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  • [♪ Music Intro and Keyboard Typing noises ♪]

  • [♪]

  • Greetings, and welcome to another episode of LGR Oddware,

  • where we're taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete,

  • and today, it is the Danmere Backer:

  • The PC hard disk tape backup system.

  • Yeah, that's right, you can back up your data to VHS video tape

  • by use of this ISA card that works on 386 and up PCs

  • of the time period. Seriously.

  • Although backing up computer data to tape is not the most *unusual* thing in the computing world.

  • Uh, retro computers had cassete tapes that they backed up to or read games and programs from,

  • and then you still have data cartridge tapes that are used for backup solutions and store tons of tons of data.

  • But backing up to VHS, now *that* is a new one on me.

  • So let's see what we got here.

  • Time to get up close and personal with the Danmere Backer,

  • with this model also being known as the Backer16 hard disk tape backup system.

  • It was sold right around the start of 1996 by Danmere Limited of England for $60 US.

  • And this uses monochrome composite video signals *only* to do its thing either in PAL or NTSC format.

  • Yeah, there's no audio here whatsoever. It only uses the video signal.

  • According to the box, it can store upgigs,

  • but from what I've read, it actually ranges from 750 megs to 3 gigabytes,

  • depending on your settings, compression options, and what kind of tape that you use.

  • Updated models were available through the late 1990s, including one that was a little sleeker-looking.

  • This was an external that connected via parallel and did much the same thing,

  • but could store up to 4 gigabytes, same as the later card version, the Backer32.

  • Now you might be wondering, "Who was this made for?" Well... anyone on a budget, really.

  • The Backer's big appeal was price and convenience.

  • Since a VHS tape was around $2 at the time,

  • a lot less than the $15 or $30 a tape cartridge of a similar capacity might cost.

  • And of course, you just used your VCR instead of shelling out for anything more specialized.

  • It also boasted a 9 megabyte per minute transfer speed,

  • or around a 150k per second,

  • similar to other VHS backup systems of the time.

  • And yeah, that means that the Backer was not the only VHS backup system for home computers.

  • There was the aptly-named Video Backup System for the Commodore Amiga,

  • and perhaps most notably was the ArVid 1000 series,

  • which was more similar to the Backer, being that these were ISA cards for the PC.

  • And they were made in Zelenograd, Russia in 1992 through the mid '90s.

  • And get this: There was even a group called Transcom that distributed shady software compilations on VHS,

  • which kind of blows my mind.

  • However, even with a few points in their favor, Danmere's Backup system never really caught on,

  • and as such, it's incredibly hard to find one now.

  • But the company stuck around for a while after giving up on VHS backup systems,

  • reorganizing to become 4TV Limited in the year 2000,

  • and working on things like TV set-top box software until the company finally dissolved in 2014.

  • Alright, let's get to opening this box finally and see what we get inside.

  • Because I actually purchased this as a new in boxed product although it was opened, so...

  • Hopefully, it's still all intact.

  • Let's see here...

  • We have some floppy disks, that's always nice.

  • Oh, this one's for 95, this is for Windows 3.1, so uh...

  • That's good, that makes sense.

  • So yeah, there's the card itself, the original ISA model.

  • That is a *ton* of switch commands there for these uh, little jumpers.

  • Mmm, product license.

  • "This agreement is governed by English law. It does not affect your statutory rights."

  • Well, that's... good.

  • Ehh, get a registration form here.

  • Envelope you have to stamp there. Yeah, Cheshire, England. I'm sure my English viewers have a sense of pride.

  • Ah, apparently, this is...

  • version 1.21 uh, either of the unit or the manual.

  • Let's see here... "Thank you for purchasing this product."

  • Uh, you're welcome...

  • 21 years ago.

  • Yeah, I mean, it's pretty much just kind of plug it in, and install the software that appears,

  • although,

  • that IO address guide is uh, rather intimidating.

  • Oh yeah, and there's some stuff I was wondering about too, like long play.

  • Looks like it says...

  • uh, doubles your storage capacity, but in practice, the-

  • "this facility degrades the quality of the recorded signal," which makes sense.

  • There's some information on the different uh, video interfaces, impedance, performance, t- things like that.

  • So uh, that's- that's cool.

  • Extended options, mmm!

  • Uses DMA channel 1 or 3.

