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Almost every man-made product we know of has a set life span before requiring replacement. For example, the average auto is junked after 15 years of service. Video equipment faces a similar fate. Aging and wear on components have associated maintenance costs which can be reduced with a little common sense. By being aware of the life cycle of the components that make up cameras and decks, there are steps you can take to extend their life and increase your return on investment. Most camcorders and VTRs have a timing device which displays important information that can actually be used to determine component wear. "Operating Hours" is the time the unit has been powered up; "Drum Hours" is the time the video head drum has been spinning and wearing and "Tape Hours" refers to the amount of tape that has passed through the transport.

The most expensive component to replace within any deck is the video head drum and associated parts such as drum bearings. This is where the "Drum Hours" reading comes in handy. A typical OEM camcorder drum lasts about 600 hours on a BetacamSP camcorder and its motor bearings last an average of 2,000 hours. Let's use Fred Freelancer as our example on how you can extend head and drum life. His 2 year-old camcorder has the following timer readings: Operate -1000; Drum -500; Tape -300 hours. The numbers we'll look at here are the "Drum" and "Tape" readings. In two years, Fred has passed only 300 hours of tape through his deck but the video head drum and bearings have been spinning for 500 hours. The 200 hour difference is wasted drum time, which is what will bring Fred closer to video head replacement time. By leaving the deck in "Save" mode - where the heads stop when not recording or playing - Fred, and you, can save on major wear and tear over the long haul. The only down side is that you will lose your back space edit reliability and will have to allow for lock-up time in post, but the money saved will more than make up for those small inconveniences.

Head cleaning methods will also contribute to video head wear. A cleaning tape is an abrasive tape which shaves off deposits from the video head tips. Different tape stocks have different abrasive characteristics which can also affect head wear. Usually the tape stock recommended by the manufacturer has the lowest wear characteristic. The trade-off is that low wear tapes tend to have more frequent head clogs and dropouts because they lack the self-head cleaning characteristics of a more abrasive tape stock. I agree with Sony's recommendation of only using head cleaning tapes in camcorders for five-second intervals every 40 to 50 tape hours. This is a preventive maintenance cleaning that will keep ahead of glazing deposits that only affect Betacam camcorders. Over and above the use of cleaning tapes, the preferable way to clean all video heads is to wet clean them frequently with proper cleaning fluid such as Isopropyl Alcohol 99% and lint-free cleaning cloths. Although it takes a bit more time and effort, this procedure is totally non-abrasive and should be the method of choice to clean your heads.

Proper all-around deck maintenance is another way to save on video head replacement costs. The tape tension alignment is critical to head wear. Many decks use a simple felt-on-brass band to regulate tape tension across the head drum. Often as these bands wear, tension continues toincrease which in turn increases head wear. When heads do need replacing, there are now options in after-market upper drum replacements which have been shown to have better wear characteristics.

As you can see from the above examples, component wear of transport parts is predictable. What you may not realize is that component aging of electronic parts such as electrolytic capacitors- the next big maintenance cost- is also predictable. These tiny capacitors are filled with a corrosive liquid which is very similar to automotive and flashlight batteries. When the capacitors fail, they can affect the circuit they are in, leak, and damage the circuit board enough to require replacement of the entire board. As part of your preventive maintenance procedure, you should constantly look for leaky capacitors. By replacing them early on, you can prevent non-repairable board damage and minimize electrical failures which can affect video or audio quality.

This brings up yet another point: the life of the electrolytic capacitors is rated by hours and temperature. Lower temperatures extend hours of life and, conversely, higher temperatures shorten life. Therefore, we have noticed that video gear used in southern (warmer) areas fails much faster than gear used in the northern (cooler) areas. Remember Fred Freelancer? He has only recorded 300 hours of tape while his actual operating time is 1,000 hours. Since his video equipment generates heat when it is on that reduces the life of these capacitor components, the capacitorshave used up 700 more life-hours than the amount of tape he has recorded. The lesson here? Keep your equipment turned off whenever possible and store it in a cool, air-conditioned environment- especially in a warm climate.

I believe that good service should go well beyond the repair and must include educational tools which can be used in the field and edit suite that will not only minimize operating cost but also help provide a higher quality end product.

Take care,

P.S. I briefly touched base on the subject of electrolytic capacitors in this newsletter. In my next newsletter entitled "Attack of the Killer Capacitors", I'll be devoting the entire newsletter to this very important maintenance issue, including pictures of circuit boards with leaking caps and corroded boards. 

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