TAPE TRADING FAQ
VERSION 2.1
(4/1/95)

Dark Waters version, with annotations by Jeff Frentzen dated 12/9/96

Original FAQ maintained by Philip J. Satterley


ADDITIONS :

[Deleted -- Nothing of importance was here anyway]


SECTIONS:

LEGALITIES
1. What is the Sony/Betamax Decision?
2. What is the "Fair Use" exception?
3. What does the law say about copying tapes?
4. Will the FBI get involved in tape trading?
5. Is non-profit, private tape trading illegal?

TAPE TRADING
6. What is Tape Trading?
7. What are "trade lists"?
8. What is off-air recording and trading?
9. What is a "Dub"?
10. What is meant by "generation" in video?
11. What is "Time shifting"?
12. What is Drop-out?
13. How is video quality rated?
14. What do people generally collect on video?
15. What are some other things people collect on video?
16. What does "w/o/c" mean?
17. What is the best way of sending tapes to other collectors?
18. How do I get more information about starting up tape collecting and trading?
19. Where can I find other collectors?
20. What is an episode guide and why are they useful?
21. Where can I get an episode guide of <name of show>?
22. Is it true that Superstation WGN Channel 9 in Chicago's programming is different on the cable feed than if you received it locally?

TECHNICAL STUFF
23. What types of video tape formats do collectors usually use?
24. Is there a difference between audio recorded in mono or Hi-Fi?
25. What are the best brands of tapes to use?
26. Are the television systems around the world the same?
27. If the different standards aren't compatible with each other, how do you trade with collectors overseas?
28. What do I do now?


LEGALITIES CONCERNING TAPE TRADING

I have put this here first because so many people are confused about this issue. Here are some FACTS.

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1. What is the Sony/Betamax Decision?

The Sony/Betamax decision was decided on January 17, 1984 by the supreme court. It states: "Sale of home videotape recorded held not to constitute contributory infringement of television program copyrights. It was held that the sale of home video tape recorders to the general public did not constitute contributory infringement of copyrights on television programs since there was a significant likelihood that substantial numbers of copyright holders who license their works for broadcast on free [or cable] television would not object to having their broadcasts time-shifted by private viewers and the plaintiff copyright holders did not demonstrate time-shifting would cause any likelihood of non-minimal harm to the potential market for, or the value of, copyrighted works." (Guide to American Law, volume 3, 1983 p 46-7)

All this means is it is LEGAL to tape television programs off the air and that no legal prosecution can happen to manufacturers of video cassette recorders and blank tape as well as the "Home Use" consumer.

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2. What is the "Fair Use" exception?

An article in Newsweek (January 30, 1984 p57-8) explains it: Justice Paul Stevens wrote that home taping falls within the traditional "Fair Use" Exception of copyright restrictions.

Studies, he said, demonstrated that most taping was done for "Time-Shifting" recording a program for viewing at a more convenient time. Such taping, he argued, has "no demonstrable effect upon the value of copyrighted work."

However, he drew the line at selling home made tapes. "If the Betamax were used to make copies for a commercial or profit making purpose," declared Stevens, "Such use would be presumptively unfair". This states that time-shifting is "Fair Use" only if the tapes are for personal use and not to make a profit.

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3. What does the law say about copying tapes?

The U.S. Code, TITLE 17, article 506 states: "Any person who infringes a copyright willfully and for purposes of COMMERCIAL advantage or private FINANCIAL gain shall be punished as proven in section 2319 of title 18."

This means again, a violation is made when a profit or commercial gain is made. Some copyright lawyers may consider tape trading a commercial advantage.

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4. Will the FBI get involved in tape trading?

In a phone interview (conducted 10/31/94) with officer David Grossman, Copyright Squad of the Chicago FBI states "copying videotapes is a violation only if commercial gain is made. We are only involved with major copyright infringement cases, people manufacturing and selling thousands of tapes. We don't get involved in the mon-and-pop, one or two tapes being copied. Video trading for non-profit is not a concern of ours, it's not major enough for us to get involved."

