May 2024


My VCR’s motor didn’t take much effort to fix. A little bit of super glue, some solder to bridge the traces, and by the next day it was working again! Better still, the dab of grease that’d gotten on the one copy of Metamorphoses didn’t have any impact on it, which was a huge relief.

After capturing that one Metamorphoses tape, I ended up with more questions than I’d expected. It seems like every time I look at it, it has more surprises in store for me. A known problem may be due to the fact that I’m capturing it on a VCR that doesn’t support SECAM – periodically, the brightness will shift either up or down, then back again. What was surprising, this time, was that the brightness shift happens roughly every 3.5 seconds. It’s so precise that it has to mean something, but I don’t see much point in figuring it out. The important thing is that it’s not the tape – I’d captured it twice, and in both captures the shifts occur at different times.

The biggest surprise was when I tried to de-interlace the video. That it’s interlaced at all is somewhat infuriating – I thought the standard method of transferring film to video in Europe was to speed it up from 24 frames per second to 25. In this case, though, it appears that the first 24 frames of every second are interwoven with the next frame, while the 25 frame is a whole repeated image. This is a somewhat easy fix – for the first 24 frames of every second, half the image just needs to be time-shifted.

…except that doesn’t actually improve the quality. Instead, what it reveals is that the film was apparently processed digitally, and its vertical resolution was cut in half before it was transferred to tape.

While the halved resolution is disappointing, at the very least it’s still much clearer than the copy I’d found on Youtube. And since my VCR can’t play back the tape in color, that Youtube video could still be useful – I could extract its color, and combine that with either or both of my captures… and that’s where I ran into another surprise – my copy and the one on Youtube are cropped slightly different.

I’d bought two copies of the film, just in case one of the tapes ended up being bad in any way. Now I wonder what I’ll find when I’m able to capture the other tape. Maybe it’ll be cropped like the Youtube version, or different still? Maybe it’ll even be full resolution!

For now, the captures I have may just be something to tinker with when I’ve nothing better to do. The raw signal from my VCR is either too weak or otherwise wrong for capturing with a Domesday Duplicator, and since this film’s resolution was halved, I’m not sure if there would be any benefit to using the Domesday. And even if I do use it, it may be quite a while before VHS-decode can process SECAM. The only other option I can think of is to find another VCR that does support SECAM, but the ones I’ve seen are expensive. And whether they work is another issue…

The End, For Now?

For several weeks, now, I’ve been playing a waiting game. First for my Metamorphoses VHS tapes to arrive at the go-between, and then for them to ship them to me. The VCRs to play them took more time. The only one of the two that worked wasn’t the most trustworthy, and couldn’t play the tapes in color, so I’d hoped to be able to fix the other deck. I’d thought I’d identified the problem, ordered replacement parts… and then waited another week for those to arrive, for that VCR to still not work.

Opting to use the other VCR instead, one reason it’s not trustworthy is that rewind & fast forward would cause its gears to slip, after which it also wouldn’t be able to eject the tape. No problem, I thought – I’d order a tape rewinder. Another week of waiting.

When the rewinder arrived and worked, I finally decided to order a Domesday Duplicator (DdD), after months of obsessing about it. After another week, the DdD arrived, and I used the included components to mod my laserdisc player. Modding the VCR would have required additional components, and I had more laserdiscs to back up than tapes, so it made sense to do the LD player first.

After getting the DdD set up, it was probably another week before I got any captures that would decode without errors. The short version is that Windows simply has too many processes running in the background, that interfere with the capture process. Switching to Ubuntu solved that.

Last night – a week after the DdD arrived – the components I needed to mod the VCR – which I’d ordered right after the DdD – were delivered. Modding the VCR was quicker & easier than the laserdisc player, but by the time I was finished, I wasn’t in any rush to test it. It was getting late, and I could wait until morning.

This morning I hooked everything up, and captured the first 3 minutes of one of the Metamorphoses tapes as a test. The VHS-Decode software didn’t want to work for my in Ubuntu, so I started to copy the capture file over to my Windows machine. Since I wasn’t likely to capture any more today, I went to eject the tape… only it wouldn’t budge. The whirring sound told me the VCR’s gears had slipped again, which meant I would need to very carefully take it apart, and wind the gears manually.

While I was attempting to move the gears, the cassette try sprang up. The back flap of the cassette didn’t close completely, but it may still have slightly damaged the tape. It was around this time that I’d also heard something hit the floor. I couldn’t see it without my glasses, so whatever it was would have to wait. Once the tape was finally wound back up and ejected, it looked as though a spot of grease had gotten onto the magnetic tape. So that tape may now be ruined. Attempting to clean the grease off may just damage it further, and playing it may smear the grease on the player’s head. Fortunately, I have another copy…

Playing any tapes any time soon may be out of the question. Once I’d put my glasses on, I’d found this piece on the floor –

Under my desk, I’d found the VCR’s capstan motor. That’s what had hit the floor. That piece in the picture is its power connector. Now, MAYBE I can reattach that piece with Gorilla Glue, and use some solder to bridge the connections. For now, though, I officially have two broken VCRs.

The cherry on top of this entire mess, might the test capture. The decoder in Windows produced NOTHING. Either there was no signal, or it was too weak to be captured. Adjusting the DdD’s physical gain might’ve helped, but it’s too late for that now.

If either of these VCRs cannot be repaired, then I’ll need to find another. Preferably one that fully supports SECAM, but those aren’t inexpensive.

Next week, I’m flying up to Michigan for the summer. I was hoping to have both Metamorphoses tapes captured before then, but now I may need to wait until I get back, in September or October…