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Larry the Loafer5,440 posts since 2 Jul 2005
Granada North West Today
A few years back I worked on a film project that warranted having to produce something that looked like it came off an old VHS tape. Since then I've developed an admittedly unusual fascination in perfecting the atheistic.

I'm sure most of you will agree, the commonplace plugins and filters you can download for Adobe Creative Suite and the likes are downright dogs**t. They over emphasise deterioration that only somebody who never used VHS would think VHS suffered from and it's horrendously unrealistic.

After playing around with different effects I realised my only hope was to transfer my footage onto a real tape on a real machine and re-capture the results. However, even after doing that, I found the footage to be too clean, even after using slower recording speeds to degrade the quality. I figured this might be because I was using a VHS player I bought in 2007, with tapes only a couple of years older, and they were simply too new to generate the look I was after.

Long after the project was finished, my nan offered me her old JVC VHS player, which I can only guess dates between the late 80s and early 90s going off the style of it alone. With it was her box of old tapes and figured I could sink a good chunk of spare time looking through for any gems. I thought it would be a good chance to record something fresh on a much older machine with an old tape with nothing important on it. It wasn't long until I noticed the player was quite hungry and the tape I tried to use didn't survive.

TL;DR, what is the key to generating an authentic VHS look? Does the age of the equipment play a part? Is the machine or the tape more likely to affect the results?
Neil Jones5,137 posts since 23 Dec 2001
Central (West) Midlands Today
according to this:


From 2:15, the chap with the long hair suggests you can use an open-topped VHS player, two pencils and a magnet to simulate effects seen in the filter discussed here, at the risk of damaging the mechanics of course.

However assuming the filter is being used on this video, I do consider it not that authentic. I've always long believed the VHS effect we know is caused more by the age of the bits in the video AND the age of the tape and how often its been reused (cue the Scotch skeleton). That's just something effects can't recreate.
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james-20014,584 posts since 13 Sep 2015
Central (East) East Midlands Today
I think it's a bit like how the Inside No. 9 special used genuine tubed cameras from the 70s for their christmas special a few years back, it's one of those things you really can't recreate the look of properly, you need the real deal. Using modern camera and trying to add filters, even if the footage was shot in 4:3 SD, wouldn't cut the mustard. It's a bit like Look Around You series 2 which looked far too clean for the early 80s.
OboeShoes24 posts since 18 Sep 2015
Anglia (West) Look East (West sub-opt)
Chriddof did a video on this (which, unfortunately, was on one of his many nuked accounts) where he brought up nearly exactly the same points that you have. Even then, he conceded that it was nearly impossible to recreate how it truly looked using hardware and showed how to do it with software a couple of days later.

Here's a few things that most people miss in my opinion:
- People tend to still shoot at 1080p24/25/30. This would be OK if they were simulating a movie transferred to VHS, but usually they're trying to make a mock TV series/educational film. 50/60fps is a must, and graphics displayed on screen could be improved by drawing them at a much lower resolution and scaling up, much like how computers would at the time.
- Saturation is strange. The extreme ends of the colour spectrum tend to be represented pretty well in PAL, but mid-tones (particularly skin) can look pretty washed out. NTSC also has the tint issues that plugins usually over-do.
- Sound. Very period specific. Home video always sounded rubbish, but later professional tapes were a marked improvement on compact cassette.
- Mise-en-scene. The main thing that takes away from immersion is anachronisms. This is by far the hardest part, but it can make crisp 4k60p music videos like Finesse by Bruno Mars much more immersive and evokotive than DSLR video with an After Effects filter on top.
Last edited by OboeShoes on 27 February 2019 10:12pm
james-20014,584 posts since 13 Sep 2015
Central (East) East Midlands Today
- Sound. Very period specific. Home video always sounded rubbish, but later professional tapes were a marked improvement in compact cassette.


To be fair, that did depend- if you have a Hi-Fi stereo VCR I've found myself very suprised at how high quality the audio is. Though obviously many people didn't have them, even into the 00s, and the linear audio is awful quality- doubly so when recording in long play.

NTSC SP ran 50% faster than PAL SP though, so I'm presuming the audio quality of the linear track must be slightly better there? Of course, I have no NTSC VHS tapes to make a comparison on.
noggin14,216 posts since 26 Jun 2001

- Saturation is strange. The extreme ends of the colour spectrum tend to be represented pretty well in PAL, but mid-tones (particularly skin) can look pretty washed out. NTSC also has the tint issues that plugins usually over-do.


Beware thinking this was specifically because of PAL. A lot of UK TV shot in the 70s and 80s was shot on EMI2001s which had a very particular look (partially because of their 4-tube processing and sourcing luminance information from both the RGB tubes and the Y tube) The EMI-look gave very distinctive, pale, flesh tones. This was nothing to do with PAL - but everything to do with EMI pictures.

If you look at a Philips LDK3/PC-60/PC-80 or LDK5 PAL output from the same era - the faces are much more saturated.
noggin14,216 posts since 26 Jun 2001
I would say more to the BBC matrix than anything else ....
which got life like skin tones....
See " brief history of colour television .."
at http://www.tvstudiohistory.co.uk/old%20bbc%20studios.htm

Although I would say that LDK 5 looked a bit more saturated generally ...
And "cleaner"


The EMI2001 'look' is unmistakable though - even when compared to other 'BBC Matrix' cameras. (Though I agree the BBC matrix and BBC black stretch also made BBC pictures distinctive)
bluecortina792 posts since 26 Jul 2012
I would say more to the BBC matrix than anything else ....
which got life like skin tones....
See " brief history of colour television .."
at http://www.tvstudiohistory.co.uk/old%20bbc%20studios.htm

Although I would say that LDK 5 looked a bit more saturated generally ...
And "cleaner"


I don’t quite know why that website says LWT cameras were not fitted with a’matrix’, all the cameras I worked on did - EBU, until the Ikegamis arrived then it all became user tweakable to suit.
noggin14,216 posts since 26 Jun 2001
I would say more to the BBC matrix than anything else ....
which got life like skin tones....
See " brief history of colour television .."
at http://www.tvstudiohistory.co.uk/old%20bbc%20studios.htm

Although I would say that LDK 5 looked a bit more saturated generally ...
And "cleaner"


I don’t quite know why that website says LWT cameras were not fitted with a’matrix’, all the cameras I worked on did - EBU, until the Ikegamis arrived then it all became user tweakable to suit.


I think Martin is referring to the LWT cameras not being equipped with the BBC matrix as 'a special' (which some other ITV companies also used) - but he didn't mean that didn't have a matrix at all (as all decent cameras needed a matrix to even out the camera RGB responses etc.)