He did also state that there was something that said that only 7 or less copies could be made in a period of 180 days, but wasn't sure if that applies to tape trading or not. This states that the FBI is not concerned with non-profit tape trading but are when thousands of copies are being made and sold. But this wouldn't necessarily prevent them from making examples to discourage others.

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5. Is non-profit, private tape trading illegal?

Well we do know non-profit tape collecting is in fact LEGAL (as stated with the Sony Decision) but there is nothing that says non-profit tape trading is illegal. Research shows that there has never been a supreme court decision concerning non-profit tape trading, and there are no specific laws against it. This may change if this type of case makes it to the Supreme Court without being thrown out beforehand. Also are the copyright holders willing to go that far? Probably not, it would cost a lot of time and money for something that doesn't affect them that much.

Many copyright lawyers would consider tape trading a copyright infringement, but this again would have to be debated in the courts (if it went that far). The FBI does have the power to make examples to discourage others, but to my knowledge this has yet to happen (I may be wrong though) Well that argument may go on forever, but at least we know some legal FACTS.

TAPE TRADING

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6. What is Tape Trading?

Tape trading is the practice of trading home recorded video or audio tapes of material with other collectors on a non-profit basis. Each person will record material the other person requests, and then the tapes are "Swapped." Generally, tapes are swapped tape-for-tape or on an equal time basis.

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7. What are "trade lists"?

Trade lists or "lists" are listings of what items a collector has in their collection. Lists generally include title of show, episode titles time and quality rating (based on quality of the picture and audio and not overall quality of the show or performance) for television or name of band, venue, date, running time and quality for music.

Each collector "Swaps" lists, picks items from each others lists (equal time on each) and swap tapes.

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8. What is off-air recording and trading?

Off-air recording is recording television programs directly from broadcast channels. Off-air trading is done by collectors exchanging tv schedules in different geographic areas. Each trader picks programs for the other to record that are not being played in their area.

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9. What is a "Dub"?

A dub is a copy of a tape.

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10. What is meant by "generation" in video?

A generation is the number of copies away from the original signal. From the off-air tape you make a copy, and copy that copy -- you will have 3rd generation.

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11. What is "Time shifting"?

Time shifting is setting your VCR's timer to record a program and watching it at a later time or even making a dub of the program while cutting out commercials.

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12. What is Drop-out?

Dropout is a loss of picture signal during tape playback or record. It displays a black & white streak across the picture, making the audio and video "garbled".

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13. How is video quality rated?

Everyone has their own way of rating the picture and sound quality of video. Some people use numbers, others use the "school" method of A-F, but most people use the following guidelines:

  • E = Excellent - Either pre-recorded tape (recorded at SP speed) or recorded directly off-air.
  • VG = Very Good - 1st or second generation dub, or off-air recording recorded at SLP or with weak antennae or cable signal. Generation lines appear & create a fuzzy picture. Minimal dropouts.
  • G = Good - 3 generations or more. Heavy generation lines. Very fuzzy picture and quite a few dropouts.
  • P = Poor - Unbearable picture & sound quality. Heavy dropouts or even "undupable." Usually used only for diehards who can't find the item anywhere else.
I use a 2-5 numerical system, 
in which 5 equals Excellent and 2 equals Poor. --JF

This by far is NOT the only guideline everyone uses, it's only of an example using my quality rating scale that I go by.

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14. What do people generally collect on video?

The most common classifications are Movies, Television, Music and anime.

Movie collecting can range from the very common to the very rare. For example there are some pretty rare B-movies several collectors are looking for. Television can get a little more difficult. Many collectors collect shows that appeal to their interests (sci-fi, westerns, sitcoms) or classic shows they grew up with which can get a little more difficult.

Other collectors look for material on certain actors or actresses. Or there are people like myself who, for some unknown reason, just like to collect classic TV shows. Music video is much more specified. A collector will collect a certain artist or group much like a record collector would collect records. Music video can range from MTV "single song" videos or "Promos" as we call them, TV concerts or "Private shot" or "single camera" shows. These are concerts that are video taped using camcorders snuck into the concert venue and then videotaped. These shows are usually very shaky with bad audio quality.

