Don’t wait to try to retrieve the data and content from your magnetic media. Chances are, some of it may already be unrecoverable and highly degraded. Act now.
If you’ve got any kind of magnetic media (computer floppy disks or tapes), and you give a crap about anything that’s stored on them, I urge you to transition them off to a more stable digital storage medium immediately. We’re now at the cusp of which virtually any data from the 1990’s stored on floppy might be unusable, depending on the conditions in which they were kept. If you’ve got 5.25 inch floppies, you might even be completely out of luck, since it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find systems that can read them or haven’t lost their drive calibration to the point where doing a file dump is next to impossible. Many of the newer systems aren’t even capable of being cabled to a new floppy drive, but you can still buy USB-based units.
Magnetic storage degradation isn’t unique to floppy disks, either. With the HDTV transition, many people will have a renewed interest in being able to view their existing VHS libraries on the newer sets. While a number of low-cost solutions for viewing the material on the newer sets are available, there is still the issue of ongoing media degradation.
After about 15-20 years, VHS tapes will dramatically start to lose quality whether you watch them or not. So for those of you with wedding and home videos from the 1990’s, if you haven’t had them converted over to DVDs yet, you might want to think about doing so soon. If you had wedding videos done in the last 10 years and the videographer is still in business, you might even want to consider finding out if he still has the original Betacam masters and can convert it for you.
A number of companies will do a professional job on your VHS tapes with commercial equipment, particularly if you have certain videos that have special value to you, or need to have them digitally remastered. These companies will charge anywhere between $10 and $25 per tape if the source media is still relatively good. If you have a lot of videos, you might want to look into black box devices such as the ADS DVD Xpress DX2, which for about $80 will allow you to transfer directly from your VCR to your computer and burn DVDs.