Tagged: broadcasting

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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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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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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media stability 3obsolescence 5

MPEG IMX (2001 – 2016)

MPEG IMX (also known as D10) was a standard-definition digital video cassette format introduced by Sony in 2001 and was part of the Betacam family of professional video formats. It was priced between Sony’s Betacam SX and the more expensive Digital Betacam, and was intended to compete with the Panasonic DVCPRO 50 system. As the name suggests, MPEG IMX recorded in MPEG video format, in case MPEG-2 using only I-frames and 8 channel audio.

Like other Betacam formats, tape width was ½ inch and cassettes were available in small or large form factors, with the S size holding up to 60 minutes of video, and the L size up to 184 minutes. To distinguish MPEG IMX tapes from other Betacam formats, the shells were coloured green. Metal particle tape was used.

All IMX video recorders could playback Betacam SX tapes, and some could playback Digital Betacam as well as analogue Betacam and Betacam SP tapes, the video from which could be encoded into MPEG-2 format. Only IMX tapes could be used for recording in IMX video recorders.

Like all Betacam formats, no new MPEG IMX video recorders are being made, having been discontinued in 2016.

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1-inch Type B (1975 – 1980s)

1-inch Type B (also known as B-Format) was an open reel magnetic tape format for professional analogue video recording.

It was introduced by Bosch in 1976 for use in its BCN line of video recorders and although it found success in continental Europe, 1-inch Type C was more successful in the UK and US. Unlike Type C, Type B in its standard form could not perform trick-play operations such as slow-motion or frame step play, due to the way the each field was segmented over 5 or 6 tracks (Type C recorded one frame per helical scan). An expensive digital framestore was needed to perform trick-play operations.

Type B had a standard capacity of 96 minutes on a reel, although later this was increased to 120 minutes. Long play versions eventually became available that could fit up to 6 hours on one reel.

Video quality was excellent, and as well as standard recording/playback machines, portable and random access cart machines were available.

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media stability 5obsolescence 5

HDCAM SR (2003 – 2016)

HDCAM SR (Superior Resolution) was a professional high-definition digital video cassette format, introduced by Sony in 2003 as a higher quality variant of its existing HDCAM system.

Like other Betacam-related formats, HDCAM SR cassettes were available in large and small sizes, and had the same tape lengths as Digital Betacam (up to 40 minutes for S and 124 minutes for L tapes).

It used higher particle density tape allowing an increased bit rate (a choice or 440 or 880 Mbps). Like HDCAM, it was commonly used in high-definition television production.

Sony HDCAM SR tapes were black with a cyan lid and contained a 1K memory chip to store metadata about the tape.

In 2016, Sony announced that it was ceasing production of its remaining ½-inch video tape recorders and players, including those for the HDCAM SR format.

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HDV (2003 – 2011)

HDV was a high-definition digital video format for camcorders. Because of its high quality, it has been used for broadcast television as well as amateur video recording. JVC was the first company to release a HDV camcorder in 2003, with Sony and Canon producing camcorders later.

HDV video can be recorded at 720p and 1080p, sometimes referred to as HDV1 and HDV2 respectively.

Although special HDV tapes are available, their use was not required as the tape formulation (Metal Evaporate) is the same as standard MiniDV cassettes. One Sony camera could also use the large DV cassette format. HDV devices could usually play and record in DV format as well as HDV.

Accessories were available to allow HDV camcorders to record to non-tape media such as CompactFlash cards.

By 2011, Canon, JVC and Sony had discontinued their HDV products, and invested instead in fully tapeless formats such as XDCAM.

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Fidelipac (1959 – late 1990s)


Fidelipac (commonly known as an NAB cartridge) was a magnetic tape cartridge format, used in radio broadcasting for playback of material such as radio commercials or jingles. It was the first audio tape cartridge commercially available when it was introduced in 1959 by Collins Radio.

Fidelipac used ¼-inch endless loop tape, with two or three tracks one of which was used to cue the tape. Most players ran at 7.5 inches per second, though some could also run at 3.75 or 15 ips.

There were three sizes of Fidelipac available; the 4-inch wide A size (up to 10.5 minutes playing time), the 6-inch wide B size, and the 8-inch wide C size. The most commonly used for broadcasting purposes was the A size, and the B and C sizes were usually used for background music applications where the tape speed usually was 3.75 inches per second for longer playing times.

Fidelipac was adapted as the basis for the 4-Track Stereo-Pak cartridge. Other similar cartridge designs were later used in broadcasting, such as the Audiopak and Scotchcart.

Unlike the 8-Track cartridge (but like the 4-Track cartridge), the pinch roller was built into the player and swung into place through a hole in the cartridge.

Fidelipac was widely used at radio stations until the late 1990s, when such formats as MiniDisc and computerized broadcast automation made it obsolete.

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DVCAM (1996 – )

DVCAM is a variation of the DV format introduced by Sony in 1996, and aimed at the semi-professional and lower-end professional market.

DVCAM uses the same type of tape and compression as DV and MiniDV but at a higher speed (almost 50% faster). In common with all DV formats, DVCAM uses tape that is ¼-inch (6.35 mm) wide. DVCAM uses metal evaporated (ME) tape

DVCAM tapes come in two different sizes. The smaller size uses the same form-factor as MiniDV and can hold up to 40 minutes, which the larger size (which is actually the medium size DV tape) can hold up to 184 minutes.

Technically, any DV cassette can record any variant of DV video.

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