Japanese animation or "Anime" is animation from Japan that has become EXTREMELY popular in recent years. The animation is very strong, and well done. Most animation is science fiction or action television shows and movies. For more information see the Japanese Animation FAQ or E-mail David Boeren at akemi@netcom.com for a copy.

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15. What are some other things people collect on video?

ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! The most common collectors collect movies, television shows and music video. Each category can get more specific (science fiction, westerns, comedy, drama, specific actors or music groups). In my experience I have run across people who collect some of the most interesting things such as footage of people getting pies-in-the-face, beach scenes, explosions, training films or anything on Charles Manson!

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16. What does "w/o/c" mean?

With Original Commercials. What this means is the television episode includes the original network commercials when the show originally aired. This can be really cool because many shows in the 50's and 60's included the commercial in the actual show or used actual characters from the show to present the product (a classic example of this is the Beverly Hillbillies pilot or any of the Rocky & Bullwinkle shows w/o/c)

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17. What is the best way of sending tapes to other collectors?

Well the most obvious way is through the U.S. Mail (snail mail) however some choose to send UPS or even Federal Express (though very costly) It is best to both agree on a class to ship when setting up a trade. Some collectors may want a more expensive class, if so they would pay for the difference. Most of the trades I do, we both agree on first class.

As of January 1, 1994 first class shipping in the U.S. is:

    1. 2-3 tapes $3.00
    2. 4-5 tapes $4.00
    3. 6-7 tapes (Need current rates on these)
First class is equivalent to Priority Mail in the U.S. 

In general, 6-7 tapes will cost $6.00 --JF

For now foreign postage rates remained unchanged

This cost varies quite a bit. 
Sending to Italy, Greece, and the Middle East is very expensive (recently, I sent 7 tapes and
a 2 lb. book Air Mail for $38.00 and change).
Some countries, such as Great Britain, allow a less expensive
"small packet" rate. Your package must be small
in size and weight (I don't have the exact specifications). --JF

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18. How do I get more information about starting up tape collecting and trading?

Simple! Check out the "Beginner's guide to tape collecting and trading." Maintained by your's truly, it can be found on the alt.video.tape-trading newsgroup on the 1st of every month.

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19. Where can I find other collectors?

There are many Internet newsgroups, publications and services out there that deal with video collecting and trading.

USENET NEWSGROUPS

alt.video.tape-trading

This newsgroup deals exclusively with non-profit video collecting and trading. If you are on the Internet, this is the place to go!

Posting a message is simple, just compose your subject line like:

WANTED: <the show you are looking for> or HAVE: <the show you have for trade>

In the body of the message include details of the show and what you are looking for, then respond via e-mail.

For best results always state things you have to offer in return for trade, this always wets people's appetites to do a trade if you have something they are looking for.

Other good groups to check out are:

rec.arts.tv - television shows in general

rec.arts.tv.uk - British television shows (good for collectors with PAL converters!)

rec.arts.sf.tv - science fiction television

rec.arts.animation - animated television and movies

rec.arts.anime - Japanese animation

alt.cult-movies - From Psychotronic films to Reservoir Dogs

PUBLICATIONS

This section was woefully out of date. 
Dark Waters will publish an updated listing in the future. --JF

SERVICES

THE TV CONNECTION
(voice mail service)
c/o Shokus Video
P.O. Box 3125
Chatsworth, CA 91313

Subscription: $10 per month + Long distance if outside California
$50 for 6 months + LD (monthly fees are automatically cut in 1/2 after 1st 6 months) (a free subscription to Airwaves newsletter is included)

Sample: for free, no obligation demo call (818)709-8813 & Press 1
If you have a phone and don't have this service GET IT!!!! This is by far the BEST way to contact other collectors for ANY TV series! It works a lot like the Internet: You have a voice mail box, and there are 2 boards- the want board (what collectors are looking for) and the barter board (what collectors have) each board have categories (sci-fi, comedy, animation, drama, game shows, music video, TV memorabilia, etc.) the collectors say what they have or want and give their voice mail box number. You can then access their voice mail box and leave a message (your voice mail box number or even your address and phone number if you wish) You can also post on the boards what you have and are looking for as well. This is by far the most immediate and personal way to find video and come in contact with other collectors. They also offer a video newsletter featuring reviews and features on video collecting and exclusive interviews.

