Akai ¼-inch open reel video tape (1969 – late 1970s)

Akai ¼-inch video tape was an analogue open reel video tape format introduced in 1969. It used helical-scanning and initially only recorded in black and white (a colour video recorder using the tape, the Akai VTS-150, was introduced in 1974).

The first machine to use the format was the Akai VTS-100, a portable video tape recorder with a detachable video monitor and a video camera. An optional RF modulator was available for playback through a standard television set.

Video resolution was 200 lines, and the system was aimed at the consumer market. One advantage over other domestic video tape recorders that used ½-inch wide tape (such as the EIAJ-1 ½-inch format) was that tape for the Akai system was much cheaper. A number of different companies produced tape for the Akai format.

Most of the tape was on plastic 5-inch reels with cine spindle hubs but the VT-700, a stationary video tape recorder introduced by Akai in the early 1970s, could accommodate 10.5-inch NAB hub reels of ¼-inch video tape as well.

Tapes recorded on the later colour VTS-150 are not compatible with tapes recorded on black and white models due to differences in tape speed.

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Digital-S / D-9 (1995 – early 2000s)

Digital-S (or D-9) was a professional digital video tape cassette format introduced by JVC in 1995.

The cassette shell was very similar to JVC’s VHS format, but despite this Digital-S is not compatible with the later consumer D-VHS format as the tape formulation and data format are different.

Digital-S competed with other professional formats such as DVCAM, DVCPRO and Digital Betacam, and was a commercial failure. However, it saw some use in the US, Asia, and Europe, including at the BBC.

Digital-S was given the designation D-9 by the SMPTE in 1999. A high-definition version, D-9 HD, was announced but doesn’t appear to have been launched.

D-9 doesn’t appear to have lasted much beyond the early 2000s.

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Extended Definition Beta (1988 – early 1990s)

ED (Extended Definition) Beta was introduced in 1988 and was the last variation of the Betamax format that Sony created for the consumer market (the Betacam family of formats for professional use went on to have much greater success). It was announced shortly after JVC ‘s rival S-VHS format.

ED Beta offered 500 lines of resolution (compared to S-VHS and LaserDisc‘s 420 lines) by using special metal formulation tape and some tape transport improvements. Because of its special formulation, ED-Metal tape was expensive, as were the machines.

Two ED Beta decks and a camcorder were produced for the US market, but Betamax had already lost the format war to VHS and ED Beta was discontinued in the US market after just a couple of years. It’s not clear when it was discontinued in Japan, where Betamax machines were still produced until 2002.

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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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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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Digital Data Storage (DDS) (1989 – 2007)

Digital Data Storage (DDS) was introduced in 1989, and used a version of Digital Audio Tape (DAT) for storing data.

DDS used helical scanning on magnetic tape, and stored between 1.3 GB in the first generation (DDS-1) and 36 GB uncompressed on the fifth generation (DAT 72) launched in 2003.

During its life, DDS competed against formats such as Linear Tape-Open (LTO), Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT), VXA, and Travan, and over 18 million DDS drives were sold.

Generally, DDS drives can read and write to media of one or perhaps two previous generations only, so DDS-4 drives cannot read or write from DDS-1 tapes. DDS drives cannot read or write to media from later generations.

Two later generations (DDS-160 and DDS-320) both use 8mm wide tape in a slightly thicker cartridge, whereas the first five generation of DDS used 3.81 mm tape (often labelled as 4mm DDS).

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 3obsolescence 3Whilst DDS drives are still available secondhand, a single drive cannot read more than three generations of DDS.

The earliest tapes are now nearly 30 years old

 

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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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

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