Vintage - Early - Antique - Obsolete
Video Archiving -
Restoration - Remastering - Duplication - Transfer - Vintage - Antique
This is not a comprehensive - all encompassing in-depth history
of every known video format since mankind had emerged from the swamps, but for the
most part, is the History of Video comprised of the formats we currently support. As time allows,
more will be added. Thus it'll always be perhaps, a work in progress !
We offer Transfer Services for
most of these formats
This page is image intensive and will (as you're
probably discovering) take a long time to download !
Link Table of the most popular vintage obsolete
* Denotes machines
out of service - awaiting parts
* Denotes Parts Located - To be
back on line shortly
** The VX cartridge
format is also known as the Quasar VR-1000 or Great Time Machine
We transfer almost any videotape format
to another, including video to DVD transfer (known also as video archiving) as well
as the newer digital formats.
To date there are over
65 "popular" NTSC video formats that have claimed their place in video history, that have
come and gone since the introduction of quadruplex. Include the list of formats
that weren't commercially viable, and the list grows to slightly over 100. Add to
that the world standards such as PAL and SECAM and all their variations and the
number soars by at least a factor of 5.
This is not a complete video history -
and more will be added as they are acquired. It does however, account for the
vast majority !
Video History in chronological order
The very first video format.
Never widely adopted - it was for practical purposes, an experimental format that
used a record and a stylus to record and play back video. Experimental or
not, it worked !
To learn more about this most interesting
format & it's place in history, check out Phonovision at
A great site dedicated to the world's
first video !
Introduced in 1956, 2" quadruplex was the first commercially
viable professional broadcast video format to secure it's position in Video History.
Instead of evolving into a broadcast format, Quadruplex was conceived and designed
from the very start as being a professional broadcast format.
To achieve a broadcast quality 5mhz bandwidth or
400 lines of resolution, a head to tape speed equivalent to 1500 inches/second was
required. In the quadruplex system, this was achieved by a tape speed of 15 inches/sec
passing a rotating drum containing 4 heads placed 90 degrees apart.
The drum rotates at 14,400 rpm or 240 revs/sec and the sound it produces when up
to speed is un-mistakable ! (Our "Company Cats" run for cover whenever one
of the Quads starts to "spool up" !) ..... Anyways, the 4 head arrangement
not surprisingly, gave rise to this format's name.
Most "normal" folk would have a Grandfather's Clock
or a hutch in their living rooms to display their prized china......... Not
so here !
Instead, a working Ampex AVR-2 Quadruplex machine
occupies and "adorns" that coveted position !
Historical Need for Videotape Recording
Up until the advent of videotape,
the west coast would view the broadcast in the late afternoon, while the east coast
would view it during the evening. TV shows were all broadcast live or had
to be filmed for later broadcast, which was time consuming and expensive. That all
changed in 1953 when the first commercially
viable video tape recorder was introduced - the Ampex VR-1000. Early considerations
were that the format had to meet NTSC standards (the very same video specifications
in use today) and had to have full 5mhz bandwidth (400 lines of resolution) as well
as the capacity to support color in the future. Quite an impressive achievement
back then !
Early pioneering work was done by
RCA and Ampex . As an interesting aside, Ampex's development team included
Ray Dolby (the 4th from the left in the above
picture) whose name later went on to become synonymous with sound processing systems.
Most stereo equipment today sports the Dolby logo !
The first commercially sold machines
were the Ampex VR-1000 and the RCA TRT-1A. Both used the same agreed upon
format - the 2" Quadruplex system. The format utilized 2 inch wide tape loaded
on a monstrous 4800 ft reel. The machines were gi-normous behemoths ! All vacuum
tubes and weighed in at about 2600 lbs - the weight of a typical compact
car ! The VR-1000 sold for $50,000 and could play/record up to 90 minute reels.
History of Technical Challenges
To record a 5 MHz bandwidth, a relative
recording/playback head to tape speed of approximately 1500 inches/sec was required
with the head technology available at the time ! (1500 ips is not a typo !). This
equates to 125 ft/second - or about 85 miles/hour if recording was to be made in
a linear fashion like an audio tape recorder ! The very first video tape recorder
was in fact just such a device - a linear recorder that functioned like a
mono audio recorder on steroids ! They were engineering prototypes only to prove
the feasibility of video recording to magnetic tape. Whatever happened to those
early engineering lab machines is unknown. Anyways, linear recording though
possible, was unworkable. A required speed of 1500 ips would consume
450,000 ft (85 miles worth) of tape every hour by recording video on a single linear
track ! Clearly, there had to be a way around this problem.
The solution was to transversely record each field of video across the tape - a
method we today call scanning. To achieve a relative head to tape speed of 450,000
ft/hour (85 MPH) , the tape moved at a speed of just 15 inches/second thru the transport.
It then passed over a head drum that had 4 recording heads set 90 degrees apart
spinning at 14,400 rpm ! Voila ! - an effective head to
tape speed of 1500 inches/second ! (do the math !) Not
only did it effectively get the head to tape speed up to 1500 ips, it made full
use of the magnetic tape by recording the sweeps of video transversely across the
Each head recorded 16 lines of video, or 64 lines
for each drum revolution or 4 revolutions/field = 8 revolutions/frame ! A
separate control track (the control track is to videotape as are the sprocket holes
on film) was recorded on one outside edge of the tape while a single audio track
was recorded on the opposite edge. A separate cue track was also recorded for future
time code or audio for network instructions & communications.
Head to tape contact was critical, as should the
tape lift from the drum by even the smallest amount, then signal would be lost.
The tape was held to the drum by an air vacuum, while inside the spinning drum,
compressed air was was blown thru the assembly to provide cooling plus blow the
inevitable debris out of the way. The compressed air also supplied the necessary
pressure for the head drum air bearings. Air bearings ensured the least amount of
friction and stability as the heads spun at an incredible 14,400 rpm. Huge
& cumbersome, the machine required a vacuum pump and an external source of compressed
air. Later machines only required compressed air, as the necessary vacuum was obtained
from an internal vacuum manifold.
There was no such thing as interchangeability between
machines as we know it today. Getting a tape to play recorded on another
quad machine (even the same exact model) required a bit (read: sometimes a LOT)
of tweaking. Positioning of the vacuum guide and air pressures were critical
for the best picture (or sometimes ANY picture for that matter).
The same scanning recording strategy developed for
these machines is still used in the consumer as well as broadcast VCR's of today
- The only difference is that quad machines recorded transversely across the tape
(transverse scanning) while current head scanners record at a much lower angle called
helical scanning allowing only one or two heads to do the recording. The concept
of employing a rotating scanner came out of those first quad machines. No one's
yet come up with anything better, and is a tribute to the engineers who originally
conceived and designed it.
Advancements in the Technology
As time progressed. the machines became much smaller.
The Ampex AVR-1 was now down to a single console size and used only a fraction of
the power. (Now a mere 240 volts at 22 amps ! - still more than most small arc welders
Later in the timeline, RCA's TR-600 and the
Ampex AVR-2 were perhaps the most popular and both tiny compared to the first VR-1000.
The TR-600 weighed in at a mere 900 lbs or so (though I never measured it) and the
AVR-2 was even less.... a paltry 680 lbs. An even smaller record-only
machine was also developed for field acquisition and saw life in many a broadcast
Keeping an old quadruplex machine alive and working
can be considered nothing short of a labor of love. Video heads are expensive and
last an average of only 200 hours. Other parts are difficult and sometimes near
impossible to find, resulting in a re-design of some circuits. They're loud, ornery,
cantankerous, fickle and not by any stretch of the imagination, "Team Players".
They're self centered, very individualistic and oftentimes stubborn...... It's either
Their way or No way..... Keeping them operational and tuned, requires a strong knowledge
of alchemy as well as a solid grounding in the black arts.
That being said: The 2" quadruplex format was so
well conceived that it remained in common use up until the early 80's.
In the history of broadcast video, it's an impressive record that still stands
today & is unlikely ever
to be broken.
Sony Introduced this format in 1964 with the release
of the EV-200. It was the first "portable" machine intended for general use and
most found their way into the educational and industrial marketplaces. The term
"portable" back in the early 60's meant only that the machine had handles, and in
no way was meant to imply that the machine was actually even close to being lightweight
or compact. Most machines of this format weighed in at around 90 lbs or so. Of course,
compared to Quadruplex, they were indeed "portable" for their day.
