Help with Which Video Media (Dead Camcorder)


Help with Which Video Media (Dead Camcorder)

About five or so years ago we bought a Mini-DV digital camcorder.  About a month or so ago it died (accompanied by that characteristic smell of electronics burning).  I’m now left with 3 or so hours of MiniDV tape which I have not uploaded to computer and many more hours of archival tape which I can’t access (although for these I do have a virtual backup).

Now, given that these are family videos I have an interest in being able to access them in the future.

My immediate problem was the 3 hours of tapes which I currently can’t read.  I initially thought about buying another MiniDV camcorder – but they are now very hard to come by (unless you want to buy a high definition device, and, in that case, they seem to be the preferred option).  I then thought I should ask around to try to borrow one for a weekend, upload those three tapes and then return them.  However now I am coming back around to the idea that, as family video, the expected lifetime of these videos ought to be measured in decades (millennia if they become valuable historical records!).  Therefore it would be better to have a mini dv camcorder to access the original tapes rather than borrow one.

This implicitly assumes that magnetic tape will have greater longevity than a hard disk or flash disk.  Is that a fair assumption? (my experience with recorded CDs is not good for backups about 5 years old)

Moreover, hard disk and flash disk camcorders all seem to use lossy encoding to store the videos, so I’m a bit leery of using them.  Finally, I think I need to anticipate that my children/grandchildren may have super high definition playback devices so maybe I should be investing in a high definition MiniDV camcorder now.   That would at least solve my problem of recovery of the last 3 hours of tape, and recovery of archives in the future, but would also be quite expensive.  I need to find an answer promptly if I want to record Christmas this year.

Has anyone else tackled these problems?
[update (8 Nov 09)]:  Charles reports Mini DV has better image quality than the other options.  Googling around on the web gives me MTBF rates for hard drives at 3-5 years (!!) (apparently this is made up of a small number of drives that fail very early, and a larger number that last much longer), Mini DV at a couple of decades (if it’s fast forwarded+rewound every 6 months/12 months), DVD at 100 years – although I think they’re kidding themselves, I would give DVD, esp. home burnt DVD,  less than 7 years. While people comment on Mini DV failing on multiple recording on the same medium, my usage mode is to record once per medium.

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7 Responses to “Help with Which Video Media (Dead Camcorder)”


  1. 1 Adam Harvey 29 October 2009 at 12:52 pm

    My experience with Mini-DV (admittedly with somewhat different usage patterns, being a film student, rather than being especially interested in archival use, so take this with a big pinch of salt) is that they tend to be considered the floppy disk of video storage — they tend to work for a while, but you don’t really want to rely on them as your sole permanent record. The usual failure mode tends to be small dropouts, rather than the tape becoming completely unusable, but it’s still an issue.

    Oddly, most of us go to hard drive and DVD backup for longer term storage. We’re not generally thinking decades for that, though, and it’s often just because we’re reusing tapes to save money. :)

    On your last paragraph, I should note that DV and HDV are both lossy too — HDV’s MPEG-2, and you can definitely tell with some types of material. I’d compare a hard disk or solid state camera to a HDV one before deciding which one to buy; I suspect there’s no inherent reason the former would be worse, and it would depend largely on the manufacturer, codec in use, and so on.

  2. 2 brendanscott 29 October 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I have heard that hard drive recorders typically have a device-specific codec, so you can only use the tools which come with the device to manipulate the video.

  3. 3 Charles Rinehart 8 November 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Minidv HD is what I’m buying. Superior quality over the other formats. Cnet.com reviews all these products and recommends this format. Excellent picture quality compared to the others. Great blog. All the best.

  4. 4 MiniCamcordersGuy 7 February 2010 at 3:51 am

    I tend to encourage looking for good mini camcorders with features that are important to you (such as good optical zoom, image stabilization, memory) and think that recording the video to DVD (or archiving on the computer) works well.

  5. 5 Mini Camcorders 7 February 2010 at 3:53 am

    I tend to encourage looking for good mini camcorders with features that are important to you (such as good optical zoom, image stabilization, memory) and think that recording the video to DVD (or archiving on the computer) works well. Good luck!


  1. 1 7 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Buying a Digital Camcorder | Digital Camcorders Cameras Trackback on 30 October 2009 at 5:29 am
  2. 2 Probably buying another MiniDV Camcorder « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 10 December 2009 at 10:15 pm

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