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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U-matic S (1974 – 1990s)

U-matic S (for ‘Small’) was a smaller size of U-matic video tape cassette, introduced in 1974 for use in compact recording decks by television news crews.

Early top-load U-matic decks accept the smaller cassettes only with the aid of an adapter. Later, front-load decks can accept S-format tapes directly, as the tapes have a slot on the underside that rides along a tab. U-matic S tapes generally had recording times of no more than 20 minutes, though 30-minute S tapes were also available using thinner tape.

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D1 (1987 – 1990s)

Sony’s D1 was the first digital videotape format, introduced in 1987.

D1 stores uncompressed digitised component video, with very high picture quality and was most popular in high-end graphic and animation production despite being very expensive. It uses ¾-inch tape, with a maximum record time of 94 minutes.

Sony’s Digital Betacam format, introduced in 1993, also used component video and became the defacto standard-definition broadcast format due to its affordability. But even after Digital Betacam was wide spread, the pure component, uncompressed nature of D1 was specified by major studios and commercial producers as the format of choice until HD took effect.

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LEO tape (1958 – 1981)

The LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) was a series of mainframe computer systems, first used in 1951.

LEO was the first computer system used for commercial business applications, initially for J. Lyon and Co., and later for other companies when LEO systems were marketed after 1954.

Initially, punched tape and punched cards were used for input and output, with ¾-inch magnetic tape being used later on the LEO II series.

LEO series computers were still in use until 1981 by the GPO.

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SD1 (1990s – 2000s)

SD1 was a magnetic tape cassette data storage format introduced by Sony. It used ¾-inch wide tape, which was written and read with a helical scan process.

It came in two sizes, L (large) with a capacity of 100 GB on 1330 meters of tape, and M (medium) with a capacity of 40 GB on 604 meters of tape.

SD1 tape was ANSI ID-1 format compliant for the goal of data interchangeability.

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Video 2000 / Video Compact Cassette (1979 – 1988)

Video 2000 was a videotape format developed for domestic use by Philips and Grundig, replacing their VCR/SVR formats. It was released in 1979 and production ended in 1988. It was only available in Europe, Brazil and Argentina.

Philips used the name Video Compact Cassette (VCC) for the tapes, to compliment their Compact Cassette for audio, but the format was marketed as Video 2000.

Unlike Betamax or VHS, Video 2000 cassettes could be recorded on both sides (like an audio cassette) so doubling the capacity of each cassette, and the tape was entirely covered when the cassette was outside the machine to protect it. In theory, no tracking control was required due to the Dynamic Track Following (DTF) technology.

Towards the end of production, Philips introduced V2000 XL, using half-speed mode to increase recording capacity to 8 hours per side.

The tapes are roughly the same size as VHS, and use ¾ inch chromium dioxide tape. There is a switch on the tape edge for write protection, and holes along the tape edge were used to indicate the tape length to the player.

By the time Video 2000 came to market, Betamax and VHS had already established themselves, and so despite Video 2000’s technical superiority, it lost out in the videotape format war.

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DECtape (1964 – 1980s)

DECtape was designed by Digital Equipment Corporation for use as a tape storage system for its PDP line of computers, and was introduced in 1964.

It is a ¾ inch tape format, originally based on a similar format called LINCtape, but with it’s tape travelling in the opposite direction.

DECtape was a very reliable storage medium, and one reason was that the tape was laminated, with the magnetic layer between two layers of mylar.

U-matic (1973 – 1990s)

U-matic was an analogue video cassette format introduced by Sony in 1971 (it reached the UK in 1973), using ¾-inch tape and a helical video head drum. It was the very first video cassette format, and all video tape formats prior to this had been open reel.

It was originally intended for domestic use, hence the first model that could record had a built-in TV tuner and wood on the sides of the cabinet (although it had no built-in timer, a separate timer was available in 1972). However, perhaps because the high price, it instead became the standard for industrial, educational and demonstration purposes, continuing to be used for for more than 25 years. It was also widely used in television production, particularly for on-location news gathering.

To prevent accidental recording, a small red button can be removed from the cassette.

A high-band version was launched in the 1980s (called BVU or Broadcast Video U-Matic) followed by U-matic SP (Superior Performance) before largely being replaced by Sony’s Betacam SP in the 1990s.

Two sizes of cassette were available, the smaller one (U-matic S) capable of up to 20 mins of video and suited to field recording.

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Preservation / Migration