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 Dealing With it Title


Occasionally I wonder what would happen if every one of our 1900+ clients had video problems at the same time. All of the service shops in the country could not handle the demand. The fact that video gear on the whole is really very dependable explains why that scenario never happens. Kudos to the manufacturers for producing such quality gear.

Video equipment is made of thousands of components that are held together with solder, screws, friction, adhesives, and all sorts of means. Together they take an image from a lens, scan it, convert it to an electrical signal, process it, and record it. Added to that video image is time-code information and audio. If you have a chance, just look at the usual two volume service manuals with hundreds of pages of operational, mechanical and electrical alignment, mechanical service information, circuit diagrams, block diagrams, exploded views of parts, parts lists and lists of required tools and jigs. A quick look at these and you can understand the incredible engineering marvels these units are.  

To show the extent of our camera service, I have categorized our repair business below for 2004:  

* 6% of repair invoices for presale and prepurchase check-ups.
* 42% of repair invoices for annual or periodic maintenance.
* 49% of invoices of gear that required repair.
* 3% of invoices for gear with intermittent problems. 

Camera set-ups are not included in the above statistics because they are not considered repairs, but instead improvements in picture quality. A poor quality picture is most often due to lack of proper initial camera set-up. More about that in upcoming articles. 

As you can see, the percentages of identifiable problems are a lot higher than the intermittent ones. However, when you face those intermittents, the problems can actually be a lot worse. You and I would most likely agree that a known failure is better that an intermittent one. When a unit fails you repair or replace it and go on with your shoot. With intermittent problems, you live in the fear of the unknown. Will that video I just recorded be any good or not? There is nothing worse that not trusting you gear. Your livelihood depends upon the reliability of your equipment. 

What do we do about intermittent problems? We take them very seriously. We first start with getting as much information as possible about the circumstances leading up to the problem. Was there a camera or deck warning? What warning was given? RF, servo or error code number? What were the conditions? High temperature or humidity? Could bad tape be the problem? Could power source be a problem? Did the unit in question recently take a hit or fall? (This information can save us a lot of time in trouble-shooting because we know enough to look for internal damage) Whas is the age of the unit? Could it be suffering from the Attack of The Killer Capacitors.  

Did you see the problem in the viewfinder during the bad recording or was it only discovered by the editor weeks after the shoot? If that is the case, did any other later shoots have problems? Often we find head clogs that come and go and are not a deck-related problem at all. VTR heads don’t clog themselves, tape, along with operating conditions, does.  

As many of you whom I have dealt with in the past know, it is very important to get the actual tape that exhibited the problem. This tape is the evidence that often leads to resolution of the problem. We once received a tape with several lines of video missing resulting in a client that refused to pay the shooter for the job, even though this was only one bad tape out of several. Upon evaluation of the tape stock, we found that there was a metal burr on the exit tape guide inside the tape cassette. This burr was scraping off the oxide as the tape was recording. With no oxide on that part of tape the result was missing lines of video. Who supplied the tape stock? The client, of course. Our videographer got paid for the shoot.  

Repairs are pretty straight forward, the intermittents are not. We will spend phone time with our existing clients to help them troubleshoot their equipment before they ever ship it to us. Too often we receive the gear in working condition with no signs of the problem they had. As with anything mechanical, if a unit has not been serviced for some time there are usually other maintenance items that may not have contributed to the problem, but should be taken care of.  

Our procedure is to attempt to recreate the problem first. We try to duplicate the conditions the crew had as a start. Did the problem happen when first fired up or was it after five hours of operation? We heat, cool, shake, or do whatever it takes. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter on this subject, we have even created a Florida Room using a small bathroom with a heater and humidifier to recreate summer humidity conditions. Just this week we ramped it up into a Guam Room with worse conditions than Florida, to recreate an intermittent viewfinder problem. We also consult our problems and solutions database, which was built from our experience performing 10,000+ repairs. Unfortunately, we are sometimes unable to get the unit to fail.  

There is time pressure to get the gear back in service, which also works against the troubleshooting process. It can take a week or longer of spot checking equipment to see the failure happen. The whole procedure is hard on everyone involved.  

How do you pay for such service? I doubt you would find any independent service center that would perform such a service with a flat rate. Consider a Betacamcorder that has an intermittent problem with the CCD block. The quick solution for some service centers is to tell you they need to replace it. It could cost in excess of $15,000 for a refurbished one. We’ve had more than one occasion where a client was told, after a brief examination, that he would need a new or refurbished block , then sent it to us for a second opinion, only to find out that we were able to trace it to a poor connection, or a component on its way out. We take whatever time is needed in trouble shooting, but generally charge a fraction of the true cost for the time spent trying to recreate the problem. We do charge a minimum charge to cover our base expenses. Like any other business, we have to take the "bad" intermittent work with the "good" repairs. Hopefully the client will reevaluate his unit and keep using it himself until it finally fails consistently and he replaces it. Or he may choose to continue working it to a point that he can again trust it or just use it as a back-up.  

It is prudent to question the reliability of aged gear anyway. Older video equipment should be checked for proper operation on a regular basis, say weekly, to insure maximum reliability. We occasionally get calls from clients who’ve had a failure a year after last use. They assume that because it wasn’t used that everything will work. They forget about the aging issue of components such as rubber belts and capacitors. These components fail more from lack of use than actual use!  

The moral to this story is that you must be diligent in your operation and maintenance of your video equipment. All video gear requires some care to keep up to spec and operate properly. Proper maintenance helps minimize future problems, and periodic ‘exercise’ or use of older gear helps increase the reliability and trust factor.  

I sincerely hope that this series has been, and will continue to be helpful to you during the "trying" times of intermittent problems.  

Take care,

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