Category: Video

U-matic SP (1986 – late 1990s)

U-matic SP (Superior Performance) was a variant of the U-matic video cassette format, and was introduced by Sony in 1986. It used chrome tape and offered an improvement in performance over previous generations of U-matic (low-band and high-band) with a a horizontal resolution of 330 lines, a better signal to noise ratio, and Dolby C noise reduction.

Like previous generations of U-matic, the SP variant was analogue and used ¾-inch tape. SP tapes can be played on a standard U-matic deck, albeit with a loss in quality.

Two sizes of U-matic SP tape were available, with the smaller one aimed at the electronic news gathering market.

U-matic tape was replaced in broadcast applications by Sony’s own Betacam family of video cassette formats in the 1980s, and for other applications in the 1990s.

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MovieCD (1997 – late 1990s)

MovieCD was a CD-ROM format for video, introduced by Sirius Publishing Inc. in early 1997, that allowed people to view full-length movies on their Windows PC or laptop using a standard CD-ROM drive.

MovieCDs could be played on PCs running Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 without the need for any additional hardware or software, and the PC hardware requirements were fairly modest. The necessary software and the MotionPixels codec were on the discs themselves and installed automatically.

Each disc could hold up to 45 minutes of video, so two or sometimes three discs were necessary for longer films. The resolution was 320×236 pixels, and the format promised ‘near-TV quality’ images (though of course, the format could only be played on a PC – there were no set-top MovieCD players available).

Over 100 titles were available on the MovieCD format including anime, music concerts and feature films. It competed with Video CD and the newly launched DVD-Video, and no version of MovieCD was developed for versions of Windows beyond Windows 95. It was not a commercial success and disappeared after a few years.

Using the discs on a post-Windows 98 system can cause problems with other video and audio software.

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S-VHS-C (1987 – early 2000s)

S-VHS-C (Super VHS Compact) was the compact version of S-VHS tape for use in analogue consumer camcorders.

It was introduced by JVC in 1987, and offered a horizontal resolution of about 400 lines over VHS-C‘s 240 lines, on tapes that could hold 30 or 45 minutes at standard speed.

The tapes could be placed in an adaptor and played back in an S-VHS deck, but it needed to be an S-VHS adaptor as the adaptor for VHS-C cassettes was differently notched to identify the tape as S-VHS. S-VHS-C tapes cannot be played back in a normal VHS machine even with an adaptor.

S-VHS-C competed with Hi8, which offered a comparable level of quality, but few S-VHS-C camcorder models were available.

No digital version was introduced (unlike full-size VHS with its D-VHS variant, and Hi8 with Digital8) and it was made obsolete by smaller digital formats like MiniDV, and eventually hard-drive recorders.

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SuperBeta (1985 – 1988)

SuperBeta (sometimes called High Band) was a development of the consumer Betamax video cassette format, and was introduced by Sony in 1985. A few other manufacturers also made SuperBeta machines, including NEC, Sanyo and Radio Shack.

SuperBeta increased the horizonal resolution from 240 to 290 lines (a big improvement, but still lower resolution than LaserDisc). In addition, some machines could record at a faster tape speed known as Beta-Is (4cm per second), the same speed as the original Beta-I mode on the first Betamax machines, for even higher quality.

Any Betamax tape could be used on a SuperBeta machine, but high quality tapes such as Sony’s PRO-X tapes were available to take full advantage of the SuperBeta’s higher quality in Super Beta Pro mode. Tapes recorded on a SuperBeta machine could be played without any problems in Beta Hi-Fi machines, but earlier Betamax VCRs showed some highlight streaking. No SuperBeta pre-recorded cassettes appear to have been released.

Shortly afterwards, JVC countered with the introduction of VHS HQ with a small increase in video quality, and in 1987 introduced the even higher-quality S-VHS.

By 1986, the market share of Betamax was down to 7.5% in the UK, and only one SuperBeta machine was marketed in the UK (the SL-HF950, which had the ‘linear skate’ cassette loading system). By 1988 Sony recognised the video format war was over and began producing VHS video recorders, marking the end of Betamax in the UK and Europe. However, Betamax still had it supporters and Sony continued to produce Betamax recorders in the US until 1993, and in Japan until 2002. In 2016, Sony ceased production of Betamax tapes.

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DVCPRO (1995 – early 2010s)

DVCPRO (also known as DVCPRO25 or D-7) is a variation of the DV format, and was introduced by Panasonic in 1995 for professional and broadcast use.

In common with all DV formats, DVCPRO uses tape that is ¼-inch (6.35 mm) wide, but DVCPRO uses metal particle (MP) tape rather than metal evaporate. DVCPRO also adds an analogue audio cue track and a control track to make editing easier.

