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NOTE: Nate will no longer capture VHS tapes. It is strongly recommended that you use a DVD recorder instead.


The most basic way to record a console run is to tape it with a VCR. The other option is to record it with a DVD recorder. A DVD recorder presents vastly superior quality. See above note (in red).

Acquiring the Machine

To start out with, consider buying a new VCR. You won't need to pay more than $50 in the US at the time of this writing, and you will get a guaranteed standard of quality for the first couple of tapes you record. After that, the cheap VCR will start to degrade, giving you poorer and poorer picture quality, and it may start to eat tapes, etc.

If you already have a trusty old VCR (probably from the early 90s or older) that you know won't let you down, you should go ahead and buy a cleaning tape from your local drug store and use it several times. Old VCRs are usually more dependable than newer ones, but you should still make sure that grime hasn't built up on the VCR's heads over the years. Nothing can stop such buildup (except not using the VCR, obviously), so you should just accept that you will not achieve full quality without coughing up a few bucks to clean the VCR.

Acquiring the Media

Once your VCR is trusted and ready to go, it's time to consider your options in buying tapes. Originally there were no such things as 'high quality' tapes - all VHS tapes were created equal. Unfortunately, people are greedy little piggies, and you now have to choose between crap and crappier crap.

Over the years, in order to save money, the tape manufacturers started putting less and less metal into the tapes (the stuff that actually records the video signal on the tape). That means that the VHS medium has actually gone down in quality since its birth in the late 1970s, especially if you buy the lowest grade tapes (usually labeled 'high grade' to confuse you). The existing quality of tapes were relabeled as 'super high definition' or 'super high grade.' These tapes are sometimes hard to find, but in my opinion, the increase in quality you get from these tapes makes them worth their price (usually about three times the price of a low quality 'high grade' tape). This also means that usually, the more you pay for your tapes, the better. Sorry, folks, but please remain calm and don't shoot the messenger.

Tape Length

You should also be aware that the longer tapes (longer than the standard T-120 length, which records two hours on SP speed) have thinner tape inside them and are not well suited to recording anything you want other people to watch (such as your Speed Run). These thinner tapes are virtually standard in Europe, so you are probably out of luck if you live there.

Tape Stickage

And don't even think for a second that the fun stops when you bring your new tapes home. Those suckers can't be trusted yet. They may have been in the back of an unair-conditioned truck in a hot part of the world, and the tape inside may be more or less stuck to itself. That means that if you try to record on the tape for the first time, the tape inside will be randomly catching and snapping off of itself, resulting in a badly distorted picture until the VCR's heads reestablish good positions on the tape. Speaking from personal experience, it always seems to ruin the picture in the most critical moments, such as when Ripley first encounters the Alien Queen in Aliens (1986) on my friend's taped-from-TV copy of the movie.

Don't let a sticky tape ruin your run. Simply insert the tape into your VCR and press Fast Forward to quickly move to the end of the tape, then press Rewind when you're there to come back to the beginning (if your VCR doesn't do it for you). This process effectively "takes the fall for you," or gets out all of the tape stickage before you actually record. Obviously you will need to repeat this if the tape gets hot for some reason. It shouldn't harm the tape and should prevent almost all picture breakup due to sticky tape.

Tape Speed

You next need to make a choice about tape speed/quality. VHS has the ability to be recorded and played back at three different speeds. The faster the tape goes by the write heads, the better quality you get. The VHS speeds are (on a T-120 tape):

SP (Short Play): 2 Hours (Acceptable Quality) LP (Long Play) : 4 Hours (Poor Quality) EP (Extra Play): 6 Hours (This Is Supposed To Be My Run? Quality)

Sony sometimes calls EP "SLP (Super Long Play)" due to their different history with VCRs. I sometimes call SLP "Super Lousy Play." You should ALWAYS use SP to record your run. If you want to record a run that's longer than two hours, just pause the game and swap tapes whenever is convenient. Try to leave at least 20 seconds of pause before and after the swap, it won't count for the time.

Set the tape speed by pressing the appropriate button on your VCR's remote (or, if you're lucky, on the VCR itself). Be sure that the tape speed is set correctly every time you sit down to work on your run, since some VCRs may not remember how you set the speed, or someone else may have been using the VCR. You do not want to change speeds in the middle of a run. Just trust me on this.

