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Accoson Sphygmomanometer

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Widget Of The Week

FVF VTC-200 Video Tape Cleaner, 1985

It is worth checking the title again; note that it says video tape cleaner, not video cleaner tape, and for the benefit of those who never tangled with video cassette recorders (and count yourself lucky…), here’s a brief history lesson. Before DVD, DVRs, Video On Demand, digital downloads, the Internet, and so on, if you wanted to watch a movie, that wasn’t currently being shown on one of the three or four broadcast TV channels you either had to have recorded it, rented or purchased it on video tape, and the chances are it would be on a VHS cassette. VCRs came and went in roughly 25 years, between the late seventies and early noughties and whilst they mostly worked quite well for the first year or so, performance tended to tail off quite quickly after that.

 

The problem is VCRs are an unholy mixture of temperamental electronics and complex mechanics, with lots of whirry bits to go wrong. Dirt and dust getting into the works could quickly clog the delicate moving parts and dry out lubricants on the deck mechanism. Airborne contaminants would get in through the ventilation slots but the biggest threat was the stuff imported directly into the machine’s innards via tape cassettes, especially if it was on the actual tape, from where it would be smeared all over those delicate moving parts.

 

At the height of the video boom popular rental tapes could pass through hundreds of grubby hands in just a few weeks. It wasn’t unknown for a cassette to be returned to the rental shop in the morning, coated in a film of sugary drink, tea, coffee, oily finger marks and all manner of damaging substances, only to be rented out again later the same day, still carrying its noxious payload.  When picture quality got really bad VCR owners would often resort to cheap VHS cleaner cassettes, but the results were generally disappointing as by the time you noticed how bad the picture has become the damage had been done.

 

In fact the only way to make sure the picture quality on a new VCR didn’t deteriorate after a few months was never to feed it with rental tapes, or invest in gadget like the VTC-200. It’s the consumer version of professional videotape cleaners, used by some (a few) of the better video rental shops and it’s pretty obvious what it does. Tape is drawn out of the cassette and passed over a pair of soft fibre brushes, soaked in a cleaning fluid that removes all but the most stubborn grime from the surface of the tape. It is really easy to use; just fill the circular reservoir with cleaning fluid – more on that in a moment – pop a VHS tape onto the capstans (the left one is connected by pulley to a small motor) and lock it in place. Insert a dry washing brush and slide the switch to the On position. When it gets to the end of the tape it switches itself off and the cassette can be removed, rewound and safely used.

 

The outfit comes with a bottle of cleaning fluid labelled 1. 2. 2. Trifluorethane. It’s not a chemical you come across every day but you may have heard of its by another name, CFC 113. It is one of the notorious chloroflurocarbon family of chemicals, blamed for the damage or ‘hole’ in the Earth’s ozone layer. It was widely used as a refrigerant and it also happens to be a very effective solvent and cleaner; apparently it was also popular telephone sanitizer. Under international treaty CFCs were phased out in the late 1980s but they hang around in the upper atmosphere for decades and a lot of it is still with us. I seriously doubt that the VTC-200 had any measurable part to play in the destruction of the ozone layer but it’s fortunate that the VHS format died out when it did, and – as far as I can make out – few VTC-200s were ever sold.

 

I found this one in box in a dark and scary corner of my loft. As far as I recall it was sent to me for review, for one of the video magazines that I was involved with back in the 80s and 90s. The selling price is an educated guess but it’s probably not far off; one day I will dig through my pile of old mags to get an accurate figure. For the record it still works, there’s really not much to go wrong with it, and the bottle of cleaning fluid is still half full but rest assured, and for the sake of the planet, the cap is on tight!

 

What Happened To It?

I cannot say for certain how many VTC-200s were made or when it finally disappeared from the shelves but it’s not the sort of accessory that would have sold well, or hung around for very long. In fact I would be surprised if it lasted much into the 1990s as by that time VCR owners had become accustomed to the steady drop in picture quality. Budget and mid range models tumbled in price and it was often cheaper to replace an ailing machine, rather than splash out on maintenance, repairs or accessories. It’s a pity because if accessories like this had been more widely adopted by rental shops and home users a great many VCRs would have survived into retirement age. I doubt that many VCT-200s lived to tell the tale; I have never seen another one, though sadly that doesn’t make it valuable and I’m am probably being optimistic with my £10.00 valuation. There is no denying it has curiosity value, though, and it serves to remind us of a time when a clumsy, slack-jawed, sticky-fingered idiot could really ruin your Saturday night viewing. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1985

Original Price         £30.00

Value Today           £10.00 (0515)

Features                 VHS format, manual tape unlace and threading, pulley driven tale-up reel capstan, auto power off, LED indicators, cleaning fluid reservoir, removable cleaning brushes

Power req.                   220VAC

Dimensions:                  22 x 22 x 70mm

Weight:                         1kg

Made (assembled) in:    Germany?

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


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