The format uses 1" tape and employs a 2 head helical
scanning system. Maximum recording time is 1 hour with 2400 ft of tape on an 8 inch
reel. Tape speed is 7.8 ips. The EV-200 was a monochrome machine only, but
later models in the EV-200 and 300 series were color capable by use of an external
A small tip off to the tape's format (though not
100% accurate) is that unlike most other 1" formats, the Sony reels did not use
NAB style hubs, but rather the common star spindle design.
Although all the Sony EV series after the 200 were color
capable, none of the VTR's by themselves came with the color processing
circuitry built in. That is where the CLP-1B came in.
For recording, the processor separated
the color from the composite signal and recorded it at a lower fm carrier on the
tape. Color resolution was about 240 lines.
On playback, the process was reversed.
The CLP-1B internally processed the color signal and fed it back to the VTR
where the composite output was now in color.
The unit connected to the VTR via a
standard 10 pin camera cable.
Skip Field Recording (1964)
- Sony CV Format - Video Rover
Sony introduced the CV-2000 VTR in
1964 and was released in the US in 1965. It was the first reel to reel b/w only
VTR introduced for home use, though most found their way into industrial service.
This format only recorded the luminance information. There were no electronics
to process or record color information, thus color programming would be recorded
only in black and white monochrome.
In the skip field format, video is recorded by only one of the two video heads,
resulting in only one field being recorded. On playback, the second rotating
head sweeps the same track as the first, effectively repeating the same field. Since
the tape has advanced by the time the second head was coming into position for the
second sweep, the "B" head was placed slightly behind and below the "A" head as
opposed to 180 degrees apart and on the same horizontal plane as in other schemes.
The positioning of the "B" head was critical and set by the factory and thus no
provision for field adjustment is possible.
Since there were very few video recorders
in the marketplace, there was never the thought of tape/machine interchangeability.
Video recorded on your CV machine was meant to be played back only on that machine
and would probably not play back reliably on another. There was no tracking control
on the CV series of machines for this reason.
Since there is usually little change
from field to field, picture quality losses employing this technique were negligible
and the resulting quality surprisingly good. Employing this technique allowed efficient
use of the tape - effectively, a 2 to1 compression !
The CV-2000 as depicted to the right,
used 1/2" reel to reel tape on 7" 2400 ft reels. The unit weighs approximately 70
lbs and originally sold for $695 when it was first introduced..... Though
$695 doesn't sound too bad a price today, consider that $695 in 1965 equates to
about $4150 in 2005 dollars ! Only several hundred CV-2000 models were ever
sold in the US, though later CV models such as the CV-2100 and CV-2200 were sold
in far greater numbers. Though the machines used the same tape stock as the later
to come EIAJ machines and were similar in appearance, the format was not compatible
Video Rover - Sony DV-2400
The Sony Video Rover was released in 1967 as a record
only machine that recorded in the Skip Field Format. Every effort was
made to keep the machine as light as possible for the sole purpose of
recording video and as such, any feature not absolutely required to record
video was left out. That even included a motorized rewind function !
Instead, it came with a hand crank for manually rewinding the tape !
To better understand what a skip
field format is, requires a basic understanding of video fields and frames and just
why we have interlaced video in the first place. The following will simply explain
In the NTSC system, 30 separate
images (called Frames) are displayed at a rate of 30 frames/second (actually 29.97
fps in color) and consisting of 525 lines.
Instead of drawing each of the 525
lines in sequence - called progressive scanning) (ie: drawing lines 1,2,3,4,5,6,7
. . . . . 525) then going back & repeating the process 30 times/second), the
NTSC specification calls for each frame to be divided into 2 Fields.
Field 1 draws only the odd lines
(ie 1,3,5,7,9 . . . . . . 525) while the second field draws & fills in the
even lines (2,4,6,8,10 . . . . . 524). Drawing or scanning first the
odd lines then coming back to fill in the even lines is called interlaced scanning.
For Video to appear "smooth" and without flicker,
images should be refreshed 60 times each second. So why not just draw
lines 1 to 525 sequentially & repeat the process 60 times each second ???
Seems simple enough..... yet for the limited technology of the day it had
one serious limitation.......
In the early days of TV, there was a severe limit
as to how many pixels or lines of resolution could be transmitted each millisecond
compared with today. Only so much information could be crammed down the "narrow
electronic pipe". Today, we define that as having a limited bandwidth.
Vacume tubes and the large capacitor - resistor discreet circuitry of the day, was
very slow and was incapable of passing high frequency information... It simply
was incapable of passing such a huge amount of information in such a short
The NTSC standard however, specified 30 frames
per second refresh rate. In order that moving objects not look smeared, the phosphors
on the picture tube had to fade between "visits" by the electron beam. At the agreed
on resolution for NTSC for example, the entire picture could be redrawn (repainted;
refreshed) a maximum of 30 times a second. However 30 fps was too slow....
At that rate, the top of the picture began to fade before the bottom was completely
drawn - resulting in a "fading flicker", for lack of a better way of describing
it. Using a longer persistence phosphor to eliminate the fading flicker would result
in smearing of any motion - the "cure" now being worse than the original ill. It
was clear that a 30 frames/second refresh rate was simply not going to be fast enough.....
The obvious solution was to simply double the
refresh rate to say 60 frames/sec. Only problem back then, was that the technology
for achieving such a high bandwidth was not yet available with the vacuum tube technology
of the day. No way could 525 lines of information be repeated 60 times each second....
Then someone came up with the idea of drawing all the odd scan lines first in 1/60th
of a second, then coming back and filling in the even scan lines in the second 1/60th
of a second, which virtually eliminated that rolling fading flicker and obtained
a much better looking and smoother picture for the same amount of transmitted information.
Effectively, it doubled the refresh rate without
any increase in bandwidth, by refreshing only 1/2 the information but twice as fast.
Pretty clever !
Ampex introduced this format in 1965. This format
employed a full wrap, single head design and was the predecessor to 1" Type C.
Initially, it was marketed to the home market though
because of the high cost, most found their way into the educational and industrial
markets. Most machines of this format (Ampex VR series) weighed in at about 100
lbs. Tape speed was 9.6 ips.
Later development of the format resulted in machines
capable of high band color recording and playback such as the Ampex VPR-1, which
was he early predecessor to the much higher 1 inch Type C format. In fact Ampex
released an upgrade to the VPR-1 effectively converting it to a 1 Inch Type C !
Video resolution of the 1 Inch Type A format was
an impressive 350 lines ! If not for the standardization and "compromise"
between the various manufacturers, which led to the adoption of 1 Inch Type C, 1
inch Type A would undoubtedly have become the broadcast standard format.
However, it was not to be..... Though very
similar to 1 Inch Type C in many respects, 1 Inch Type A recorded tapes will
not play back on 1" Type C equipment.
1" IVC-600 700 800 & 900 Format
IVC (International Video Corporation) introduced
this format in 1967 in an attempt to compete with the 1" Type A format. Tapes
were interchangeable between the 6, 7, 8 & 900 series machines and color reproduction
was possible via an optional external color adapter.
The format used a single head with an Alpha Wrap.
The IVC-600 was the low end machine that had manually operated control linkage.
The 700 shown on the left and later models used solenoids which allowed for remote operation. Tape
speed was 6.9 ips, which yielded 1 hour of record time on an 8 inch reel. The
700 & 800 series machines accepted up to 8 inch reels, while the 900 series
accepted up to 12.5 inch reels allowing for up to 3 hrs of continuous recording.
The IVC-870 shown here on the right is a color
IVC-900 was introduced, possibly in anticipation
that 1" Type A would be adopted as the new broadcast standard to replace Quadruplex.
The major selling point to the broadcast industry, was that the 900 could accommodate
a huge 12" reel which would allow up to 3 hours of continuous run time...
Just perfect for the broadcast of full length movies ! Though both 1"
Type A and IVC 900 series machines were far less expensive to produce than Quadruplex,
they could not match the quality standards of Quad. However, both formats
laid the groundwork for development of 1 Inch Type C which finally became a reality
Concord released this machine as a significant improvement
over the skip field format machines sold by Sony. Part of the better quality
as compared to Sony's Skip Field Format, was attributable to it's faster tape speed of 12 inches/second plus the full recording
of both fields. The head drum was also larger, which enabled faster writing
speeds which translated into slightly higher video bandwidth. This allowed approximately 40 minutes of video to be recorded on
a standard 7" 2400 ft reel.
