How to Transfer Beta Tape to Digital
By Colin Barrett
Beta, or "Betacam" as it is properly known, is a component analog video format that was introduced by Sony in 1982. However, due to its robustness and reliability as a broadcast-specification recording and playback system, it was in early 2011 approaching obsolescence and should not be considered a long-term archive medium. Digitize analog tape assets as soon as possible in anticipation of any deterioration in the physical recording media. This requires tape playback using a dedicated Betacam VCR followed by analog-to-digital conversion of video and audio signals. This can then be captured into a computer in a standard video file format.
Inspect the VCR to ensure its compatibility with the tape to be transferred. A Sony Digital Betacam player will accept standard Betacam, Betacam-SP and Betacam-SX tapes as well as Digi-Beta. A Betacam-SP machine will accept only analog SP and Betacam tapes. It will not read digital formats.
Lift the videocassette guard flap and inspect it for any damage to the tape surface. If the tape appears to be in good condition, insert it into the player and wait for the tape transport mechanism to undertake its lace-up process. Press the "Fast forward" button to wind the contents of the cassette to the end and then allow the machine to automatically rewind the cassette fully. Press "Play" to review and cue the recording.
Connect the VCR to the analog to digital conversion device using its maker's recommended video and audio connections. Use independent video and audio monitors to search, cue and calibrate output settings as appropriate to the format. Where feasible, route component analog or S-Video outputs through a time base corrector for stable, optimized video signal reproduction.
Connect the AD converter to the computer using either Firewire or USB2 connections as appropriate to the device. Alternatively, perform direct video and audio connections to an installed input/output capture card of your choice. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the input source capture procedure using software that will have been supplied with the device.
Open the digital video capture program on the computer, such as Microsoft Movie Maker (Windows) or iMovie (Apple Macintosh), or select a more sophisticated third-party application if it is available. Select the appropriate "capture" option and choose settings that correspond to the input source format. Adjust the color bars and audio input levels to ensure that they conform to the manufacturer's specification.
Capture a sample segment of the tape recording into the computer editing program. On a Windows PC, set the video capture format to be Audio Video Interleave or MOV (Apple Quicktime Movie) on an Apple Macintosh computer. If the results are acceptable, the complete transfer of analog video assets may now be undertaken.
- Correct any tape instability by adjusting the tracking control on the VCR's front panel.
- Check the audio output switches are properly set to ensure proper sound reproduction
- Do not play a tape if "snow" is displayed on the picture. Use a recommended Head Cleaning Cassette to remove dirt from the video heads.
- If the transport mechanism snags the tape when ejecting, switch off the power and refer to a qualified service technician.
- Do not hold the tape playback in the "pause" position for lengthy periods because this will encourage the video heads to become dirty.
Colin Barrett started writing in 1995 for UK consumer publications such as "Camcorder User," "Computer Video," "Mac User" and "Computer Buyer." Having gained a Higher Diploma in educational technology at Plymouth College of Art and Design (UK) and has enjoyed a professional career in educational media production since the late 1970s.