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There could be several reasons for badly distorted pictures. considering the age of the unit as DV camcoder which I am guessing would be quite a bit. Most likely the heads have worn out and need replacement. I am assuming you have this problem with newly recorded tapes being played on a TV directly from the camcorder. For this you may also need to check if you are using new tapes and whether the recording mode is PAL or NTSC as per the TV format.
Alternate test would be to play back a previously recorded tape back from the camcorder. That way at least you can establish if the problem is the read head or the write head or the tape itself.
This is most likely caused by a damaged or misaligned video drum and can usually be repaired fairly inexpensively. However, it's not a user serviceable problem and will need to be repaired by a qualified service technician.
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Check the tape and make sure the record tab is still on the tape and has not been removed. If the record tab has been removed then use a new tape for recording as the unit will not record. This tap is usually on the lower left end of the back of the tape. When the tap is present it closes a record mode switch letting the system know the tape is able to bv recorded on..
Before you insert the already recorded tape make sure you close off the small square hole with the moveable tab(often green or red colored).After inserting the tape rewind it to the point where you want to start reusing the tape ,set in camera mode and hit the record button .
Make sure you turn your other settings in the menu while in camera mode to ext, both or chain. Ext. mode, means pushing record on the camera makes the hard drive record, but not to tape, Both means that both tape and hard drive will record, Chain means when you run out of recording onto tape, the hard drive will automatically start recording as the tape runs out.
One thing that can change the tape quality is making sure you are using th 60 minute recording mode vs the 90 minute EP recording mode. If you record alot, you should clean the tape heads every 6 months as well. I haven't really found any bad tapes out there (I'm sure there are some). Usually Sony and JVC are good choices to use.
You can see an image in a camcorder viewfinder any time the camera's actually on in record mode, whether or not the camcorder is actually recording. So that's no guarantee.
Assuming the obvious (you have the right kind of tapes, they're not in write-protect mode, you rewind before playing, etc). I recommend that you borrow a tape of the same kind from someone else and check it on playback in your camcorder. This should lead you know understand if you have a playback problem or a recording problem.
You may want to check the record lockout safety switch located on the tape. This button can get moved by accident and the camera will refuse to record on that tape. Also, be sure the camera is in "video" mode, not "photo" mode. Some of Canons camcorders have a digital still camera mode which stops the camcorder from functioning because the photos are being recorded to a memory card and not your tape, please check this swithc as well.
If your camcorder powers up but does not record, try the following:
* Be sure that the camcorder is in camera mode.
* Be sure that inserted tape is not full
* Be sure that the protection / lock is not enabled on the tape
* Try a new tape
If your problem has not been resolved, find your nearest authorized service center.
# You may not have turned on the camcorder to record properly. For camcorders that feature both Automatic and Manual recording, make sure you press in the LOCK button while setting the POWER switch to the desired setting, either "A" (Automatic) or "M" (Manual) record mode.
# Automatic recording places the camcorder into Auto Shot™ mode, while Manual recording mode allows you to control many of the camcorder's special features, including accessing the menus and setting the clock.
# For many other camcorders, make sure the CAMERA/OFF/VCR switch is set to CAMERA.
Make sure the Erase Protection tab is in the position that allows recording. If not, slide the tab. Some tapes have removable tabs. If the tab has been removed, simply cover the hole with adhesive tape or use another tape.