Here’s an important tip about playing back very old videotapes, be they BetaSP, BetaMax, 3/4″ U-Matic, digibeta, BetaSX, DVCAM, etc.
For whatever reason, some people don’t rewind their master tapes after working with them. Perhaps they are worried about additional tape wear. Or maybe they just got distracted or… are just plain lazy. If you are worried about tape wear, then at least fast-forward the videotape to the very end so that it is spooled tightly on the take-up reel in side the cassette shell.
If a tape has slack and is set on a shelf for 5-10 years, the loose part of the tape will harden and become brittle in the air. Then then next time it is played, the tape will snap in two upon insert into the video deck. People often come to us with this problem.
The leaders on the tape at the head and tail are made of a sturdier plastic that can stand up to air, gravity, and the distress of time. But the actual oxide-covered videotape is much more sensitive and can deteriorate rapidly in the wrong conditions.
So if you do come upon an old tape, NEVER pop it right into the machine. Instead, first hand-wind the tape all the way to the end, even if it takes you forever and you have to sit down to watch the big game with the cassette in your hand. (Just don’t eat Doritos until you’re done because salt and grease from your hands isn’t the best for the tape either.) Once the tape is rewound, pop it in the deck and DON’T HIT PLAY. Instead, shuttle the tape all the way to the end using fast-forward and then rewind it to the very top. Now eject the tape and reinsert it so it gets a fresh spooling in the system.
Now, you’re all set to play the tape for duplication, digitizing or plain old entertainment.