UK Duplication Problems

The technical quality of the work we do is of prime concern to us. At all times we will strive to deliver the best quality product to our clients. However, once we have delivered our master tapes, control of the quality of the final retail product is largely in the hands of the videotape duplication facility. Unfortunately, there have been two major releases which have hit the High Street with significant problem. Both problems have been caused by the same duplication company, but I'll spare their blushes by protecting their anonymity.....

The Five Doctors - Special Edition / The King's Demons

This release was the first opportunity for Doctor Who fans to hear the programme with a Dolby Surround audio track. The Dolby Surround system depends for its operation on having a careful controlled phase relationship between the left and right audio channels. Due to a fault with routing matrix in the duplication facility, the right hand audio channel was faulty on all of the first duplication run of this title, causing severe degradation to the surround effect.

Faulty tapes can be recognised in two ways. Firstly, the right-hand audio channel will sound extremely tinny when compared to the left-hand channel. Secondly, the faulty tapes do not have an in-vision duplication date at the beginning of the tape.

A second production run was eventually made a few weeks after the original release. These 'good' tapes can be recognised by the presence of an in-vision duplication date and an orange sticker on the front edge of the cassette. The in-vision date may not tally with the date printed on the cassette because the remaining faulty stock in the warehouse was reused.


The War Machines

This is probably the release that is the most frustrating for us, especially considering the amount of soundtrack restoration work that we carried out. The duplication company made three separate duplication runs, all of which were faulty in different ways. It's worth explaining the history of this as it shows what we're up against....

On the first production run, a high-speed tape duplication system called Sprinter was used. It should be pointed out that Sprinters are usually only used for low-quality mass duplication - real-time duplication offers by far the best quality. One of the six Sprinters used in the duplication run had a fault which sometimes causes the replay VCR to try to drop into Long-Play mode, even though the video track is recorded in Standard Play. This is dependent upon the design of the particular VCR - some are sensitive to the fault, others ignore it. There appears to be two places on the tape which are affected. The first is during the anti-piracy trail, so it can probably be ignored. The second is just prior to and during the end credits of episode four, which is obviously much less acceptable. Although I've been assured that only one-sixth of the original duplication run was affected, I have to say that I have yet to see a non-faulty tape from this run.

A second production run was ordered a few weeks later, again duplicating over existing faulty warehouse stock. This time, the soundtrack was plagued by audio mutes - short holes in the soundtrack. The duplication company investigated and found that the error had been introduced during manufacture of the duplication sub-master, which they use to duplicate from. They admitted liability and blamed it on poor quality control at their end.

A third production run was then made. Instead of remaking the sub-master from scratch, they decided to just drop back the correct audio into the missing section on their original sub-master. They obviously hadn't quite got their quality control problem gripped though, as they identified and repaired only two of approximately six audio mutes on the tape. Thus another batch of faulty tapes hit the shops....

At the time of writing, it seems unlikely that another production run will be requested, so I'm afraid to say that despite the time and effort it took to produce the master for this release, it's unlikely that you will be able to buy a good copy. If you are stuck with a faulty tape, all I can do is suggest that you write to BBC Video and make your views known.

There is a small amount of consolation however. BBC Video have ordered that Sprinter duplication is not to be used for future Doctor Who releases and quality control standards must be improved.

Steve Roberts, October '97