Panasonic also tried their hand with this format
with the release of the NV-8000 and NV-8100 machines. The format never caught
on - probably due to it's limited recording time of only 40 minutes on a full 7"
reel. Panasonic saw the writing on the wall and quickly abandoned the format
and made no other machines I'm aware of that supported it. Concord stuck with
it to the bitter end with the 600 and 700 series machines, but even Concord
threw in the towel and adopted the new EIAJ standard.
The format though superior to Sony's Skip Field Format,
never made wide market penetration. Today, this format is considered very rare.
The only commonality, is that Concord, like all the other half inch open reel
formats, used the
very same 1/2 inch tape stock.
Shown here is the Panasonic 8100 torn down with the
skins removed, in the process of receiving a complete overhaul.
1/2 " Helical (1967) - (Also re-badged as Apeco and Bell & Howell)
this format in 1967. The format was the only other one that used the skip field recording technique much
like the Sony CV series, but it was however incompatible with the Sony CV's, or
any other 1/2" helical format for that matter. The recording media was standard
1/2 inch open reel tape.
The format was also sold under the Apeco and Bell & Howell
labels, though all came off the same Shibaden production line.... Thus Apeco
and Bell & Howell's are simply re-badged Shibaden's.
difference between Sony's Skip Field format and Shibaden's, was the much
larger diameter of the Shibaden head drum. EIAJ, Skip Field,
& Pilot Tone formats all used a 4.5" diameter head drum, whereas Shibaden employed
a much larger 5.8" diameter drum. Tape speed was the same at 7.5 ips, however due
to the larger head drum diameter, the Shibaden format employed a faster head
to tape writing speed as well as at a reduced helical azimuth angle. The increased
writing speed resulted in slightly superior image quality over Sony's Skip Field
Format. Because of different azimuth and write speed of the video tracks, the
Shibaden format, though conceptually very similar to Sony's Skip Field Format, is not compatible.
superior to the Skip field format, Sony simply out-marketed and out-outsold the
Shibaden format machines. Thus, the Shibaden format is quite rare, never having
made significant market penetration.
Shown here is the Apeco
Teletape with the top skin removed. Of all the half inch open reel formats, it
had the largest head drum... If it looks identical to the Shibaden machine, it's
because it is ! It came off the same Shibaden assembly line and was
re-badged as an Apeco. Many of the older generation may recall Apeco
photocopiers. Yes.... it's the same company ! They
had a brief foray into video.
Dubbed the EVR for Electronic Video
Recorder, it was actually manufactured by CBS and sold under the Motorola Brand
Whether this system belongs as part of
a video history reference might be debatable as it is somewhat of a hybrid...
It's somewhat of a cross between a film recorder and a video machine.
It uses 8.75 mm black & white film
(sprocket-less) on 7" reels to record the monochromatic images and then used a
magnetic strip to encode the color information electronically. On playback, the
color information is in effect superimposed on top of the scanned black & white
Two other magnetic strips allowed for
The plan was to offer cameras to allow
recording capability, since the home consumer machines were playback only.
One would send off the film back to the factory to have it processed...
Operation was simple: "Drop a
film cartridge on the spindle, close the the lid - push the play button, and the
film automatically threads".
Color cartridges played for 25
minutes, while Black & White cartridges played for 50 minutes.....
It was also one of the first machines
to offer accurate frame by frame slow motion and stop action and stereo all in
It could be successfully argued that
the system was more of a film unit. The B/W film was scanned by what
amounted to a "flying spot scanner" that converted the film image to video. The
chroma information from the magnetic strip was then added to create a color
composite video signal that was then RF modulated for connecting to one's home
TV... It was really more a telecine than a video Tape Player...
Michael Muderick who supplied the picture and a brochure of the unit.
The LDL-1000 is a 1/2"
b/w helical Reel to Reel machine & was the predecessor to the N1500. Both NTSC and
PAL machines were manufactured.
The drum takes a 1/2 wrap
of tape and scans with two heads very similar to the EIAJ format. Tape speed is
6.63 ips or 18.84 cm/sec.
An interesting feature
of the machine is that the take-up and supply reels are not driven by any belts
or rubber idler wheels. Instead, both reels are driven from a magnetic disc that
couples the rotating magnetic flux force to the take-up and supply reel discs.
The only belts in the machine are thus belts for the head drum, capstan and tape
counter. The mechanical system is the ultimate in simplicity and works amazingly
Why this technology
wasn't more widely adopted is somewhat of a mystery.
Released in 1968, the Craig half inch open
reel format is unique to all the half inch open reel formats in many ways.
It is also the rarest of all the half inch open reel machines.
It uses a two head half wrap scanning
system as used by the other half inch open reel formats, but most of the
similarities end there. It is also only a monochrome capable format.
First; it supports reels up to 8 and a half
inches in diameter. Although not clear in the image to the right, the Craig reel
is slightly larger than the Sony reel... It is the only format machine
that accepts reels up to 8.5 inches in diameter.
The next unique thing about this format is
the tape recording speed of 9.5 inches per second. All the other half inch open
reel formats with the exception of the Concord 12ips format, used a tape speed
of 7.5 inches per second. Thus when playing a Craig format tape on an EIAJ
machine (assuming the reel fits) the first thing you will notice is that the
audio will play at a 26% slower tempo and pitch.
The head drum diameter is also a bit larger
than the EIAJ, Skip Field and Pilot Tone Formats, resulting in slightly higher
The closest other format to the Craig is
the Concord 12ips format. When a Craig format recorded tape is played on a
Concord 12ips machine, you will be able to make out a video image, but there
will be severe mis-tracking across numerous fields owing to the radically
different azimuth angle due to the different tape speed. What you might
find surprising is that the image (or what you can make of it) will be
upside down ! The Craig is the ONLY half inch open reel format
machine that reverse scans the tape !
Very few of these machines were ever made
and they are quite rare to find in any condition, much less one in working
With that said, they were built like
"tanks" - the mechanical design was over killed...
The Craig machines with their superior
mechanical design should have captured a much larger market share than they did,
but they were simply out marketed by the likes of Sony and Panasonic.
What's peculiar to this format was it's use of
1/4" tape. Even standard audio tape could be used, though naturally, better image
quality was obtained using Akai's video tape.
The machines used 2 heads in an Omega wrap. Tape
speed was 11.25 ips which yielded a 20 minute recording time on 5 inch reels. The
machines were monochrome and were capable of only monophonic audio.
Their strong selling point was their amazing compactness
and light weight, though studio machines were also available. Image quality
was just fair and no match for 1", but neither was their price nor their weight
- making them truly portable.
Dropouts are a common problem to this format as
well as other small format tapes. A small imperfection in the oxide represents
a larger picture area than would a similar size imperfection in say any of the 1/2
But compared to the much larger other format machines,
it was indeed lightweight and truly portable !
Tone System - Sony AV-5000 (1970)
- AV-5000A (1970) Non EIAJ Color
Sony introduced the AV-5000
1/2" reel to reel VTR in 1970. It met the EIAJ-1 standard for black & white but
was released 4 years before the EIAJ-2 color standard was agreed upon.
Sony apparently thought this
machine would be the adopted basis for the new EIAJ-2 color standard, but marketing "jumped
the gun" so to speak, and it was not to be. The EIAJ-2 standard did not adopt Sony's approach
to the way the color information would be processed...
Sony used instead what's known as a non standard Pilot Tone signal system instead.
After shipping but a very limited number of the AV-5000's, Sony decided to improve on
the quality and raise the pilot tone carrier frequency to achieve better color bandwidth.
This model was named the AV-5000A. The reality was that this in itself became yet
another format as it was not color compatible with the former. Both machines are
rare and the format in danger of immediate extinction.
Though both AV-5000 series VTR's were EIAJ-1 compatible for monochrome,
neither was EIAJ-2 color compatible. Both machines are similar in appearance
to the Sony AV-8600.
The only difference between EIAJ-2 and Pilot Tone
and the two variants of Pilot Tone format,
is the way the color information is encoded and processed. In fact Pilot Tone tapes will
play back on EIAJ equipment fine. It will just be in black & white monochrome.
The original pilot tone format is quite
rare.... Only 100 machines were ever sold into the US market.
Having one of these machines back in the period between 1970 to 1974, would have
been considered very "cutting edge" in the consumer/industrial market place...