  • Ohhhh, that's gonna be fun, yeah.

  • Yeah...

  • Now this is the stuff I'm kinda worried about, just curious if it's gonna work.

  • It uses "DMA channel 1 for data transfer.

  • If another expansion card uses this channel, you must change the DMA ... setting of that card."

  • But, that can be switched, either on the sound card itself or through software usually.

  • *Scoffs* USUALLY, I say, well...

  • Let's just get this thing installed.

  • Mmm... that seal.

  • Not broken in over 20 years.

  • Aw yeah, that is a fresh card.

  • Not a whole lot going on here, which...

  • I mean,

  • that kind of makes sense, I'm assuming the software is doing a lot of the work.

  • and uh, well, I'm already fingerprinting that up. Sorry.

  • These are the two video in and outs and these go to the...

  • uh, opposing ones on your VCR.

  • Well, let's hook this up. I am insanely curious to see how this thing works.

  • So, I am going to install the card into my Windows 98...

  • capture box here, which is what I do a whole lotta work on LGR on.

  • It's just tossed together whatever I need at the moment and today... it needs a Danmere Backer.

  • So you can't really see it too well, but there is one single ISA slot in the bottom there,

  • *Chuckle*

  • that I'm gonna try to put this into.

  • I've never actually insert anything into this because it runs Windows 98 and uh...

  • *Click*

  • There we go. And I'm not gonna bother screwing it in because screw that!

  • A rather important part of this is getting a VCR that is *good*

  • and I'm going to go with uh, this right here, one of my favorite VCRs, a Panasonic PV40760.

  • It's just one of my favorite VCRs, both for the way looks and functionality and whatnot.

  • And that fact that it has this ginormous, wonderful remote. *Chuckles*

  • It's great!

  • There we go.

  • And...

  • this display is magnificent, and so is this one. I love VU meters like that.

  • Like seriously, just check this out.

  • *VHS Insertion Sounds*

  • Isn't that delightful?

  • So, I figured that might come in handy for um, absolutely nothing in this case, since it uses complete

  • video signals and no audio at all, but it makes me happy that they're there.

  • I'll grab a couple of uh, brand new VHS tapes here from Goodwill.

  • These are Maxells, uh, a 6 hour one and an 8 hour one.

  • I think I'm gonna go with the 6 because typically, I have better results with video quality with like lower...

  • uh, capacity type of tapes, so I'mma go with this one.

  • And if we need to, I have another era-appropriate thing that also picked up at Goodwill

  • (Like everything I have is from Goodwill). *Chuckles* Uh, but anyway...

  • This Recoton Video VHS Head Cleaner, a non-abrasive wet system.

  • Although curiously, I also noticed that uh Best Buy still carries VCR video head cleaners,

  • which is pretty great! So if that doesn't work, this one should. 'Cause I literately bought it yesterday.

  • Brand new. What the heck, Best Buy?

  • So around the back of the VCR here is where the business is gonna happen.

  • And it says to use the highest quality composite cables you can get.

  • Uh, these are the highest quality ones I have uh, from Acoustic Research.

  • So, one goes into the video in and one goes into the video out.

  • So I'm gonna stick the uh, blue one here to video out,

  • and then the red one to video in.

  • It's a tight fit because these cables are ridiculous...

  • So yeah.

  • So the sound card that's installed in here right now is an Aureal Vortex 2

  • and I believe it does use the DMA that this needs, so I might need to disable that address first, or you know, swap it

  • to get it to work, I- I dunno.

  • Let's see if this works. We should just need to put...

  • *Click*

  • Oof, wow...

  • There we go.

  • And then...

  • Yeah.

  • That should be it!

  • So I guess first up is to see whether or not this is gonna work with... anything.

  • *Click*

  • Let us run setup.

  • It's a delightfully '90s background.

  • Yes, let us install now.

  • And I'm glad the disk works because I did not want to try to track down these drivers and software on its own.

  • Ehhhhhhh, looks fine to me.

  • Alright, let's see what we got here. We got some uh, some stuff.

  • Not installed, requires... installation. Well, I mean...

  • Let's see what we got here, is it even detecting the card...

  • I'm betting it's not even showing up here because of the sound card, so let's check that.

  • Typically, I just go into the BIOS and start swapping things around or whatever, but I just removed the sound card

  • 'cause I don't need it for this, so...

