Conversion Lab at VSW

Please consider a tax deductible donation to help us preserve and share this important media.

  • Sony AV3650 VTR
  • The Conversion Lab is VSW’s on-site digitization lab for converting magnetic tapes and film media for access and preservation.

    The Conversion Lab is currently able to transfer:

    EIAJ 1/2″ open reel tape

    • 3/4″ U-matic, U-maticSP

    • VHS, VHS-C, Betamax, Betacam SP

    • 8mm, Hi8, miniDV

    • 1/4″ Reel to Reel Audio, Audio cassette

    • 16mm film (currently SD only)

    Many of these tape formats, including 1/2″ and U-matic, are at high risk due to their age and the need to digitize them is urgent. Working playback devices and parts are increasingly rare.

    Contact Nilson Carroll at nilsoncarroll@vsw.org for more information.

  • Medical-grade media oven
  • Tapes are inspected and cleaned before transfer, and treated for Sticky Shed Syndrome and Binder Hydrolysis in our on-site media oven if necessary. Certain tape stocks are more likely to develop binder degradation than others. Depending on how a tape has been stored, it may have developed mold (often appearing as a white deposit on the surface of the tape), which can be a significant health risk. Tapes that have developed mold should be handled with care while masked, and should not be played. Tapes should be stored in a cool, dry location to minimize irreversible damage.

    Transfers are completely supervised by a lab technician, who produces a transfer log and MD5 checksum upon completion. Vrecord, software based on AMIA Open Source’s ffmpegdecklink, is used to capture the video signal and allows the technician to monitor luminance and chrominance values. Playback devices are cleaned after each tape.

    The Conversion Lab produces archival quality uncompressed MKV digital files, and compressed access and mezzanine files on request. Digital files can be stored on USB or external hard drives for transfer.

  • Digitization racks
  • stills from "Quaker Locks," a Portable Channel tape of interviews with a Rochester-based dance group, U-matic
  • The Conversion Lab has been working to digitize and make accessible the VSW Film and Video Collection, including tapes from the Portable Channel Collection and the TV Dinner Collection, which document decades of activism in Rochester, New York.

    Please consider a tax deductible donation to help us preserve and share this important media.

  • 1/2" open reel, EIAJ-1, one of the most common tape formats in the VSW Collection. Introduced in 1969, this format revolutionized studio and field recording, and was used into the 1980s.
  • 3/4" U-matic, one of the other most common formats in the VSW Collection. Introduced in 1971, this format was initially developed for industrial and education uses, U-matic was widely used by artists and community organizations in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • VHS, the most common tape format, was originally developed for consumer use and is still (rarely) used today. Competed against Betamax in the commercial space and ultimately won. The VSW Video Collection holds VHS tapes from four different decades.
  • Betamax tapes were originally designed for use in schools and for consumer markets. These tapes were commonly used by artists throughout the 1980s.