Sony's only other color equivalent at the time would have been the one inch EV
series of machines that required a separate color processor called the CLP-1....
The EV series were very heavy and much more costly than the half inch pilot tone
EIAJ - EIAJ-1
(1970) & EIAJ-2 (1974)
Industries Association of Japan) was the first actual standardized format
agreed upon by the Japanese manufacturers. Up to that point, manufacturers
were left to their own creative devices as to format and as a result, the marketplace
was a confused nightmare of totally incompatible formats - even across the same
manufacturer's own product lines. The adoption of EIAJ solved all that !
in 1969 but not widely adopted until the following year, EIAJ (
The machines utilized 1/2 inch reel to reel tape
on 30 minute 5 inch reels or 60 minute 7 inch reels. However, a few machines were
manufactured by Sony and Panasonic that were cassette based machines. The EIAJ cassette
was one of the first cassette based machines ! However, those first cassettes
were prone to mis-loads and jams, and were never widely accepted. (They are also
quite rare - for that very reason !). The cassettes measured 5x5x1 inches. The picture
on the left depicts the bottom of the cassette.
The EIAJ format was designed with low-band specifications
or about 240 lines of resolution. With the
advent of EIAJ that recorded both fields,
the skip field formats were quickly abandoned. EIAJ-1 was the spec.
for black & white, while EIAJ-2 was the color specification. Note that
EIAJ-2 was the color specification, and was not released until 1974.
Chroma bandwidth was quite poor by today's standards - even poorer than
VHS... But it did record and playback in full color.. Quite an
achievement for it's day in an relatively affordable consumer grade format..
Though billed as a consumer VTR, color recorders were still very "pricey" and
color cameras also very expensive... As a result, most were sold into the
Up until this time, interchangeability between machines
was pretty much a hit or miss affair (mostly misses actually.....). Not a broadcast
quality format, it was mostly used in the industrial and consumer marketplaces.
EIAJ-1 is by far the most popular of the half inch open reel video formats.
A lot of early family and industrial videos were recorded on this format in the
1970's and EIAJ machines were becoming quite popular.
Perhaps the earliest popular portable VTR to make
significant market penetration was the Sony AV-3400, also better known as the
Portapack as shown here on the left.
Until EIAJ's slow demise beginning in the late
70's when Betamax and VHS were first introduced, EIAJ open reel was by far the
most popular consumer/industrial tape format of its time.
Introduced in 1971, it
initially became a standard for early news gathering that was rapidly replacing
16mm film at the time. Image quality and particularly signal to noise ratio
was superior to either Vhs or Beta. With only a 3 MHz bandwidth, it was capable
of only 240 lines of resolution. Though a color under low-band format and
definitely not "hi res", it was comparatively clean and would survive better the
multi generation losses incurred during editing - - - much better than VHS
or even Beta could ever hope to match.
With the advent of BetaCam,
it was relegated to the higher end industrial marketplace. Using a quality verses
price metric, the 3/4 U format was perhaps the most successful format of all time.
Capacitance Electronic Disc CED (1973)
The Capacitance Electronic
Disc also known as the CED, was developed by RCA in 1973. The early prototype
was limited to 10 minutes play time per side, so it was not ready for the marketplace.
But by 1981 the technology evolved to allow viable play times when RCA released
the first CED player in the US.
Unlike all the videotape formats, the CED is much more similar to
a phonograph record. The discs are pressed much like any other record and
a diamond stylus tracks the undulations of the groove. Unlike a conventional
audio stylus however, the the modulated signal is sensed by a varying capacitance
instead of a moving coil as is common in audio cartridges. Since there is
no hysteresis concerns by varying the capacitance, the high frequency response as
required by video was achievable. As the stylus rides up & down the hill and dale
of the groove, the distance between the two "plates" similarly varies. This
varying capacitance is then used to create an amplitude modulated waveform - in
this case, both video and stereo audio, and hence it's name.
The technology was quite
simple compared to video tape machines and became somewhat popular due to the low
price point. When VCR's became less expensive to manufacture however, that sealed
the fate of the Videodisc. RCA ceased production in 1986.
Like any other record,
dirt - scratches - and inevitable groove wear from repeated playing, did not make
it a robust format. But for a stylus based video machine that was only several technological
leaps away from Edison's first phonograph, the system actually makes acceptable
color pictures ! (Quality wise; very similar to a VHS tape recorded in LP mode)
Unlike video tape with
all it's "chemistry problems", CED discs will perhaps still be playable in another
100 years ! (assuming of course, one can locate a working CED
For more in depth information on CED players, check out
VCord I & II (1974)
Introduced by Sanyo in
1974, the first VCord format (VCord I) basically took 1/2 " reel to reel tape and
repackaged it in a cassette. In fact, it was the first commercially successful
video cassette format !
The first type I machines
could record and play 30 & 60 minute cassettes, while the later type II machines
such as the VTC-8200 shown here, could accept the slightly larger 120 minute cassettes.
The type II machines were backwards compatible with the type 1 (one) 30 &
60 minute tapes.
What is interesting to
note is how the tape is pulled out the left side of the cartridge and then loaded
around the head drum.
Sanyo and Toshiba were
the key players in this market. Also interesting to note in the video
history timeline, is that this was the very
first consumer vcr to offer two recording speeds !
Had it not been for the
release of Betamax and VHS a year or two later, the format might have gained much
wider market penetration.
VCord cartridges look very
similar to the Quasar VX cartridges shown below.
Today the format is considered
VCord VTC-7100 (1976)
This machine is also a VCord format machine, but is not compatible with the
VCord I or II which were color machines. Though it records on the same
half inch tape, the recording format is monochrome only. Also, the tape
speed is twice that of VCord I speed. This combined with a 4 head system,
allowed smooth slow motion and noiseless still frames by use of a separate slow
motion tracking control. Though taken for granted today, slow motion playback
was not possible in small portable machines during that time period. The VCord
7100 was one of the first !
Tapes recorded on this machine are even more rare than VCord I or II...
(I listed it here which is a little out of the time line sequence, so that it
might be more closely compared with the VCord I & II machines directly
Cartridge Format (1975)
- VR-1000 The Quasar Great Time Machine
Introduced in the US in 1974, the Quasar VR-1000
was one of the first "cassette" type machines introduced. The VX tape cartridge
was specifically designed for this machine and is about the same size as a 3/4-U
cassette - - - (5.75 x 8.3 x 1.75 inches). The tape is 1/2 inch wide, spooled
on 2 reels inside the cartridge that sit atop one another. The cartridge was available
in several lengths and was capable of recording up to 2 hrs of color video with
a VC120. VC20 & VC60 sizes were also popular. Image quality is surprisingly good !
is unique about this machine is the way the tape is "threaded". Instead of
the tape being pulled out of the cassette and threaded around the drum, the drum
as well as audio/control track & erase heads are effectively inserted into the cartridge
! The cartridge actually "drops" into position with the partial pre-formed
loop dropping around the head drum. No auto-threading here..... After inserting
the cartridge and pushing down to seat it, a manually operated, long throw
lever opens the cartridge, unlocks the loop and finishes the loading sequence. To
eject, the lever is slid to the far left whereby the cartridge lock screw is re-tightened,
thus securing the loop in the cartridge. Pushing the lever to the extreme left and
down, ejects the cartridge. Perhaps one of the craziest loading/cartridge
systems ever devised.
Say what you may about it being a "Rube Goldberg"
design - but it works reliably and I've yet too witness a jam or mis-load
the soon to come Beta format, the VX format used only one helical scan head
with a full head wrap design. An innovative feature of the VR-1000, is that
the head drum assembly is held in by a single thumb screw. Head changes require
no tools - simply unscrew the entire assembly - lift it out - drop in the replacement
and tighten down the knurl nut using only finger pressure. No tools whatsoever required
! A 6 year old could easily perform a head replacement ! .......
Truly a great innovation that was sadly forgotten by all the manufacturer's to date.
Another innovation that did find it's way into
future machines, was a dehumidifier or drum heater to overcome the condensation
or "dew" formation on the head drum. The machine had a dew sensor that would
place the transport into a shutdown mode as indicated by a front panel lamp. The
dehumidifier was then turned on manually by a switch behind the front control panel
cover. In many respects, the VR-1000 was ahead of it's time.
The VX format is very rare today and was considered
a commercial flop, despite the excellent quality of video produced for a consumer
format machine of that era. If not for the introduction of Beta at nearly
the same exact time, there's little doubt the format would have been much more successful.