  • While I'm waiting on this to reload, I'm gonna go ahead and get this new tape into the VCR.

  • *Tape Unwrapping Noises*

  • Mmm!

  • *Inhales* Mmm, smells fresh.

  • *Clack*

  • *Clattering Noises*

  • Nice.

  • *Thud*

  • 'Mkay, here we are with no sound card. Let's see what we - It's still not showing up!

  • So I've manually made it look for one of these, um...

  • I dunno about that.

  • Is it? I- You know, okay, fine, if that worked, awesome!

  • "Backer is a high performance backup-up

  • sys-" "Backup-up system?" It really says that?

  • "Use the video health check menu to verify your system's properly configured."

  • We'll definitely do that, 'cause I still have my doubts since I just like manually

  • chose this thing.

  • Um, okay, let's see here... Video Health Check.

  • Failed DMA Transfer.

  • That's what I thought.

  • Okay, well after some troubleshooting, I figured out what was goin' on, so let's run that Health Check once again.

  • And uh, we should get an OK with DMA and yes we do!

  • Seems to be all good.

  • So what was happening was it wasn't just gonna be conflicting with DMA 1 of the soundcard,

  • but also DMA 3 of the parallel port ECP mode, so uh, yeah.

  • I just ended up switching some things around and eventually got it to work, so let's give this thing a shot,

  • finally, although I'm not entirely sure how. *Chuckles* Let's check the options here.

  • Why- I- I don't really know, I'm just gonna leave this as it is. Of course, we want NTSC and uh... yeah, this is all fine.

  • I'm just gonna leave it as default and let's see if we can backup...

  • Hm... let's start with something like small first, like, let's see...

  • Crystal Caves.

  • Yeah.

  • Approximately 38 seconds to do that, interesting.

  • Well, let's see if this works.

  • "When ready, put the video in record mode and click Start."

  • Starting the recording right here...

  • and let it go for a couple of seconds to get past that lead-in bit.

  • There we go.

  • Pressing start... now.

  • Okay, so it is writing the tape header.

  • *Chuckles*

  • Oh, this is so weird, so it's processing file by file now, we'll see...

  • "Writing tape footer..." Okay.

  • "Stop the video recorder," uh, yeah, cool.

  • Alright, so it looks like it has made this "backered up" .SLG file to let me know what is in theory

  • *Chuckles*

  • on this VHS tape.

  • So we have the options to restore files from videotape or verify.

  • "Press 'Play' when ready."

  • Awesome, and there we go.

  • *Clap & Hands Rubbing*

  • Let's see what we get!

  • Alright, got the buffer going...

  • Playing, presumably...

  • Come on... Find something...

  • That error rate thingy lit up, I dunno what that means.

  • Eh, it's not doing anything at all, um...

  • That sucks.

  • Yeah, that did suck, so I started the troubleshooting process, starting with using that Head Cleaner tape,

  • which made me feel better but actually did absolutely nothing for the process of backing up with the backer.

  • So I tried other cables, I tried another tape, I switched around the settings in the software, I tried compression,

  • I tried different data clump sizes and speeds and redundancies,

  • switched around the card slots and DMA settings and just everything, nothing changed.

  • So, I whipped out my trusty Woodgrain 486

  • and installed it in there, thinking that, I dunno,

  • maybe something was just weird with that computer I was trying it in.

  • And it turns out that it worked just fine in Windows 3.1 and the software drivers that it came with.

  • I had to actually install 3.1 on here just temporarily to get it running, but y'know, here we go.

  • This is what happens when the Backer is doing what it needs to do correctly and it's pretty fantastic.

  • As you can see,

  • it found all the files and backed them up exactly as they should be.

  • And that was at the default settings, so I cranked everything up to the max to try to get that full

  • 9 megabyte per second claimed speed,

  • and I just backed up the entire drive, which was around 80 megs or something.

  • And save for one library file in the Windows folder, it got everything backed up perfectly,

  • which is pretty surprising, I gotta say.

  • And then finally, I just had to see what this looks like when you hook it up to a TV,

  • and this is what you'll see.

  • Again, there's no audio here, it is just a composite monochrome video signal.

  • This has been the data that you've been seeing here and then the header and footer look like this:

  • And yeah, as much as it thoroughly amuses me