Planning for the Future

When you start recording your run, you should press Play on your VCR and wait for about thirty seconds, then press Stop. Putting a thirty second leader at the start of your tape will ensure that the VCR is not having trouble turning a really light reel of tape against a really heavy reel of tape. Picture distortion can result from the VCR not being able to turn the reels evenly. (You also might see this at the end of your tapes if you record on the very end of them.) Doing this can also be of help if you want to use the tape for something else later, since you won't have anything you can't tape over at the beginning of the tape. You don't need to do this at the start of every segment if you're recording a multisegment run -- only at the beginning of the tape.

You should also become familiar with how long it takes your VCR to start recording after you press the Record button. Older VCRs can take quite a long time to actually start recording to the tape after you press record, often ten seconds or more. You can test this by pressing Record, then immediately starting to play a game. After about half a minute, stop the tape, rewind, and take a look at how much of what you were doing didn't make it onto the tape. If a lot seems to be missing, you know you will need to give the VCR a long time after you've pressed Record to start playing.

Also, beware of ejecting the tape. Older VCRs especially tend to aggressively back up when a tape is inserted. If you're right at the end of a segment and you eject the tape and later put it back in, you could erase the end of your previous segment the next time you record. Make sure to always position the tape after the end of each segment every time you insert it. Due to the way 4-head VCRs work, you might erase part of your run even if you're right at the end of your previous segment. For this and other reasons, try to give each segment at least a five second leader of tape.

Think that's all?

Tape Degradation

Think again. VHS is an ancient, analog technology, and as such, your tapes were in their best condition before they came out of their boxes. Each and every time you play a tape, it degrades, meaning that you should avoid playing the same section of tape over and over. This is a real, tangible problem even with the most recent VCRs.

Luckily, though, the solution to this is easy: simply never rewind the tape. If you make a mistake and need to abort your run, reset your game system and keep playing; don't touch the VCR. You should only rewind the tape if you want to try again later. That way, the number of times the tape is played will be limited to the number of sessions you devote to that particular part of the game. Feel free to make sure your run is in good condition by watching the tape before you send it to me to be captured, but do not play the tape more than once after you're finished. Fast forwarding and rewinding the tape while it is playing (so that you see black and white horizontal bars over the picture of you playing) is especially damaging to the tape. You can instantly destroy ten seconds of video or more by pressing the Rewind button while the tape is playing, especially with old VCRs, so do yourself a favor and only fast forward or rewind the tape when it's not playing (first press Stop, then Fast Forward or Rewind).

Note that you can and should make a backup copy of your run before you send it to me to be captured. However, you should send the original tape(s) to me, not the backup. The original recordings will provide far better quality than the backups, and because thousands of people will be watching what I capture, you want to put your best foot forward and send me the best quality version of your run.

Write Protecting the Tape

When you're 100% sure you're done recording onto the tape, remove the small plastic tab found to the left of the side label area (see the below section for more on that). You should be able to reach into the tab with a fingernail and pry it out, then break it completely off. With this tab removed you will not be able to accidentally record over your run (don't laugh - it's happened many times, and it could easily happen to you). This is especially important with VHS, since accidentally pressing Record for one second will probably result in ten or more seconds of ruined video.

Labeling the Tape

When it comes time to label the tape, there are some considerations to be made. The proper way to label a tape is usually obvious because of the indentations in the plastic of the tape's case, but I will explain in more detail, since there is a danger of touching the tape and damaging it if you try to label it incorrectly.

If you hold the tape up so that the long side of the tape with the mechanical door and the tape inside of it is facing up, you will want to label the bottom side (not the side with the tape) with one of the long labels found in the box. You can optionally also label the top of the tape (between the two reels on the side with the appropriate indentation).

When you insert the tape into the box, be sure to insert it with the label side facing out. This guarantees that people trying to get the tape out of the box won't accidentally touch the tape and damage it. It also makes it so you can read the label (if the tape has been correctly labeled, anyway).

When you're done with your run, contact Radix for information about what to do and about where to send your run. If you live in the US, be sure to ask for "Media Mail" from the US Postal Service, because it will save you a ton of money on shipping.

I strongly recommend that you send your run to me if you recorded it using VHS, because I have invested heavily in professional grade VHS equipment and capture technology to make sure runs submitted on VHS look as good as they possibly can. Trying to capture your run yourself will almost certainly be a waste of time (yours and ours) and money.

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