It's going to get a lot harder to find technology to play old video tape formats after 2025

It's going to get a whole lot harder to copy old video formats after 2025. Picture: Shutterstock.
It's going to get a whole lot harder to copy old video formats after 2025. Picture: Shutterstock.

Presumably having children is designed to propagate the human species, but there are times that my kids complain to me that I only had them so I could dish out boring jobs for them to do.

There was one such time a few years ago. I had collected a large number of proprietary cassette tapes.

As progress stormed ahead, different cameras required different tapes and I was concerned that one day in the future I would have a beautiful collection of small cassettes with nothing to play them on.

So one holiday project for my free-labour contingent, oops children, was to insert each cassette into the still-working video camera, plug it in to the PC, start recording and hit play.

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Then sit back for an hour while the tape played all the way through - and repeat for the 60 tapes I had.

This may seem like a trivial problem. If I wanted to watch a video or create a 21st birthday compilation video, for example, surely it wouldn't be too hard to pull out the tapes and find some footage.

That is fine - while you have a working camera that will still play that particular tape.

There is a symposium currently underway to examine exactly this issue.

The issue with progress is that we lose components and skills.

Imagine if you had some recordings on reel-to-reel tape.

Apart from finding a working device that could play that tape format, you might struggle to find someone who actually knew how to load the tapes.

The issue with progress is that we lose components and skills.

The problem also applies to spare parts. You may have some Beta or VHS tapes.

At the moment you may not have a working player for these very common formats but you can still buy these devices. They are not common, but are available. That is today. The symposium has set a "deadline" of 2025.

There is no major event that will occur in 2025 that will suddenly render all previous recording formats useless, but the concern from the symposium organisers is that by approximately 2025, it will be difficult to buy devices or spares for older recording formats.

It will also be difficult to find anyone willing (or able) to repair them - particularly without spare parts.

It seemed to me that every new video camera had a different cassette.

Trying to find a camera or player that suits that particular format of tape may be difficult. Then having a method of transferring that data can be problematic.

To make the issue harder, not only did some manufacturers like their own niche tape format, but they had different methods of encoding the data.

You would sometimes need specific software loaded on your PC to view the footage from the camera on that computer.

And of course there are the connections to the camera.

This is before the days of just a few different versions of USB. This is when a camera would come with its own cable that would only work with that camera range.

So you might need a device that can take your tape with cables for that device and software to load on your PC.

Wow - who knew when I recorded that early birthday party or family holiday that I would create so much work for myself!

Sometime before 2025 I would recommend pulling out those old tapes and transferring them to a digital format. If not for you then at least for the grandkids.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the 'Tech Talk' podcast, a finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards in the 'Smartest Podcast' category.
This story Might be time to digitise those old videos before it's too late first appeared on The Canberra Times.