DVCPRO50 was introduced in 1997 and used two DV codecs in parallel, doubling the data rate over the original DVCPRO to 50 Mbps. DVCPRO50 decks can use DVCPRO tapes, but the tape is run at twice the speed so capacity is halved.

In 2000, Panasonic launched DVCPRO HD for high-definition recording. This had a data rate of 100 Mbps and competed with Sony’s HDCAM.

Panasonic stopped selling equipment using video tape around 2013.

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Interactive DVD (1998 – )

Interactive DVDs (sometimes also known as DVD games, DVD Interactive or DVDi) allow the playing of games on DVD-Video players without the need for a computer or video game console, or any additional hardware (though some titles come with additional hardware such as buzzers).

The interactive DVD make use of the rudimentary interactivity features built-in to DVD-Video players that allow, for example, navigation through menus. The ability to skip to any point on the DVD instead of having to move through the video in a linear fashion as on VHS video recorders is also a major factor in making interactive DVDs practical.

The first interactive DVD game was Dragon’s Lair released in 1998, and a development of an older LaserDisc based game.

From 2001, DVD versions of board games and television quiz shows began to be released.

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EIAJ-2 (1972 – late 1970s)

EIAJ-2 was a video tape format developed by the Electronic Industries Association of Japan and sold by Matsushita under the National or Panasonic brands, and also by Hitachi. The format is also referred to as Omnivision. It was introduced around 1972, as Billboard magazine refers to it being under development in August 1972, and in February 1973, Panasonic re-emphasised its commitment to the format.

It was a development of the open reel EIAJ-1 standard and used the same ½-inch tape and recording specifications. However, the tape was enclosed in a cartridge to do away with the need for manually threading it, but unlike later video cassette formats the take-up reel is enclosed within the video recorder so the cartridge needed to be rewound before the cartridge could be removed from the machine.

EIAJ-2 offered colour recording on 30 minute cartridges (a 60 minute cartridge came later, and appears to be rare) and was used in the industrial, educational and consumer markets.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 5

Nintendo Game Boy Advance Video (2004 – 2007)

Game Boy Advance Video was a means of watching video on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance handheld game console and was first introduced in 2004. The video came on ROM cartridges that looked similar to standard Game Paks, except they were always light grey and had a film perforation design on the label.

The Video Paks offered digital video with a resolution of 240 x 160 and full colour, but due to the low capacity of the cartridges the video was very compressed and of poor quality. The cartridges could also be used in the Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Micro, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo DS Lite systems. They could not be played on the Game Boy Player add-on for the Nintendo Game Cube (the low resolution would have become even more apparent on a television screen) because the Game Boy Player could be attached to a VCR or DVD recorder, so the ability to play video was disabled to prevent illegal copying of Game Boy Video material.

Content was mostly in the form of cartoons from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, and also by Nintendo themselves with the Pokemon cartoons. Some full-length animated feature films were released by DreamWorks Animation, namely Shark Tale, Shrek, and Shrek 2. Around 25 cartridges were released, with the last ones released in 2007.

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Betacam SP (1986 – 2001)

Betacam SP (Superior Performance) was an analogue broadcast video cassette format, introduced in 1986 as a improvement on the original Betacam.

It used metal-formulated tape and offered increased horizontal resolution of 340 lines. Betacam SP became the industry standard for most TV stations and high-end production houses until the late 1990s.

Betacam SP came in two sizes, with the S-size based on the original Betacam shell and intended for use in camcorders, and the new L-size intended for video editing machines. Whereas Betacam was limited to 30 minutes recording time on the S-size cassettes, the L-size Betacam SP cassette allowed for up to 90 minutes.

A digital version, Digital Betacam was launched in 1993, and subsequently, Betacam SX was launched in 1996 as a cheaper digital alternative.

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Preservation / Migration

MII (1986 – early 1990s)

MII (pronounced as M 2) was an analogue videocassette format introduced by Panasonic in 1986 for professional use, to compete with Sony’s Betacam SP format.

MII was a development of the M format, which was originally derived from VHS, and it used ½ inch wide metal-formulated tape and component video recording.

Two sizes of MII cassette were available. The larger one was similar to a VHS cassette in size and had either a 60 or 90 minute recording time, and the smaller version provided 20 minutes.

MII had more success in the marketplace than its predecessor M, but MII suffered from poor marketing and customer support, and the machines gained a reputation for being less robust than those for Betacam SP.

It was used by a few UK television companies until the early 1990s, including Thames Television and TV-am. It was also used by NBC and PBS in the US, but NBC dropped it in the early 1990s in favour of the digital Sony D2 format.

The tape used in MII cassettes is very thin, and if stored badly can become mouldy and hence prone to tearing.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 3obsolescence 5