As this FAQ was written nearly two years ago, I wonder 
if this service still exists. --JF

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20. What is an episode guide and why are they useful?

An episode guide is a listing of the titles of episodes within a series. A guide can also list important information such as production number, guest stars, writers, directors, descriptions of the episodes and original air dates.

These help quite a but for collecting as a "Checklist" for episodes you have in your collection so you can see how many you still need. Or they are great for locating a certain episode if you know what the episode is about and not the title.

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21. Where can I get an episode guide to <name of show>

Simple. The Tardis TV archive! This is an EXCELLENT place to find episode guides to TV shows or other TV related files.

The official archive to the alt.video.tape-trading archive is here as well. It can be reached at either anonymous FTP or by WWW. The addresses are:

http://src.doc.ic.ac.uk/public/media/tv/collections/tardis

ftp://src.doc.ic.ac.uk/public/media/tv/collections/tardis

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22. Is it true that Superstation WGN Channel 9 in Chicago's programming is different on the cable feed than if you received it locally?

Yep. WGN shows many programs that other stations in different areas show locally (Montel Williams, Hard Copy, etc.) If you are outside Illinois.

Just try to look up Star Trek Deep Space Nine Sunday Nights at 8:00 and you'll see what I mean. So WGN substitutes replacement programming during certain times over their national cable feed. Unfortunately for us they have been showing some really GREAT stuff in the past such as "Captain Nice","My World and Welcome to It" and most recently "Quincy."

Fortunately for collectors outside the Illinois area, WGN can serve as an EXCELLENT source for off-air trades!!

The same can be said for most nationally broadcast cable stations. --JF

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TECHNICAL STUFF

23. What types of video tape formats do collectors usually use?

The most common tape format used now is standard VHS. Many collectors are now upgrading to Super VHS.

8mm and Hi-8 are also becoming popular format among collectors.

Beta has declined among the general public but many collectors still prefer Super Beta for the better picture quality.

3/4" tape, once the standard for television has long since disappeared from the "professional and broadcast" world. 3/4" U-matic decks can now be picked up for as little as $10 and many used tapes are sold VERY cheap or even given away. Many collectors are picking up 3/4" as an inexpensive alternative to S VHS (but not quite as good a quality as S VHS)

1" and Betacam SP "broadcast quality" formats aren't generally used by collectors, but I have run across some collectors who have items in these formats.

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24. Is there a difference between audio recorded in mono or Hi-Fi even if the master audio is mono?

YES, there is quite a difference. Hi-Fi is a stereo audio signal embedded across the entire tape deeper than the video signal. Seeing it uses the whole width of the tape (apart from the small tracks mono or linear stereo uses). This allows a wider range of audio frequencies to be recorded. Hi-Fi also reduces hiss commonly found in mono or linear stereo tracks.

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25. What are the best brands of tapes to use?

Another well argued question. Again, each trader has their own preference. Whatever tape you decide to use be sure it is VHS certified.

You can tell this if it has the [VHS] logo on cover (this is the same logo that's on your VCR.) That means this tape was approved by JVC (who invented VHS) some tapes just have VHS in regular letters (NOT in the proper logo font) AVOID THEM! I have decided to review the different brands I have used and the results I have experienced.

NORMAL GRADE

TDK HS
My personal favorite regular grade blank. The picture and sound quality are really good, even in SLP recording. Panasonic has just come out with the STD which in my experience is not as good as HS.

MAXELL EX
My same feelings as the TDK normal grade. In the past they started bulk loading cheap tape from Korea into their shells and charging the same price as they were before (when they were using the better quality tape) As I understand it now, they stopped doing it but check the "Made In..." label on the back of the package to be sure.

