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VCR Backups

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I'm sure many people have thought of doing disk backups to a VCR tape, particularly the poorer crowd that can't afford all sorts of snazzy backup hardware. I know I thought of doing it several years ago, but gave up because I couldn't find information on how. That was before I knew how to navigate the nets. Well, someone else has realized that a VCR is basically a big, dumb, slow tape drive. The trick is figuring out how to hook your computer to your VCR - those little RCA plugs that connect to your stereo won't cut it.

The net people produced information on a product that allows you to do this. It's called Videotrax from a company called Alpha Micro. Videotrax is a combination of an external SCSI controller and software that provides basic backup features and talks to the controller. It's not terribly expensive, at $499 or $1299 if you want the special Videotrax VCR that does automatic backups as well. Unfortunately, it's not a lot cheaper than the no-name SyQuest drives. Videotrax saves 80 meg on a normal cassette, which is better than a standard SyQuest's 42 meg, but a good backup program like Retrospect or MacTools Backup can come close to 80 meg of original data with file compression.

I've heard that using a VCR to backup computer data is relatively dangerous in that videocassettes and VCRs aren't designed to the exacting specifications that computer equipment must to work at. A single bit of data doesn't make the slightest difference in displaying an image on the TV screen, but it could destroy a file. I had a similar idea about converting a cheap audio CD player into a CD-ROM drive, and was told basically the same thing - a skipped bit in music is nothing, but a skipped bit in your program is fatal. This low level of accuracy might be a reason why we aren't all using the Videotrax, because otherwise it's a good idea subject to a few logistical problems, such as the separate locations of my VCR and computer. Details, mere details.

Alpha Micro -- 800/253-3434 or 800/821-0612 in CA (old #)

Information from:
David Elliott -- dce@smsc.sony.com
John Kratochvil -- moebius@mofh
Ted Morris -- morris@ucunix.SAN.UC.EDU
Mark H. Anbinder -- mha@memory.uucp

 

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