U-matic refers to an analog video recording cassette format developed by Sony that was used in the early 1970s through the 1980s, until VHS was introduced. It was the first video format that contained videotape within a cassette (instead of exposed film or reel-to-reel magnetic tape). Though the case was meant to protect the integrity of the videotape, the format quality suffers with prolonged friction caused by the spinning video drum in playback machines pressing against the tape, causing wrinkles and playback distortions.
The format itself is also very lossy, as copying video from one videocassette to another compromises playback and creates additional noise, “smeared” colors, and reduced brightness. Time-base correctors (TBCs) minimize some of the loss by synchronizing the video signal as well as minimizing noise. RADD has a time-base corrector that can be used to improve the video quality of poor-quality tapes.
Before you start
- Make sure the MT-VIKI video switch is switched to the “UMATIC” option. It should be located near the video stack.
- Prepare your U-matic tape in the Sony U-matic videocassette player. Turn the playback machine on, and rewind the tape if necessary. The machine is very loud, don’t be alarmed.
- Open the computer application Machina.
- In Machina, navigate to the “Setup” tab and check that the application options are appropriate for your projects. If you’re not sure, the following settings should work for most projects (and should be the default settings in Machina).
- Note the Video and Audio directory in the right-most column – if you want to save to a folder that’s not the default, make sure to change these settings. Do NOT save files to the desktop – it will max out computer space very quickly.
Digitizing in Machina
- Navigate to the “Capture” tab in Machina. Edit the clip name and reel name fields to match the title of the video or project you’re digitizing.
- At the bottom of the screen, click the red button to begin capture. The screen will be blank until you play the U-matic tape in the Sony player.
- You may have to start playing the tape first before recording in Machina if you get the error message “No video input is detected.”
- When your U-matic tape begins to play back, note that the quality of the video will look terrible in Machina – it will look better in the video file created when you’re finished. Click the button at the bottom again to stop recording.
- If you can’t see the video at all, turn on the TBC during playback to see if it improves the playback quality.
U-matic playback without TBC
U-matic playback after turning on TBC
- Check the folder you selected to save Machina outputs. You should find two file types for your project – an .avi (video) file and a .wav (sound) file.
- Right-click the .avi file to open the file in VirtualDub.
- Before editing the video, go to Audio → “Audio from other file…” and find the .wav file associated with your project. If you edit the video before this step, your image and sound will not sync properly and you’ll have to start over. Save the file and rename the file as something that distinguishes it from the Machina files (i.e. “living-the-story-001-picture-and-sound-FINAL”).
- To remove the blue screen at the beginning and end of your project, go to Edit → “Set selection start” when you have found the beginning of your video by dragging the bar at the bottom through the keyframes. You can eliminate dead space at the end using the same process – Edit → “Set selection end.” Save your file.
- Your final file (video and audio) will be an .avi file. To convert it to something more standard for DVD burning, use the HandBrake application (instructions on this tool coming soon).
Do NOT save files to the C:\ or the computer desktop. RADD has a 2TB spinning hard drive (E:\) for temporary file storage. Saving large files anywhere else will max out the computer space very quickly. There is a shortcut on the Desktop to the E:\ drive called “SaveWorkHere.”
If possible, always save your work to your own external hard drive or USB thumb drive, or cloud storage if you have enough space. If you forgot to bring a storage device with you, SLIS Library offers portable hard drives for check-out.
When you’re done
Machina displays the error message “No video input is detected.”
- Are the cables for the U-matic player and video switch plugged in? Is the video switch toggled to UMATIC input?
The video quality is still terrible after digitization!
- This is harder to fix, because the issues may be the quality of the video itself. Turn the TBC on when playing the U-matic in the Sony videocassette player to correct for some of the poor sound and visual quality.