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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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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D-VHS (1998 – 2007)

D-VHS was a later variant of VHS that recorded digitally, and was introduced in 1998. It was developed by the originator of VHS, JVC, along with Hitachi, Matsushita, and Philips.

D-VHS used MPEG recording, and could record in standard or high-definition.  There were several different recording speeds available, so a tape could have a variety of different capacities, for example a DF-300 tape that could hold 300 minutes at standard speed, could hold as much as 2100 minutes (35 hours) at LS7 (low speed, one seventh of the standard speed) if the machine was capable of using the very slowest speed. High-definition recordings reduced the capacity of the tape by half. Standard speed recordings had a higher bandwidth than DVD.

D-VHS tapes had a second hole on their underside that identified them to the recorder as being D-VHS tapes, and to record in D-VHS mode. Where the hole was missing, the machine would record in VHS or S-VHS format. VHS and S-VHS tapes could be played in the machine.

Unfortunately, sales of D-VHS recorders were poor, and so the price of them never fell greatly.

In 2002, a small number of pre-recorded D-VHS tapes were released under the D-Theater brand by four film-studios. However, despite being virtually identical to D-VHS, D-Theater tapes could only be played on D-VHS players with the D-Theater logo. D-Theater did provide much better video quality than DVD, at a time when high-definition formats such as Blu-Ray and HD-DVD were yet to be introduced.

The last D-Theater title was released in 2004, but D-VHS recorders were listed on the JVC website until 2007.

VHS (Video Home System) (1977 – late 2000s)

VHS (Video Home System) was a video tape cassette format developed by JVC, and was the most successful of the video tape formats for consumers, outlasting formats such as Betamax and Video 2000.

JVC began development of VHS in 1971, with 12 objectives in building a home video recording unit. In 1974, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry wanted to standardise on one consumer video format, and the preferred choice was Sony’s proprietary Betamax format, but pressure from JVC and Matsushita persuaded them to drop the push to standardise on a single format. JVC believed that an open standard, with the format shared among competitors without licensing the technology, was better for the consumer.

The first VHS recorder was available in Japan in 1976, and reached the UK in 1977.

A VHS cassette includes a flip-up cover that protects the ½-inch tape, and an anti-de spooling mechanism. Clear tape at both ends of the tape provide an optical auto-stop for the VCR transport mechanism. VHS machines pull the tape from the cassette shell and wrap it around the inclined head drum, using M-lacing, where the tape is drawn out by two threading posts and wrapped around more than 180 degrees of the head drum in a shape roughly approximating the letter M. The cassette can hold a maximum of around 430 m of tape, giving up to five hours playing time at standard play (SP) quality.

A smaller variant of VHS, VHS-C was introduced for use in camcorders. VHS-C tapes could be played in VHS machines with an adaptor.

In 1987, JVC introduced S-VHS, yielding 400 lines (compared to 240 for standard VHS), but this only had limited success. W-VHS was introduced in Japan in 1989, and allowed the recording of high-definition television, while D-VHS, which was the first digital variant of VHS, was introduced in 1998, but by this time DVD was available and after 2000, became the preferred method for pre-recorded video. The last major film to be released on VHS (‘A History of Violence’) was in 2006, and the last JVC VHS-only unit was produced in 2008.

VHS machines continued to be produced in Japan until 2016 by Funai Electric (who introduced the Compact Video Cassette format before switching to VHS in 1983) under brands such as Sanyo. Declining sales, and difficulties in obtaining components prompted Funai Electric to end production.

Although VHS was a popular format for long-play content such as films and television series, it was also used to deliver short-play content, such as music videos (sometimes in the form of Video singles), in-store videos and tutorials. VHS was also commonly included with various consumer products and services for demonstration purposes, or sent by manufacturers to service centres to demonstrate how to repair a new product.

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Preservation / Migration


D-Theater (2002 – 2004)

D-Theater was a short-lived digital video cassette format for playback of movies in high-definition.

It is based on the D-VHS (Digital VHS) format, and is effectively a pre-recorded version of it. However, D-Theater is incompatible with D-VHS decks without the D-Theater logo. It was introduced in 2002 and supported by four film-studios, as it provided much better video quality than DVD, at a time when Blu-Ray and HD-DVD were yet to be introduced.

The last film available on D-Theater was ‘I, Robot’ in 2004.

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S-VHS (1987 – early 2000s)

S-VHS (or Super VHS) is a magnetic tape video format, and was an improved version of VHS aimed at consumers. It was instroduced by JVC in 1987. It has increased luminance bandwidth over VHS, for a horizontal resolution of 420 lines over VHS’s 240 lines.

S-VHS cassettes are almost identical in appearance to VHS, and S-VHS recorders can play VHS cassettes. S-VHS cassettes use a different oxide media formulation for higher magnetic coercivity, the cassettes are sensed by the recorder via a hole in the underside of the cassette body.

In the home market, S-VHS failed to gain significant market share. Consumers were not interested in paying for an improved picture. Likewise S-VHS rentals and movie sales did very poorly. A few prerecorded movies were released to S-VHS, but poor market acceptance prompted studios to transition their high-end product from S-VHS to Laserdisc.

The smaller S-VHS-C cassette for camcorders enjoyed limited success, and S-VHS was also used by a few public access and cable television companies.

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Video single (1983 – 1990s)

Video singles (also known as videotape singles or Video 45s) were music singles in video form, mostly released on VHS but sometimes BetamaxVideo 8 or LaserDisc.

The first video singles were released in 1983, but were not a huge commercial success due to the high retail price of £10.99 (for the Human League Video Single for example), compared to £1.99 for a 7-inch vinyl single.

Subsequent releases were relatively rare, and the technology was superseded by CD Video (itself an unsuccessful format), then audio CDs with computer-accessible video files, followed by DVD singles and CD+DVD releases.

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Compact VHS (VHS-C) (1982 – late 2000s)

VHS-C is a smaller version of VHS, and was introduced by JVC in 1982 for use in analogue camcorders.

Because it uses the same tape as VHS, VHS-C cassettes can be played back in a VHS machine by use of an adaptor.

VHS-C’s main competitor was Video8, and a fairly evenly-matched battle took place between then during the 1980s. However while Video8 had capacities up to 120 minutes in SP mode, VHS-C only had up to 60 minutes.

Later, a higher quality version was introduced, S-VHS-C, which was compatible with S-VHS.

No digital version was introduced (unlike VHS with its D-VHS variant, and Video8 with Digital8) and it has been made obsolete by smaller digital formats like MiniDV, and hard-drive recorders.