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Adjusting the tracking on a VCR


VCR_Tracking.JPGManual tracking adjustments

Watching television
Went Obsolete
Early 1980s
Made Obsolete By
Autotracking VCRs
Knowledge Assumed
Use a VCR
When useful
When using an archaic or manually adjustable VCR

The key technology that gave the public the ability to store an entire movie on a reasonably sized tape cassette in the 1970s was "helical scan recording". Inside nearly every video cassette recorder (regardless of format) is a drum that spins as the tape moves over it. This allows the video to be laid down over the tape in an angled stripe.

The downside to this technology is that it is very finicky. If the drum is just a few micrometers off, the video and audio signal is full of static. Later VHS units tend to cover the static up with a blue or green screen and shut off the audio so you don't hear a snarling hiss, but the earlier ones allowed you to see the fuzzy, scratchy image and hear the staticy audio. You had to, since it was up to you to adjust the tracking.

Somewhere on the tape unit, often along the bottom of the unit, or sometimes a dial inset into the front, is a wheel allowing you to adjust the tracking. Some spin freely, while others are limited to a given range. If it is limited, spin to one end and slowly turn it through the range, watching the audio and video for the best picture and sound quality. Sometimes there are a few spots that seem good, with one being far superior. If it is a free spinning dial, just start where ever it happens to be initially set and move it in either direction, seeking out the best picture and sound quality.

If you have a tape that was recorded at multiple times or was stopped, rewinded and recording begun again, you will have to readjust the tracking. This is very common with home movies.

You can often spot automated tracking kicking in when a tape is first inserted, usually covering up the image and muting the sound. Sometimes as the picture and sound reappears you can see a burst of static and a warble in the audio as the automatic tracking fine tunes itself.


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