The VR-1000 initially sold under Panasonic's Quasar
reports others being sold under the Matsushita and Panasonic divisions.
All however, came off the same assembly line. Quasar marketing dept. dubbed it as
"The Great Time Machine".
Many of the machines found their way into corporate
environments where the simplicity of dropping in a cartridge without having
to manually thread reel to reel tape (and then having to call the "A/V guy"
for help) was a major selling point.
Though quite rare today, there are still family
as well as corporate videos still residing on VX cartridges hidden away in the dark
depths of corporate archives or home closets.
Introduced in 1975, Beta was the first successful
consumer cassette format that put an end to the reel to reel era.
Later in the video history timeline, Beta 2 and 3 were introduced
(synonymous with lp and slp in Vhs "jargon" respectively). The success was short
Though vastly superior to Vhs in picture quality,
it lost market acceptance mostly through a series of marketing blunders by
Sony when JVC introduced the Vhs format a year later. In a side to side comparison
of Beta vs Vhs , Beta was the obvious winner - hands down - no contest ! So good
was the quality that some broadcasters used it for news gathering as an inexpensive
alternative to 3/4" U-matic. Though not true broadcast quality, it was
the technically superior consumer format of the time, that should have succeeded
much better than it ever did.
Development of a cassette Based Consumer
Sony had been working on a
new cassette based vcr which they hoped would revolutionize the home video market
and literally change the way we watch TV. In that respect, they were 100% successful
A year before Betamax release
(1974), Sony had approached Matsushita and JVC (its two partners for the 3/4" U
Format) about unifying product specifications for better compatibility across product
lines. At that time, Sony had disclosed information regarding the Betamax specifications
and technology to the two companies, apparently thinking they would continue to
be partners in a harmonious business relationship. Nothing much came out of that
meeting as Matsushita (The parent of Panasonic) and JVC delayed any decisions about
unifying standards for that year.
In 1975 Sony released the Betamax. It was an overnight
hit ! Success was short lived however as JVC in 1976 released the first VHS
machine, and took Sony by surprise. When Sony engineers got their hands
on the first units, they were aghast to find out that the early technology they
developed and so freely given away to Matsushita and JVC in their earlier meetings
, was incorporated into that machine. (Guess hard lessons were learned and
Sony never made THAT mistake again !).
Oh well..... not to fear...... it was
obvious to "anyone in the know" that Sony by far had the technically superior format
and had already penetrated the home marketplace. VHS didn't stand a chance.....
(famous last words as it ironically turned out).
and JVC each courted a group of companies throughout 1976 to produce Beta and Vhs
machines in large volumes - the home video revolution was underway ! Sony
visited Matsushita, at the company's head office in Osaka to receive a final decision
on whether Matsushita would produce the Betamax. Samples of both Sony and JVC products
with their covers removed, were placed on the desk. In a side by side comparison,
it was clear that the VHS machine would be easier and less expensive to produce.
Alas, quality was tossed aside in favor of economics for assembly.
In the end, Sony Toshiba, Sanyo
Electric, NEC, Aiwa, and Pioneer supported Sony's Beta format, while Matsushita,
Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Sharp, and Akai Electric accepted JVC's VHS format.
The home electronics industry was thus divided into two warring camps and a bitter
fight for market dominance was about to ensue.
course, Sony had complete confidence in its Beta format for home-use Vcr's. Although
the recording time was only one hour, the cassette size was smaller and the image
quality was clearly superior. Moreover, technology that enabled two-hour recording
while maintaining high picture quality had already been developed. Too little,
too late, as Vhs now offered SP LP & SLP recording times in each machine. On a standard
T-120, up to 6 hours of video could be recorded (albeit at poor quality) while Sony
had yet to make any single machine that would both play & record all 3 beta speeds
- Beta 1, 2 and 3.
Though the picture quality of the Beta format was
clearly superior to the Vhs, the home consumer was driven by one machine that could
not only "do it all" (Vhs sp, lp & slp), but also could put a full length movie
on just one cassette. To the home consumer at the time, quality wasn't an issue.
Video was new to them and the ability of an inexpensive, easy to operate machine
to record and playback anything at all, was fantastic enough in itself and simply
Through a series of marketing blunders, Beta lost out to Vhs in the end. Vhs
simply offered longer recording times and was much better marketed.
Sony tried a technical coup with the introduction
of ED-Beta in 1988. Though not compatible with the original beta formats, it was
a format that was far ahead of its time. The format never gained wide market acceptance
however, and although not obsolete, it is relatively rare and tapes are getting
harder to find..
Though the Beta formats are effectively dead
today, there remains a loyal group of Beta users - almost a cult following (and
I mean this in the kindest way !). There's a number of sites and clubs dedicated
to the Beta format. Be sure to check out
Brief technical differences between
VHS and Beta
The head drum on Beta machines was 21% larger than that
of Vhs. Since they both spin at 29.97 revs/second, Beta's larger diameter head drum
results in a 21% higher video head writing speed.
to 4.86m/s for vhs) This
translates into a larger video bandwidth and
higher fidelity recording.
Wider video tracks than VHS resulting in less crosstalk between
tracks and in higher Signal-to-Noise ratios.
Chroma (color) signal is heterodyned from 3.58MHz (NTSC) down
to 688kHz (The same as 3/4" U-matic) compared to just 629kHz for VHS, resulting
in larger chroma bandwidth and superior color for Beta.
Comparing ED-Beta to S-Vhs and Beta wins hands down again.....
ED Beta's have a peak of 9.3MHz and deviation of 2.5MHz compared to Super-VHS's
measly 7.0MHz and 1.6MHz respectively. This results in 520-line horizontal resolution
for ED Beta compared to only 400-lines for S-VHS.
How Beta and VHS Technically Compare..... (bigger
is better !)
Tape length: tape numbers like L-500 means there
is 500 feet of tape
ED Beta tapes are specified as "EL-###." ie: An EL-500 tape is the same length and
recording time as an L-500 tape.
JVC introduced the VHS
format in 1976 to go head to head with Sony's successful Betamax. Although
inferior in image quality to BetaMax, it offered 2 hour recording time on a larger
T-120 cassette, which was a major factor to the cost conscious home consumer - -
- plus, an entire movie could be recorded onto one cassette. Ironically, much
of the technology and engineering concepts for this format were originally developed
by Sony, and offered for free to JVC. Guess hard lessons were learned, as Sony never
made that mistake again !
Using sheer numbers as
the sole metric, VHS is by far the winner and quickly became the premiere
consumer format and another major landmark in video history !
VHS-C was nothing more
than a smaller physical cassette size to allow for more compact camcorder design
which came along somewhat later in the timeline. A simple adapter allows Vhs-C cassettes
to be played back or recorded in any standard full size Vhs machine.
The Laserdisc made it's
US debut in 1977. The 12" discs look much like an overgrown DVD on steroids.
It might make one believe that it's a completely digital format. But instead, video
is recorded in an analog format while audio is recorded in separate digital tracks
adjacent to the video. Video resolution was an amazing 425 lines and incredibly
clean. Compare that to VHS which is only 240 lines and nothing short of "filthy".
What might seem surprising, is that In a side to side comparison between Laserdisc
and today's state of the art DVD, the difference in picture quality albeit, is noticeable
but only very slight. Unless you see them literally side by side on a high quality
monitors, you probably won't notice the difference !
The audio is a different
story however..... What might seem surprising, is that listening in 2-channel
stereo, laserdisc audio always sounds richer and fuller than its much newer DVD
counterpart. You would not imagining it.... the LaserDisc DOES have much better audio
than a modern DVD ! ...... The reason: DVD audio is highly compressed whereas laserdisc
audio is not compressed at all !
Each 12 inch disc can
store 1 hour of analog video per side in CLV mode, or only 30 minutes (36 min for
PAL) in CAV mode. Audio is recorded as a stereo PCM digital audio track (or
occasionally DTS), and in the case of NTSC discs, include two additional mono analog
audio tracks, though most producers never took advantage of them. There was no Macrovision®
or region encoding of the Laserdiscs as is sadly the case in DVD's.
Discs came in two "flavors"....
Those recorded in CLV mode where CLV is the mnemonic for Constant Linear Velocity.
