Sex, Lies, and Videotape Longevity

EXCERPTED FROM FORTUNE MAGAZINE OCTOBER 18,1993


The life expectancy of VHS videotape may be as short as ten years. Technical reports by Sony, Ampex, Agfa, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers suggest that magnetic tapes must be carefully stored and maintained or their lives may be relatively short.

It’s a question of chemistry. Videotape is made from a base of polyester which is coated with polyurethane. The coating is a binder which holds the magnetic oxide particles. These oxide particles carry the magnetically encoded information within the tape. This plastic binding is sensitive to temperature and humidity. These conditions can cause the urethane particles in the coating to react with water. They will break free and can migrate to the surface of the tape. When the tape is played, the oxide particles which are no longer held by the binder can drop off and the video signal information drops with them.

Tape manufacturers recommend:

  • Store the tapes at 59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and at a relative humidity of 40% to 60%.
  • Fast forward and rewind your tapes at least once every three years. This helps keep the polyurethane binder from sticking to adjacent layers of a tightly wound tape and possibly tearing the oxide particles from the base.
  • Before storing your videotapes, rewind them from end to end.
  • Buy the highest quality tape. It is coated more evenly and, therefore, lasts longer.
  • Keep tapes away from strong electromagnetic fields such as stereo speakers and television sets.
  • Store tapes vertically with the tape wound onto to the bottom of the spool.
  • If a tape has been in the heat or cold, let it reach room temperature before playing it.
  • For special tapes, it’s wise to keep them in plastic bags to protect them from dust and moisture.

If a tape is of great value, you might want to transfer it to film which could add 50 to 100 years to its life.

Keep Reading...

Unlimited 1st Run Movies in Theaters $10/Month

Sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Theatrical subscription service MoviePass is dropping its monthly fee to $9.95 for all users. That is any movie (excluding IMAX and 3-D) at any theater in the system for any screening—even the opening night of a blockbuster. That includes some 36,000 screens in the U.S. which […]

Read More
Black and White Film

Beautiful Black and White Film 1934

Evelyn Prentice is a 1934 film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and featuring Una Merkel and Rosalind Russell in her film debut. The movie was filmed between the original Thin Man and the first of its sequels. The Thin Man series is comedy-mysteries based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. […]

Read More

GoPro Goes Public

More Than A Camera This company, which makes the camera we videographers love, just made the largest initial public offering of a consumer electronics company in more than 20 years! On the first day of trading the new stock (GPRO) jumped up more than 30%. The only other consumer electronic company to go public was […]

Read More
Transfer videotapes

David Pogue says Digitize Those Memory-Filled Cassettes

David Pogue produces videos and writes articles about personal tech issues. His work appears in the NY Times, PBS “Nova,” Yahoo Tech, Scientific American and more. His new article “Digitize Those Memory-Filled Cassettes before They Disintegrate subtitled Bite the bullet and have them digitized—I wish I’d done it sooner. appears in the September 1, 2016 […]

Read More


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Forbes Magazine calls VideoUniversity one of the best business-to-business sites for digital video production.
  • WINNER
    Videography Magazine's
    "Website of the Month" Award
  • WINNER
    PC Magazine Online "Best Desktop Video Site" Award
  • WINNER
    CyberFilm School's "FOUR STAR" Award