL-90. The Hi-Fi models: SL-HF350, SL-HF450, SL-HF550 and SL-HF650. With each step representing a model with slightly more bells and whistles than the one before it, the highest being the most featured and most expensive. You also have to take into consideration the time period when the models were released. The SL-HF300, SL-HF400, SL-HF500 and SL-HF600 are of earlier manufacture than the Hi-Fi ones already mentioned and they do not fill in the spaces between them. A similar situation exists with the Hi-Fi ready, digital, ED Beta and the non-USA Beta units. Sony also released some wild card models and sandwiched then between the sequential numbers, like the SL-HF360 SL-2710, SL-2405 and the SL-2001. And there are other anomalies with no recognizable pattern, the: VCR 3, GCS-1, GCS-50, SL-P44R, SLO-383 and SL-3030. It is possible that all this numbering had some deep inner meaning but more than likely it was just a way to promote various models and generate an impression that each was different, special, slightly improved or higher in value than another. Only the Betamakers know for sure.

Q: Why did Sanyo call their Beta VCRs Betacord or B-Cord? (Q#82)
A: Sanyo had some early entries into home video recording with a system they called the V-cord, short for Video recorder. They produced several models before joining forces with the Sony to produce Beta formatted machines. Sony called, and owned, the name Betamax so they continued over into their models their ýcordţ suffix and added it to the ýBetaţ format name. Beta was the system name and was available for use by any licensed manufacturer. The new designation "B-Cord" stood for Beta recorder.

Q: My Beta made a strange noise and had difficulty loading a tape, now it only turns off and on. What happened and how can I get it running again? (Q#83)
A: A likely cause of the shutdown is an error occurred during the threading process. To better see what may have happened click here

Q: Can SuperBeta tapes be played on regular Beta machines? (Q#84)
A: Yes, but the higher luminance signal may cause some bursting in the light and dark edges of the picture. It can be seen as white or black specks where there is a bright to dark area and vice versa. Most times it is not too noticeable. On the other hand, regular Beta tapes can play on SuperBeta machines with no problem. Ed Beta tapes require an Ed Beta machine, but they will also play regular and SuperBeta tapes.

Q: My SL-HF360 runs only in reverse. What is causing this? (Q#85)
A: The capstan in this model (and others) drives the reel assembly as well as pulls the tape through the tape path. To provide reverse scan and rewind the CPU sends a voltage to the capstan motor IC to pulse the pancake electromagnets in the the opposite direction. Your motor most likely has a short that is allowing current to leak over to the reverse circuit, or (less likely) the CPU is bad. This is a problem requiring service.

Q: What does the drop-out circuit do? (Q#86)
A: The DOC (drop-out circuit) replaces missing information in the recorded signal and is necessary due to the imperfections found in all video tape. Information can be lost due to microscopic metal lumps on the tape, or a missing particles, or any number of other anomalies. What the circuit did in it earliest design was electronically take information from just ahead of where the drop-out occurred and place it into the missing space. Visually, because the information was so similar, you most likely wouldn't be unable to notice it happening. It was able to do this magic because the signal coming out of the VCR is slightly delayed from the real time tape playback. (If you want to see what drop-outs look like play a well used tape in a machine with the PCM switch set to the on position.) There is a limit as to how much correction can be done. A scratch or wrinkle on a tape will come through, as well as other major defects. The latest model Beta VCRs (EDV-9500, SL-HF2100, etc.) have digital processing circuits that can store more information. They are capable of replacing entire scan lines with ones recorded before it and drop-outs are almost never seen. (Note: turning the PCM switch to the "on" position is actually turning the DOC circuitry off, see question below.)

Q: My SL-2400 has a PCM switch in the back. I can't see much difference when I put it in either position. The manual says leave it off except when using it for PCM recording. What does it do? (Q#87)
A: The PCM switch appeared when Sony developed the PCM digital system for recording sound onto video tape. Different from BetaHi-Fi, PCM uses most of the video area of the tape to record the sound information. For more on PCM recording click here. The purpose of the switch is to disable the drop-out compensation circuit, called DOC, in the VCR so it will not interfere with the playback of the PCM recorded digital signal. (The switch has no effect during recording.) The DOC circuitry was improved in later design Betas so with the switch was done away with. Also, improvements in tape manufacturing removed a lot of the drop-out imperfections encountered in earlier tapes.

Q: I recently purchased a Navco 2500 Beta VCR at auction but I can't get it to play any of my BII tapes correctly. Is it defective? (Q#88)
A: It could be. But there is also a compatibility issue. The Navco 2500 isn't designed to play back Beta tapes recorded in the BI, BII or BIII speed, even though it will operate at a speed similar to BII (called real time). The NAVCO was a time-lapse recorder designed and manufactured for video surveillance work. It used the Beta cassette and loading system, but it was not actually a Beta VCR. It recorded and played back according to a schedule of pre-programmed time compression speeds. This allowed it to document lots of video information over long periods of time. A closer look at this interesting application of the Beta format should answer a lot of your questions. To find out more click here.