The gist of CLV is that the angular velocity varies as you read from different parts
of the disc, so that the data passes the laser pickup at a constant rate. Thus the
disc rpm changes to keep a constant bit rate in CLV mode. CAV (Constant Angular
Velocity) recorded discs by comparison, spin at a constant rpm , meaning the data
on the outer edge of the disk goes by the laser pickup detector faster than the
data on the inner tracks. All but the very earliest Laserdisc players supported
both formats. CAV recorded disks allowed slo-motion as well as freeze frame and
also offered slightly better picture quality, though the improvement in image quality
was barely noticeable over CLV discs.
The Legacy of the Laserdisc
The introduction of DVD has effectively destroyed the market for laserdiscs in the
United States. This is a sad end to a format that was technically many years ahead
of it's time. The Laserdisc never achieved the market penetration it should have,
owing to the high cost of a movie (Typically $35 - - - and that was in 1980 dollars
!) Part of the reason for the high cost was the media itself. Laserdiscs are
heavy ! Though higher manufacturing costs were partly to blame, most of the high cost however was actually attributable to the short
sightedness of the recording industry itself. The industry kept the price artificially high
to make up for their anticipated losses at the box office. In retrospect, they ended
up shooting themselves in the foot ..... (reminds me of the hilarious 60's
rock tune "The Ballad of Irving" with the lyrics:
was sittin' there twirlin' his gun around,
And butterfingers Irving gunned himself down!"..... The hundred forty second
fastest gun in the West !.....
so, laserdisc was the definitive collector's medium of choice for high resolution
video. There are approximately 15,000 movie titles recorded on Laserdisc, and some
of the finest archive editions of classic movies reside only on LD, many of which
may never be reproduced on DVD due to rights issues and limited potential market.
Plus, unlike the current region-blocked DVD players, any laserdisc player purchased
in the United States will be compatible with NTSC discs imported from Japan or Hong
Kong, both of which also had very active laserdisc markets.
Think that clunky Laserdisc player & those old 12" laserdiscs you have kicking
around collecting dust are obsolete and best tossed in the local landfill ?
........... Well, think again !..... Though new titles are no longer being
released on LD, there is a growing group of Laserdisc enthusiasts and collectors
who are keeping this wonderful old format alive..... it's far from dead, and
is actually making something of a re-birth !
Not bad for a commercial product released in 1977 !
Many firms are boasting digital transfer of LaserDisc Video to DVD. It's nothing
much more than marketing "hype", or they simply have no clue as to how the video
is actually recorded on a LaserDisc. Sounds great, but is completely misleading,
as the video on a LaserDisc is recorded solely as an analog signal !
1978 the 1" Type C format was a crucial landmark in broadcast video
history. This was a high end broadcast format that
evolved from 1" Type A, and ended up replacing 2" Quadruplex.
Instead of 4 heads used
for reading/writing in the Quad machines, only one head was used to read/write the
video in one full helical sweep. The design encompassed an Omega wrap,
where the tape wrapped nearly around the head drum...This made it possible to obtain smooth slow motion,
picture shuttle and a viewable still frame, none of which were possible in the Quadruplex
1 inch Type C quickly became
the de-facto standard in the broadcast and high end production markets. All network
feeds were soon coming off 1" type C, and all but the smallest TV stations had at
least several. The ideal editing format of its time; it would withstand multiple
generations incurred in creating multi-layered effects.
Evolving technology plus
high cost of its tape stock resulted in it's demise. (A 1 hr reel of Ampex
tape cost approx. $120 (and that was in 1980 dollars !). This format
was widely used by the broadcast industry into the early 1990's
BetaCam ultimately replaced
1 inch type C due to its' low media costs and lightweight compact design, which
made it ideally suited for ENG and EFP applications.
To this day, 1" inch Type
C by far, offered the highest image quality of all the analog formats.
Sony Mavica -
Though not in the strictest sense a
video camera, the Mavica with it's own unique format, was the first camera
to employ a CCD. It was dubbed the MVC (Magnetic Video Camera).
It represented the very first commercially successful CCD (Charge Coupled
Device) camera to break away from traditional film cameras.
The first generation Mavica's recorded
off to a 2 inch floppy disc (not a standard 3" common today) to record the
images... This was well before the days of flash memory, so images
were recorded on a built in floppy drive... This 2 inch floppy disc later
came to be known as the Video Floppy - (VF).
Although the first generation Mavica's had a
CCD sensor, they were not entirely digital. In fact; other than the CCD
sensor, there was nothing "digital" about them ! The output of the CCD was
immediately converted to an analog signal, or more accurately; a composite video
signal. The saved pictures were viewed on a television screen. There
was nothing digital about the way the images were stored on the floppy disc
either. In that sense, the early Mavica's were something unique and
were more similar to a single frame video camera than what one consider to be a
digital picture camera of today... Thus, it's mention here as a part
of video history.
The Mavica was quite the rage. No
waiting for the film to be processed nor expensive Polaroid film to purchase !
Course the resolution paled in comparison to any film camera of the day, but the
Mavica was "cutting edge stuff" and a must have to any technoid...
A single VF Mavipak 2 inch disc could hold up
to 50 images. Each image was recorded on it's own dedicated concentric
track on the floppy drive as an analog composite video signal. Resolution of the
CCD was 570x490 pixels. Shutter speed was fixed at 1/60th of a second.
The next generation increased the pixel
resolution to 720,000 pixels; up from 280,000 pixels in the first models... The
new floppy format was known as Hi-VF... It was also backwards
compatible with the original VF discs
For whatever reason, Sony clung to the Mavica
name for many years even although future generations of the Mavica went
completely digital and did not resemble the first generation Mavica's in the
The M format introduced
by RCA and Panasonic, was the first true component system and RCA responsible
for much of it's design won an Emmy Award for technical achievement.
Despite that, the M format later dubbed the MI format, never caught on...
The timing was just plain bad as RCA decided just after to product was
released to get out of the broadcast business. In the meantime,
Panasonic made little effort to market it...
The M format later
dubbed the MI format, used standard VHS
cassettes, but unlike a T-120 VHS cassette that would record for 2 hrs in SP mode
on a VHS deck, the MI format only recorded for 20 minutes using that same tape.
It really moved tape at 8 inches per second !
Though of the same quality
as that of BetaCam and less expensive, the format never caught on and is considered
quite rare and on the verge of extinction.
The M format tapes looks
at first appearance as a standard VHS tape (that's because it is !)
and much footage was lost by trying to play them in a VHS machine. Naturally, the
tape wouldn't play and was sadly discarded in the mistaken belief it was a bad tape.
The AU-100 pictured here on the left, is a camera
dockable VCR. It was record only... Playback required an AU-300 or
the RCA HR-2 editing machine..
Pictured to the right is the RCA HR-2
player/editing deck. It was designed and
manufactured by RCA. Panasonic
also re-branded the HR-2 and sold it under their name as the AU-300. Other
than the logo, that was the only difference.. All machines came off
RCA manufacturing line.
By 1985, dramatic improvements
were made to the format including the use of metal particle tape. The improvements
resulted in the introduction of MII (M-2) which was far more successful than MI.
But even that's not saying much, as MII was never all that successful either !
the MI format is extremely rare..
A professional format widely
adopted by the broadcast industry. It's claim to fame so to speak was it's true
component video recording technique that offered substantial improvement in bandwidth,
signal to noise ratios and the virtual elimination of "chroma crawl" found in the
earlier "color under" heterodyne formats such as 3/4-U.
It quickly became
the standard news gathering format of choice among professionals.
The BetaCam format led to the demise
of One Inch Type C.
Funai - Technicolor CVC (1984)
Funai introduced the Compact
Video Cassette (CVC) format in 1984. The small cassette size enabled a compact portable
deck design. The format however was initially limited to a 30 minute recording time
and used V30 CVC cassettes which was adequate for field recording but somewhat limited
for situations not requiring portability. The cassettes used 1/4" tape, which was
more prone to dropouts than wider tape formats. Lower head writing speeds
owing to a smaller head drum, resulted in lower signal to noise ratios.
Even so, picture quality was similar to that of
early VHS machines .
The tape cassettes for
the day were wonderfully small: measuring about 4.124" x 2.625" x .5"
high - or roughly the same size as a standard day compact audio cassette. Thus at
first glance, the cassettes are sometimes confused with standard audio compact cassettes
as they are of similar size and appearance.
All CVC machines were manufactured
by Funai. Many models were re-badged and sold under the Technicolor label.
