THTV Behind the Scenes: Reusable Memory Card Eliminates Video Tape

It's Oscar day, and we've just placed our Vloggie statuette for Best Green Vlog on the mantle of our THTV page. So which of the amazing entries that keep rolling in down to the wire will take top honors in our Convenient Truths contest? For those working on last-minute entries, our entire catalogue of THTV original videos is rotating through the player up top to provide some inspiration. Also, here's a trick we use to green our video making: For our eco-Halloween special last fall, not only did we for the first time shoot in High Definition video, we also never used or threw away a single videotape in the process.

In 2006, Panasonic ushered in a revolution in professional video production when it introduced the AG-HVX-200 camera. Instead of recording to video tape, the camera records to reusable P2 memory cards sized 4 or 8 gigabytes with a 16 gig version expected to be released by Panasonic this spring. Recording to the P2 cards allows for the shooting of various true High Definition formats at a very low price-point that would otherwise require a large, costly tape-based camera. More importantly, using the P2 cards cuts out a whole lot waste and toxicity that occurs during the manufacture and disposal of magnetic video tape.

Let's take a look at magnetic video tape.

First there's the packaging itself. The plastic wrapper common to most consumer tapes serves only (perhaps) to discourage shoplifting and to let you know the tape has not been recorded on previously. While you can record over a video tape erasing footage that has already been shot, it is not recommended to do so as the record heads in most consumer/prosumer cameras are, like the tapes themselves, very small and not adept at reusing the magnetic coating. This can result in image imperfections you don't want after you've gone to all the trouble to organize your cast and crew for your shoot. Next we come to the plastic case in which the plastic video tape shell is stored. In one instance, professional audiovisual archivists encountered a white powder when transferring collections of obsolete format tapes like 2 inch video known to contains large quantities of environmental hazardous PVC and flame-retardants. Chemists determined the powder to be Halogen, a toxic flame-retardant used not in the manufacture of the videotape itself, but in the outer cases made in the 1980's.

At long last we drill down to the magnetic tape itself that will flow past your camcorder's record head. The magnetic tape manufacturing industry uses a primary coating process in which a mixture of magnetic (metal) particles, resins, and solvents (the coating mix) is applied to either a plastic film (tape) or paper. Products from this industry include video and audio tapes. The air toxic emissions are predominantly solvents used in the coating operation and cleaning of equipment; the major solvents used are methyl ethyl ketone and toluene. Some particulate air toxic emissions (e.g., cobalt) may occur from the transfer of the magnetic particles to the coating mix. In the United States, there are six magnetic tape manufacturing facilities which produce both audio and video tape for consumer and commercial use that were regulated by the EPA in 1994 with the same level of emissions renewed again in 2005. So if the EPA isn't going to reduce or eliminate such emissions, we can do our part by going tapeless.

For the past two years or so, once I've "digitized" or "ingested" shot video into a computer to be used in the digital editing of a project, I never go back to use tape again. Since the newly created digital video files in the computer are more effective to manipulate during editing as well as to archive on a large hard drive or burning to DVD, the tape itself now becomes garbage straight away. I've looked into recycling my used tape stock, but one has to pay a dollar per tape for a tape distributor to take them off your hands. So I'm extra incentivized to eliminate using tape entirely. However, if you do have to use tape, I've been using for the past ten years what's called "evaluated" tape stock. It's tape stock that was used once by professional media outlets and then has been magnetically, bulk erased and prepped for reuse. Not only is it recycled, but it's cheaper to buy.

How Tapeless Works

Me and actor Frank Monteleone check out the digital Hi-Def detail of the vampire-power bite mark on his neck. Photo by Gregg Guinta.

Step 1: put a card or two into the back of the camera and shoot away. Step 2: eject the card, insert it into your computer and copy the video files directly onto your hard drive. Step 3: erase the card and reuse it in the camera to shoot more footage, or "rinse and repeat" in the lingua franca of consumerists. Step 4: edit your project. Step 5: enter it in the Convenient Truths contest to win $30,000 in prizes!

Final Storage

Any type of media is susceptible to damage, including tapes that can wrinkle or tear and over time physically degrade. Also, once a tape format becomes obsolete, it's difficult to re-up footage if you no longer have the matching deck or camera.

I keep current final shows on duplicate hard drives and older ones on DVD-R back-ups. I safely tuck away the DVDs in suitcase-like storage boxes containing individual sleeves for each disc. I only use the discs when I have to, and put them back in the case immediately to minimize the chances of damage. I always make sure the DVDs are completely full of data before burning them. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD recorders and media are coming onto the scene so that you will be able to fit 5 to 10 times more video data onto a disc that is the same size as the 4.7 gigabyte DVDs on the market until now. Which means that the environmental impact of a single DVD can be 5 to 10 times less.

Of course both P2 cards and DVDs use energy and chemicals in their manufacture as well as often times shipping from East Asia. DVDs are not recyclable and eventually P2 cards can become electronic waste. As always, one should seek to recycle their electronics through a program that disposes of waste elements safely while reclaiming any raw materials suitable for reuse. In the end, I believe the amount of video tape that will go unused by substituting rewritable media will be significant. When you're out in the field, one can have the tendency to "overshoot" to make certain you've got the shot. With video tape, that makes for a lot of waste. When shooting tapeless, once you're in the post-production studio and have more time to assess your footage, you can decide which digital video assets require back-up thereby limiting the amount of "hard" materials like DVD you have to use.

Tags: Chemicals | Vancouver

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