Q: I have some tapes that are moldy inside. Can I still play them in my Betamax? (Q#89)
A: Mold is a living organism that can float in the air and take root on almost anything, provided a little moisture is present. One of the places it likes best is where there is a good source of food, usually something organic that it can digest. The plastics present in the Beta cassette (the shell, reels, film backing and the adhesive binders) are organic polymers that make an excellent dinner for a variety of enterprising mold types. Since the video tape binder and film is the softest of the materials available, this is usually where it takes up residence. Most often the mold is either white, dark blue-green or light brown in color. Click here to see several examples of cassettes under attack. Mold is a special plant with a root system that penetrates the organic material and by using special enzymes breaks it down into food that the plant can live on. The iron or chrome oxide particles that hold the actual recording information are harder to digest so they are usually left behind. If you attempt to play these tapes in this condition there is a good chance that particles will come loose or the tape will separate and remain inside your machine. So whether you attempt to play them is a matter of degree of decomposition and importance. If the mold is very slight, the tapes may play with no noticeable side effects. But if its bad you may coat the inside of your unit with plant material, oxide and degraded tape film. How important are the tapes you want to play and how bad do you want to see them? If it's a one time thing and your dubbing them over to some good tapes, then it may be worth it, but expect the picture to be degraded in quality. Also, be prepared to get your Beta professionally cleaned when you complete you mission.

Q: Do you recommend using a cover to protect my Beta from getting dirt and dust inside? (Q#90)
A: It is important that your Beta have adequate ventilation so it doesn't overheat. The power section, usually located in the back, gets warm even when the machine is not operating. For this reason I don't recommend you put anything on top of you VCR that might obstruct the flow of air, including another VCR. You could use a cover as long as the unit is unplugged.

Q: How can I tell if my Beta cleaning cassette is worn out? (Q#91)
A: The cleaning tape I sell should last through 100 plays from beginning to end. As it degrades the picture on the tape will start to show noise (white specks and lines). These don't really affect the cleaning capability of the tape and aren't a reliable indicator. The only way to know it is depleted is when it no longer cleans. For this you just have to watch the results and make your own determination.

Q: What is wrong when my picture is scrambled and the sound is high pitched? (Q#92)
A: The pinch roller is not holding and allowing the tape to speed by the audio and video heads. This is a problem that requires repair. You could also be playing a BII or BIII in a dedicated single speed Beta. In which case you need to use a machine that plays the speed that the tape was recorded in.

Q: Can tapes recorded using European NTSC 4.43 be played back in a US NTSC 3.58 recorder? (Q#93)
A: Yes and no. Either one will play in either format, because the subcarrier frequencies are so close. You will even get a picture if you use a PAL recorder. So you can see it and hear it, but there will be no color. The black and white (luminance) signals will pass through and be unstable but the color (chroma) uses a different system and will be absent.

Q: The pinch roller runs on the back of the tape. How does it get dirty? (Q#94)
A: For the most part it is the video tape. During most of the life of the "video tape era" manufactures put an extremely fine coating of a graphite like material on the back of their video tape. This was done to allow VHS machines to perform functions similar to Betascan and Betaskipscan. This extra slip made the tape glide better but this coating also rubbed onto the components it came in contact with, this includes the pinch roller. Some manufacturers tapes did more of this than others. The residue comes off with the right cleaning. Left unchecked it can start causing tape running problems. The only way to see the coating on the tape is under a microscope. It might look like tiny dots welded to the surface or just a fine gray film, shiny when viewed from a distance. But you can feel it if you rub your finger over the tapes back surface. To prevent performance problems from contamination, manufacturers plainly stated in their manuals that their machines should be serviced ever year or 500 hours of use. Before VHS changed the tape industry there was no backcoating. These type tapes left behind no deposit, other than normal oxide shedding. They could have continued making both types, except the coated tapes also worked as well in Beta machines. These slipperier tapes just left behind more debris. (Try saying that three times fast.) To combat this all VCRs were supposed to be well maintained became the new mantra. For the record Sony is a tape manufacturer and they made VHS cassettes.

Q: What is the difference between Betamax, Betacam, BetacamSP and Digital Betacam? (Q#95)
A: Betacam, BetacamSP and Digital Betacam are very different video recording formats from Betamax and they will not play in Beta VCRs. They use a similar cassette to Betamax and Beta machines will accept them, so this can cause confusion. The three Betacam systems use a totally different video recording strategy than Betamax. They use a much faster recoding speed and a totally different signal processing method. When played in a Beta VCR all you see is either nothing or white static. The tape counter (Hour, Minutes and Seconds) will also run incorrectly. The easiest way to identify Betacam cassettes is to look at the top of the lid on the right side. It will have stamped on it the type of format the cassette is intended for, Betacam, BetacamSP, Digital Betacam or Betamax. Why did Sony make these formats using the same cassette design (that causes this confusion)? When they decided to create a smaller format to replace the U-matic system in use by the broadcast industry the sturdy Betamax cassette was a natural choice. It had already proven to be the best in the recording industry and the only changes needed were adding or relocating detection holes in the bottom and loading them with different tape. For years these formats never interfered with one another but now after all this time they are starting to find there way into each others devices. To confuse matters even more there is another format called ED Beta that is for use with Betamax. There is some interchangeability between it and Betamax. ED Beta cassettes will not work in Betamax VCRs but Betamax cassettes will play in ED Beta machines. Okay, it is possible to record using each others cassettes if you are a little bit creative. Want to toy around with this idea? Then click here to open a panel that will show you how.

Q: What are multi-format Betas and what do they do? (Q#96)
A: Multi-format Betas were unique among VCRs. They were designed to offer users the flexibility of recording and playing tapes in the broadcast standard of several different countries. For example a particular model might record and play two or more television formats. In a country that used SECAM the recorder could record and play SECAM. If it also supported PAL it would do PAL, and so on. What these multi-fomat VCRs would not do is convert one standard to the another. PAL would require a PAL television for viewing. Same for SECAM, NTSC and others. Changing one standard to another required a separate device. To examine a list of the television standards around the world click here.