Head Helical Scan
1.26 ips (32.1 mm/sec)
43 dB (Y channel)
Audio Freq Response: 100Hz to 8 kHz
8mm also known as Video8 (1984)
Sony introduced this
format in 1984. It was a low bandwidth consumer format having 240 lines of
resolution - the same as VHS.
The big advantage of this format was it's compact size - only 2 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches
- less than half the size of a standard VHS cassette. This made possible the development
of highly compact camcorders.
Sony apparently also decided to capitalize
on the name recognition of 8mm which sounded much like the much older 8mm movie
film familiar to consumers. Unfortunately, this led to mass confusion in the
marketplace that lingers to this day. 8mm film and 8mm video are two completely
Development of this compact format paved the way for
the small lightweight camcorders soon to follow.
Unlike VHS or Beta, the
8mm analog format had no separate linear control track. Instead, there is a low
frequency Tracking Pilot signal interleaved on the video tracks.
The plus side of this,
is that the Control Pilot is integrally locked to the video tracks and thus no tracking
control is provided or necessary. (as long as the tape hasn't been
The downside to this
scheme is that should the tape have
sustained damaged for example in a mis-aligned deck, then the Pilot
Tracking reference relative to the actual position on tape is lost, and proper tracking can never again be realized without
specialized recovery techniques.
Video8 laid the
groundwork for later to come, the much improved Hi8 format.
Sony introduced SuperBeta
at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show with the "new high-end SL-HF900".
It offered a marginal increase in resolution to 285 lines, but at the time was superior
to anything else in the low end consumer marketplace.
Interesting to note that
the SL-HF900 was the very first consumer VCR with a jog/shuttle knob !
This format was introduced
in 1985 by Panasonic Broadcast Systems to go head to head with Sony in the professional
The M-II format was an
enhancement to the M format, by using 1/2 inch metal particle tape - the same size
as today's VHS cassettes. In fact, the cassettes themselves had the identical dimensions
to that of standard VHS, though the similarities ended there.
It was used extensively
at NBC but never garnered wide acceptance due to fierce competition from Sony with
their established and highly successful BetaCam line.
Sony had pulled off a marketing coup
by instilling the idea into prospective buyers (the post-production houses) that
if you didn't have BetaCam, that somehow you were not a professional. It
was pure unadulterated marketing BS... but it worked !
Identical to BetaCam in
many ways, since it also was a professional analog component format...
Ironically, image quality specs were actually
slightly superior to that of BetaCam SP. An excellent quality broadcast format that
simply came along a little too late and was never properly marketed to gain wide market share.
Once most of the production houses
went with BetaCam, that was the final nail in the coffin for MII.
Sad in a way.... Panasonic never
lost the battle because of poor price/performance reasons... in fact; they
actually excelled using that metric...
Bottom line is that they were simply
out marketed... (seems to be a recurring theme....)
An enhancement to the original
BetaCam format, It offered increased bandwidth and the ability to record on metal
particle tape compared to the oxide tape used by the standard BetaCam format. The
format was used in virtually all TV stations and was popular right up to the end
of the 90's when digital formats were introduced. SP machines were backwards compatible
with standard BetaCam. Ampex also marketed BetaCam-SP machines with the CVR
designation. They were actually re-badged Sony machines.
Today's digital formats
- DVCAM for example, offers better quality at a much reduced price. Even so, well
used (read: half dead) BetaCam SP machines are commanding nothing short of outrageous
prices even on eBay. From a technical as well as cost - benefit standpoint,
It almost defies logic....
Several factors account for the format successfully clinging on ....
Many post production houses
are locked in to the BetaCam SP format and can't afford to take the expensive plunge
of going all digital all at once.
Ad agencies (who "butter the production house's bread") have
historically been slow as molasses to adopt and accept any new technology - especially
(and ironically) even if it is less expensive. Agencies tend to judge quality by
it's price tag and "snob appeal" rather than by any measure of technical merit.
Agencies resisted the switch from quad to the superior 1 inch Type C format for
as long as possible - and equally so, with the transition from 1" Type C to BetaCam.
Today, nothing much has changed.... They are still digging
in their heels - kicking , screaming and bemoaning the new vastly superior DV formats.
They're a nervous lot, and quite unwilling to tamper with anything that's worked
well in the past. I have little doubt that some are still lamenting the downfall
of the vacuum tube....
Also, Sony® has no intention of killing off it's highly
lucrative "cash cow" - and who could blame them ! BetaCam SP has a huge
installed base plus "snob appeal" - a winning combination and a marketing
department's dream come true. Even so, Sony sees the ensuing
inevitable. To keep BetaCam alive, Sony introduced Digital BetaCam also called DigiBeta) which (despite the name) isn't a variation of
BetaCam at all, but rather a new compressed digital format. In reality, the
new format is much closer and akin to DVCAM or DVCPRO than it is to BetaCam, but
anything that has a BetaCam badge will command a much higher price due solely to
the "snob appeal" factor.
Video companies being themselves deeply involved in the "Image
Business", are acutely sensitive to having the most recognized name in professional
hardware (sometimes at the expense of not embracing superior technology).
The writing is on the wall
however. With advances in technology already resulting in vastly superior
performance and price considerations, it's merely a matter of time before BetaCam
SP goes the way of 1 inch Type C.
Don't read this wrong however:
BetaCam-SP was in my opinion, (and rightfully so).... Sony's most successful
professional broadcast format to date.
Sony® in 1986 introduced
the SP (Superior Performance) enhancements to the 3/4" U-matic format in an attempt
to keep the highly successful, long running format alive.
Resolution was increased
by extending the FM carrier and using a higher energy tape that resulted in 330
lines as opposed to the original 240 lines. Though S-Vhs had greater resolution
(400 lines) the 3/4-U format was technically the superior format, having a greater
s/n ratio particularly in the chroma channel.
3/4-U-SP became the format
of choice for the professional Industrial user.
Though not anywhere's near
high end broadcast standards, the 3/4-Umatic format was perhaps the most successful
format of all time, considering the relatively narrow video market in that period...
When video was first starting to "explode", 3/4" U-matic owing to it's relatively
low cost / high performance ratio, became the most coveted of formats other than
broadcast Quad or the later 1" Type C... No other format considering
the potential market, ever garnered such a deep penetration.
U-Matic captured nearly 100% of the industrial market
and initially a solid 70% of the broadcast ENG market for News acquisition.
It even made it's way down to the high end consumer market who preferred something
better than VHS. Though VHS far surpassed 3/4 U-matic in terms of
raw numbers sold, 3/4 U-Matic remains the undisputed champ in terms of penetration
of its' potential market !
S-VHS was soon to follow.. But S-VHS though
offering superior resolution, could not compete with 3/4-Umatic's superior signal
to noise ratios - especially in the chroma channel. In simple terms: 3rd generation
3/4 U-matic, simply held up better & looked cleaner than 3rd generation S-VHS.
(There's more to video specs to be considered, than just raw resolution).
Despite 3/4-Umatic initially being 2 to 3 times the price of S-VHS, the
technical savvy broadcast and industrial users "voted with their wallets " and
stayed with 3/4-U until BetaCam came along.
As an enhancement to the
VHS format, JVC introduced the S-VHS format in 1987. It offered increased bandwidth
both by expanding the FM carrier frequency and thru the use of metal particle tape.
Though "hyped" by overzealous
marketing types as a true component system, it was in fact only a "quasi" component
format. The video signal was was separated into only two components: Y (luminance)
and C (chrominance). BetaCam & MII by comparison, were true component recording
systems. Signals in both those truly professional component formats, were separated
& recorded as Y, R-Y and B-Y.
Though resolution was increased
to 400 lines, the signal to noise ratio, especially in the chroma channel was deplorable
by professional standards. Thus, it was marketed and forever relegated to being
a high end consumer format. Though S-VHS editing systems came along, they were never
accepted by the professional community, due to the poor signal to noise ratios with
resulting high multi-generation losses.
Nevertheless, S-VHS editors
were downright inexpensive compared to 3/4" (3/4" tape stock alone was $34/hr by
comparison - and that being in 1977 dollars) and S-VHS found it's niche in the low
end industrial and home based business markets. It was very popular for wedding
Later, it went on to become
a popular consumer format for those that desired something better than standard
The development of the
consumer digital formats such as Digital8 and MiniDV spelled it's slow demise.