SCOTCH HS
With my experience, for audio and video scotch tape is ALRIGHT and nothing more. They have a few dropouts, but the biggest problem I have has is the leader snaps of the spool sometimes when I rewind the tape. As you can imagine a MAJOR pain in the a**!

FUJI HQ
A good tape, not as good as Maxell or Scotch but a good tape.

KODAK HS
For a tape coming from a leader in photography and picture quality I would expect more from them! I've never been happy with the picture quality of Kodak.

POLAROID (regular grade)
I think less of Polaroid than I do Kodak. They started using REALLY cheap tape stock recently.

RCA (regular grade)
Crap, I've never seen a good picture from RCA (like Kodak, I'd expect more from them) Dropout is horrible. An RCA almost trashed a deck of mine last year, so I don't think too highly of them.

JVC (regular grade)
To tell you the truth, I've never tried their normal grade.

GEMINI (regular grade)
To put it this way, I'D NEVER let anything like that go in my VCR.

TARGET (regular grade)
Target is owned by 3M who makes Scotch, but I don't think they use the same tape.

A good brand to try is the BASF T-130.
If you convert from NTSC to PAL using a T-120, you may find that
you run out of tape before the second movie is finished.
With the T-130, you can comfortably fit two 90-minute feature
films on a single tape, recorded in PAL format. The BASF T-130
is getting harder to find these days, but worth it.
The quality seems pretty good. --JF

HIGH GRADES

TDK E-HG
My personal fave of all brands and grades! To date I have had no problems with these, I'm VERY happy with the sound and picture quality. My only gripe is TDK likes changing their labels about every 6 months!

MAXELL HGX-GOLD
My second choice only because I get TDK cheaper. But their free stuff "Frequent Buyer" Max points are an extra incentive if they are the same price as TDK.

SUPER VHS

MAXELL XR-S
I haven't been to happy with this one in the past. The picture quality is not great and I have experienced several dropouts.

JVC XG
I've been quite happy with this one! The picture quality is Excellent and I've experienced no dropouts. (price on this one is generally cheaper than the Maxell)

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26. Are the television systems around the world the same?

NO, actually they are quite different. There are 3 different systems around the world, one is not compatible with the other and must be converted.

The first is NTSC (National Television Standards Committee). It is 525 horizontal scan lines to make a complete image every 30th of a second. This format is used in the United States, Canada and Japan. NTSC records 120 minutes per standard length tape.

The second standard is called PAL (Phase Alternate Line) It uses 625 lines at a 25th of a second. PAL is used in England, Germany, The Netherlands Spain, Italy and Australia.

There are two PAL variations, N-PAL used in Paraguay and M-PAL used in Brazil. PAL is recorded at a much slower speed so it records 180 minutes per standard length tape.

The third standard in SECAM (sequential color by memory). It also uses 625 lines at a 25th of a second. SECAM is used in France, Greece and Russia. A variation called MESECAM is used in Africa. Like PAL, SECAM records at 180 minutes per tape.

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27. If the different standards aren't compatible with each other, how do you trade with collectors overseas?

Ask that question five years ago and the answer was not practically (or at least affordably) Conversion equipment was downright unafordable for the consumer or collector and getting it converted from a studio would cost at least $75 an hour! There was also "optical transfers" where you would take a PAL VCR and monitor and focus an NTSC camcorder at the screen and shoot the video off screen. This led to very poor video quality as well as unbalanced color or even no color at all.

Lately a great deal of VCR's over in Europe have NTSC playback capability. It speeds up the tape playback to NTSC speed as well as converting the color to PAL encoding, the timebase in the TV adjusts automatically.

Now there are a variety of VCRs that convert from one system to another. Here's an overview of some of them:

PANASONIC AGW-1

What can I say, this is the best item I have EVER bought!!!! Panasonic really put some effort into coming out with a GREAT deck!!! It has a built in VCR or can be used alone as just a converter between 2 decks. You can record or play in ANY system. For example you can play a tape in PAL in the AGW-1, it will convert it to NTSC and you record it on an external NTSC deck. Or you can play an NTSC tape on your external NTSC deck and record it in the AGW-1 in PAL (converting it internally).

