For formats requiring a playback or access device, there are additional layers of complication. One of the challenges of audiovisual preservation is the fact that the content of most AV formats is not eye-legible. With the exception of motion picture films, the information contained in your AV items cannot be read by the naked eye. For this reason, it is important to maintain playback equipment alongside AV items in order to make these items accessible. For example, a stack of unique, highly valuable (in terms of content) VHS videocassettes does little for your institution and your users if you do not have a way to play them. Poorly maintained playback equipment can also potentially damage materials, so it is always important to make sure that your equipment is in good working order.
Maintaining playback equipment requires specialized technical knowledge. It is outside the scope of the PSAP to provide specific information about all of the many kinds of audiovisual playback equipment. If you are having problems with your playback equipment, we strongly encourage you to find a reliable repair service. If you are unsure of where to find one, it is a good idea to consult local television stations, radio stations, and the film or communications departments of local universities and colleges as well as other museums, libraries, and archives in order to find out who they use to keep their equipment in good working order. If you do not possess the expertise necessary to diagnose and maintain your equipment, then creating a good working relationship with someone who can is essential to ensuring the accessibility of your AV materials.
It is also an excellent idea to keep records of when your equipment was serviced and what was done to it. This can help you to make good choices about which pieces of equipment are likely to be safer for your materials. If you have not used a piece of equipment in a long time, it is best to try it out on a test item that has no value to your collections. For example, if you have not used a VCR in a long time, or you just procured it, it is best to have a "sacrifice" VHS tape on hand that you can try playing in the machine before you put anything valuable in it. Damage to your materials, however, can happen anytime you play them. So while this test method is not foolproof, it is nevertheless a good practice to follow.
One of the best ways to troubleshoot or maintain your equipment in-house is by consulting the manuals that came with the equipment. Since some of these manuals can be difficult to procure on their own after the fact, it is best to keep the manuals in a safe place whenever you acquire equipment. Should you need to find manuals for your old equipment, one excellent resource is Sam's Technical Publishing, a company that sells manuals for various kinds of equipment including audiovisual playback devices. Another possibility for finding equipment manuals is posting a request to the listservs for the Association of Moving Image Archivists or the Association of Recorded Sound Collections. If you know the exact make and model of the machine, there is also a good chance that a simple internet search will pull up a copy of the needed manual.
One of the things that helps to mitigate the obsolescence of your playback equipment is having access to reliable repair services and/or parts. So long as a machine can be maintained, it can be kept viable and in good order for your collections. As stated above, establishing a relationship with a good repair service for your equipment is definitely advisable if you lack the ability or time to maintain the equipment yourself. Since shipping can always introduce more potential for damage, it is best to try to find a repair service near enough that you don't have to ship out your equipment.
If you wish to attempt repairs, there are a number of format-specific listservs, blogs, and FAQs that can be queried. Examples of these sites include the Museum of Obsolete Media and Silicon Sam's Technology Resource and Repair FAQs. Digitized collections of old engineering and mechanical magazines can also provide critical details for the repair of media and playback devices. For example, the entire run of Popular Mechanics between July 1922 to December 2005 is available for free online and can be easily searched for information on obsolete and obscure devices. Additionally, digital content sites like Youtube host many good, practical tutorials uploaded by repair-focused hobbyists and professionals.