But like all 1/2" analog formats, it is quite robust..... far more so than it's
newer digital counterparts. Most S-VHS tapes like it's VHS "brothers", survived
even the ravages of "Katrina".
Amazingly, we are still
able to recover most VHS & S-VHS even today - more than a year later......
Most MiniDV and Digital8 Katrina damaged tapes are now unrecoverable. To
say that VHS/S-VHS is a robust format, is perhaps a gross understatement...
Sony demonstrated it's
new ED (Extended definition) Beta format in a last ditch effort to salvage the original
It was a half hearted attempt
however (at least from a marketing perspective), as should it have been too successful,
the sales could potentially bite into their professional markets..
(the format was that good !)
This format was years if
not a full decade ahead of it's time - offering 520 lines of video resolution using metal
particle tape. In the video history timeline, NOTHING from that period could even come close ! Though named
ED-Beta, the ED format however, is not compatible with Beta or SuperBeta. In reality,
it's so different than Betamax, that It really should be considered a different
format. ED Beta was targeted at the high end of the consumer/semi-pro
format markets, though just as easily could have been targeted at the broadcast ENG marketplace.
Though no longer in use, it offered superb quality. The format never made wide in-roads
into the marketplace and is considered relatively rare today.
So far advanced was the
format, that it took another 7 years until the introduction of MiniDV before anything
better in the consumer marketplace came along to technically surpass it.
The only weakness (if it
could be called that) to
the ED Beta System was not the format itself, but rather for the first time, the
resolution capability of the recorder, surpassed the resolution of the
consumer video cameras of the day ! The weakest link was the
quality that could be output from the video camera used !
It's failure was due to
in large part to Sony's not wanting it to compete with it's lucrative broadcast ENG acquisition
formats, all the while being positioned out of the price range of the general consumer.
My personal opinion is that it could have easily become the
S-VHS "Dragon Slayer" - not only of S-VHS, but also Sony's later 8mm and even Hi8
formats . Alas, Sony management apparently decided it was far more important
to protect it's own lucrative "turf" , than to widely promote or price position
ED Beta .
Perhaps a general commentary, but history has shown that consumers will always opt
for smaller size and "wiz-bang" useless features over image quality.
Or as H L Menckin ( a world renowned economist) always stated: " No one has
EVER gone broke by underestimating the taste of the American public"
In light of today's infomercials and advertising in general, I have little doubt
to suspect the validity of his observation.........
1989 marked the year
in history that Sony introduced the Hi8 format.
Compared to it's 8mm
predecessor, the Hi8 format achieved 400 lines of resolution. Hi8 machines were
backwards compatible with the 8mm format and had slightly better image quality
than S-VHS which soon led to the development of Hi8 editing systems.
The Hi8 Metal Particle
cassettes were almost 1/2 the size of VHS, measuring a paltry 2.5 by 3.75 inches
and even smaller than the VHS-C cassettes. This paved the way for high
quality yet extremely compact and light weight camcorders, where the attributes
of small size and light weight, far outweighed
Though not the quality
of today's DV or Digital8, the quality is perfectly acceptable for all but the
most discriminating home video consumer. Sony subsequently manufactured a long
list of quality Hi8 camcorders that are still common today.
The Hi8 Format is very
similar to standard 8. The main difference being that the FM deviation was increased
in the Hi8 format in order that more resolution could be realized in the luminance
known as the DVC format, this was the first widely accepted digital format to
make in-roads into the home market.
format uses 1/4" tape and records video at a standard 5:1 compression ratio.
This technology formed the basis for the MiniDV, DVCAM and DVCPRO formats used
by both consumers & professionals.
boasts 500 lines of resolution with true digital image quality.
The term "DV", merely identifies the form
structure of the data stream....... In fact: MiniDV and DVCAM have identical
video data steams. How they are laid out on tape however, are quite
MiniDV uses the same
exact DV format, but simply records on a smaller cassette using a smaller 10
micron track pitch (in essence: the distance between tracks) when recorded in
standard SP mode.
In fact; there is little
difference between the consumer MiniDV format and the professional DVCAM format.
In fact; the video data streams themselves, are identical !
Read more on the DVCAM
professional user required slightly better specs and a more reliable format
than did the consumer using the DV or MiniDV format. To better handle the rigors
of editing, track width was increased to 15 microns as compared to MiniDV's
10 microns, resulting in more precise editing.
DV genre to which MiniDV belongs, MiniDV supports only audio unlock mode, DVCAM
instead, employs lock mode audio sampling where the the audio sampling frequency
is synchronized or "locked" to the video sampling clock. Lock mode maintains
high compatibility with the higher formats and yields smoother transitions during
audio editing. (Click
here to learn more about Lock Mode).... Most DVCAM
decks are backwards compatible with MiniDV but only in the SP mode.
format is marketed and regarded as a true professional format.
DVCAM machines are backward compatible with MiniDV SP tapes, but not those
recorded in LP (Long Play) mode. Note however,
that there are some critical differences between MiniDV and DVCAM.
to read more.....
format records the same data stream as MiniDV and DVCAM, and for practical purposes
the video DataStream is technically the same as the DV or MiniDV formats.
only real difference is that Sony does this on less expensive 8mm tape. A 120
min 8mm cassette will hold up to 1 hour of Digital8 video.
A major benefit to
selecting the Digital8 format, is that in addition to offering identical quality
to that of MiniDV, most Digital8 camcorders or decks offer full backwards playback
compatibility with the earlier Video8 (8mm) or Hi8 formats. One machine will
playback all three 8mm formats !
(Quite versatile ! - &
apparently Sony learned an important lesson after it's Betamax debacle).
VHS D-VHS (2001)
JVC (the company that developed the
original VHS format) introduced Digital VHS (D-VHS). Unlike many other
digital formats, D-VHS is totally uncompressed - yielding superb High Definition
images twice the resolution of DVD. Being uncompressed, motion artifacts
and mosaic banding will be things of the past. File sizes aren't
small however.... A 60 minute program will eat up 150 Gigabytes
of hard drive space. The huge file sizes will make "movie swapping" over
the net impractical - even with high bandwidth connections (at least here in
To thwart machine to machine copies
being made, a new Macrovision copy protection scheme known as High Definition
Copy Protection (HDCP) system was developed by JVC, which is similar in function
to the Content Scrambling System (CSS) on a DVD.
As a side benefit, D-VHS machines will also be backwards
compatible with standard VHS decks, so you'll still be able
to play your old VHS tapes (at least til they eventually
Like any other tape based format, magnetic
tape is not an archival format. However, perfect digital
copies can be made every 5 years or so onto new media.
D-VHS may give the reigning DVD and even emerging Blue
Ray DVD technology a run for its' money, as pure uncompressed
High Definition Digital Video has to be seen to be fully
appreciated. The battle lines are drawn !
However, until High Definition TV's become the "norm",
D-VHS might be a late comer in the bloody format wars.
Since originally writing this, D-VHS has clearly lost out to the
likes of Blue-Ray. D-VHS is far the superior
format in terms of image quality, but as usual, that was
not enough to make it a winner in the eyes of the
consumer. Part of the problem in my opinion was the VHS
name that carried with it the connotation of it being
old technology. It really was a modern digital format on
par with the latest DV formats, and using half inch
video tape made it a very robust format. Close to
the quality and robustness of DigiBeta, but for much -
- behind the scenes
Here it is towards
the end of June, 2003 and we're finally "getting around" to updating some of
our equipment images. The wildflowers here in Maine are in full swing (along
with the black flies) and what better "studio" to serve as a backdrop - black
All the hard drives
were loaded with video and everything is now tied up for the day doing DVD burns.
Alas, an unexpected "free" day to get it all done.
So, got out the garden
tractor - hooked up the cart and drove off to the back pasture with equipment
riding in tow behind. Haying begins in another 3 weeks up here, so it's
either do it now or wait til early next summer again..... (and I've been
putting this off for too long already).
So got done what we
could get done in the one day allotted, but still have more to get. Naturally,
everything seems to take much longer than planned.
If anyone is expecting
images of the Quads, VPR-1 and VPR-2B 1" machines against a wildflower backdrop,
then you'll have to do it yourself ! I am NOT dragging
those back there !
A vast wealth
of priceless video resides especially on the old historical formats.
The history of video continues
to evolve now with Blu- Ray, Hard Disk Drive & Solid State Camcorders
I suppose this page will always
be a work in progress..
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June 27, 2011
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