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.
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.
The Blu-spec CD was introduced in 2008 by Sony, and is a Red Book-compliant audio Compact Disc, so is playable on all audio Compact Disc players. Sony launched with 60 titles on Blu-spec CD.
Its name is derived from the shorter-wavelength blue laser used to create the master copy, which is claimed to produced more precise pits to reduce distortion due to reading errors, along with a new polymer polycarbonate developed for the Blu-ray Disc.
In 2012, a newer version called Blu-spec CD2 (or BSCD2) was introduced that claimed to have a more precise cutting machine and master discs made from silicon wafers. Sony called it Phase Transition Mastering.
Due to existing limitations of Compact Disc Digital Audio, it is debatable whether Blu-spec CDs offer better sound quality as there is no extra information stored on the disc.
As of 2017, new titles are still being released on both formats.
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.
Memory Stick Micro (M2) was the smallest form factor of the Sony Memory Stick family. It was introduced as a joint venture with SanDisk in 2006 and is just one-quarter of the size of the Memory Stick Duo. Typical uses include PDAs and mobile phones.
Adaptors were available to allow Memory Stick Micro cards to be used in Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duo slots, and Sony produced an M2 to USB adaptor.
Cards were available from 64 MB to 16 GB capacities.
In 2009, Sony announced that Sony Ericsson phones would use microSD cards instead of Memory Stick Micro, and by 2011, the Memory Stick Micro was no longer available on the Sony UK website.
Ultra Density Optical (UDO) is an optical disc data storage format that uses phase-change, and blue laser technology (similar to Blu-ray) to store substantial amounts of data on a disc in a cartridge very similar to the older 5.25-inch magneto-optical disc format that it was developed to replace.
UDO discs were first announced by Sony in 2000, and launched by Sony and Plasmon in 2003 with a capacity of 30 GB. UDO 2 was launched in 2007 with a capacity of 60 GB.
UDO discs are available in rewritable format, or as write once in which case the phase change method used means the data cannot altered once written (True WORM) making it very stable for long-term storage. A third format became available in 2005, Compliant WORM, that allows specific data on the disc to be destroyed while leaving other files intact.
As of 2017, UDO drives and discs are still available but since 2008 all brands of UDO disc have been manufactured by Mitsubishi in Japan.
Sony introduced the DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) in 1982 for use in professional recording studios. The DASH system could record two-channel audio on ¼-inch tape, or 24 or 48 tracks onto ½-inch tape, and DASH recorders were produced by Sony, Studer and TASCAM.
The tape itself looked identical to standard NAB open reel analogue tape, but tape for use in DASH and the competing (and incompatible) ProDigi format systems used metal-particle tape which was not suitable for use in analogue systems due to the faster wear on the heads. Several companies produced open reel metal-particle tape for digital audio systems, and some examples included 3M Scotch 275, Ampex 467, EMTEC 931 and Sony own-brand tape. Metal-particle tape was even more expensive than oxide-based tape for analogue systems.
Unlike some other digital audio recording systems using tape such as DAT or U-Matic which used helical scanning, the DASH and ProDigi systems used a stationary recording head.
The audio was encoded as PCM, and included error correction, and all DASH recorders were capable of using 16-bit resolution with a 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rate, with a couple of models capable of 24-bit 48 kHz operation.
DASH and ProDigi were the two main open-reel digital audio recording systems in use from the early-1980s to the mid-1990s, but eventually the falling price of hard-disk space, as well as more compact systems such as ADAT, made them less viable.
Although DASH was a digital system, it still had the disadvantage of having to wind through the tape to find a particular point, and wear could still be a problem. Poorly maintained machines or tape, dust, or fingerprints could render tapes unusable despite the error correction system.
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.
An enhanced CD (or ECD) is a Compact Disc that contains both audio content playable on a standard CD audio player, and multimedia content playable on a computer CD-ROM.
Introduced in 1994, the idea behind enhanced CDs was to offer the music buyer some extra bonus features using space on the disc that was unfilled by the music. This might take the form of music videos (similar to the earlier idea of CD Video), interviews, wallpapers, pictures, lyrics, or links to an artists website.
Rather confusingly, there were three different ways on combining the different content on the disc. Prior to 1996, enhanced CDs were created in one of two ways. One was to have the multimedia content in the first track, but this meant that track 1 needed to be skipped when played in a standard CD audio player or else the multimedia track could cause an unpleasant noise to be heard. A subsequent solution was to have the multimedia content in the pre-gap before track 1 (rather like the way a CD-i Ready disc worked). Both of these methods were known as ‘mixed-mode’, combining Red Book Digital Audio and Yellow Book CD-ROM information in a single ‘session’ on the same disc.
To get around the problems of mixed-mode discs, Philips and Sony released the Blue Book standards in 1995, and worked with Apple, Microsoft and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to develop them. This new standard specified multisession technology that used two sessions on the disc, the first one containing audio tracks, and the second one containing data that is invisible to CD audio players. In 1996, most enhanced CDs used mixed-mode with the multimedia in the pre-gap, but by 1997 most were using Blue Book standards. The only downside to the newer multisession technology was that CD-ROM drives made before 1996 might not recognise them if they were not multisession capable.
Enhanced CDs can usually be recognised the official ‘Enhanced CD’ logo recommended by the RIAA. They may also have the CD EXTRA logo (previously known as CD Plus), which was trademarked by Sony for use on Blue Book discs.
Later technologies like DVD-Audio or DualDisc tried to perform the same function of offering the music album with bonus material such as videos, but later albums often came instead with the videos on a separate DVD-Video.
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.