I have only 2 gripes about this deck. First there is no tuner, so to record off-air would require to record it on another deck and convert it (bringing it down another generation). Second there is no RF output. Even though it is a professional deck it would be nice to have. If you are into foreign video, BUY THIS DECK!! It's a bit pricey (about $2000.00) but WELL worth it in the long run!

The price has gone up, closer to $2,500. 
Don't believe any vendor who claims
they can get you an AGW-1 for $1,500. --JF

SHARP VC-WD1
From what I hear this is a deck that is comparable to the AGW-1 that Panasonic has out. This deck features the same conversion method Panasonic uses and the quality is the same (if not better according to some owners) but also has more features that the Panasonic doesn't have. First of all the price is a bit lower (pricing at about $1550) The Panasonic is mostly low end professional equipment, the sharp is more of a consumer model.

This unit features a timer and a tuner that can take a broadcast signal and convert it to any of it's featured standards (NTSC, PAL and MESECAM) The back also features EUROPEAN "F" connectors that can make cable hookup a bit tricky. This unit has more extra features than the AGW-1 by a long shot. Featuring remote control free speed shuttle, digital picture-in-picture, digital picture freeze, strobe effects and index search just to name a few. Unfortunately this deck can only convert NTSC, PAL and MESECAM (leaving out SECAM-L and PAL-M) regular SECAM only has black and white output. Compared to the AGW-1 this deck is LESS user friendly.

The back features EUROPEAN "F" connectors that can make cable hookup a bit tricky, as well as a European power cord. (you can purchase European power adaptors from your local Radio Shack) The tuner only tunes up to channel 37 which may be a bit of a problem with U.S. cable systems. This unit can't play back Quasi-S VHS like the AGW-1 can (playing S VHS tapes with normal output).

The biggest draw back of this item is the VC-WD1 is a "Gray Market" item in this country (not meeting certain safety regulations) so it doesn't have a warranty. This is a good deck if you just can't afford the AGW-1 but can beg, borrow and steal for this one.

AIWA (need model #)
I haven't seen this deck yet but from what I heard it's not great. First of all it only has an output (no input) so transferring a PAL to NTSC tape is easy, but to transfer NTSC to PAL, you need an additional PAL deck to record it on. I also heard the NTSC to PAL conversion looks like the picture is shrunk (extra scan lines are not compensated). This deck is much cheaper (about $500.00) but not worth the price.

I evaluated this product in 1995. 
It is okay if you just want to view PAL tapes on an NTSC TV monitor.
The serious conversion hobbyist will not want to bother with it. --JF

INSTANT REPLAY 50/60 HZ DIGITAL FRAME CONVERTER
From what I hear this machine is CRAP! The PAL to NTSC conversion is very bad quality just for viewing (it's even worse when you record it) The deck does come with a tuner and RF output but that's no real consolation because the converter is so bad. This deck is about the same price as the Aiwa, so if you simply can't afford the AGW-1, go for the Aiwa.

This information is inaccurate. 
Instant Replay makes conversion decks to order,
and they can run anywhere from
$3,000 to over $10,000, depending on
the features you want. --JF

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28. What do I do now?

Go out, trade, preserve and educate!!!!!


Well I hope this FAQ has helped you learn what video trading is all about! Remember, keep the tape rolling!!!!!


Written and maintained by: Philip J. Satterley
Special thanks to: David Boeren
Modemac (Bob is his uncle!)
Micky DuPree
John Lavalie
Dave Chapman
Steve Phillips

Permission is given for this FAQ to be reproduced and circulated in it's entirety, without alteration on a non-profit basis (what have we learned here about non-profit?)

Give me a f***ing break! The original FAQ hasn't been updated in ages. I claim no authorship of the original version and my annotations are strictly for the edification of Dark Waters readers. --JF