Before the rise in popularity of the DVD and more recently online streaming, people used videotapes to store and watch video. The most recognisable videotape formats are probably VHS and Betamax, thanks to the infamous format war they raged in during the 70s. However, they aren’t the only formats to exist within video tape history.
Today, many old tape formats still exist, although they may be largely forgotten about due to the development in technology and streaming platforms, which have left many videotapes, even VHS, obsolete. Despite this, the history of video tapes remains important to remember and understand the remarkable changes that have developed in the digital world.
One of the more obscure old tape formats is VHS-C, even though its name looks familiar. As it would suggest, the VHS-C tape is a more compact form or a baby version of the well-known VHS tape. First manufactured by JVC in 1982, it was designed to be much smaller in size than the VHS so that it could work with more compact VHS-C compatible camcorders. JVC also made sure that the tape remained compatible with VCR systems by using an adaptor, which meant that consumers didn’t have to buy a second VHS-C recorder.
The run time of a VHS-C was 30 minutes, which was significantly shorter than its main competition, the Video8 tape; however, they couldn’t be used in VCR recorders. Overall, the VHS-C also had a short lifespan along with other compact old tape formats, as the classic VHS tape still remained popular.
The Video8 tape format was introduced in 1985 by Sony as a contemporary of VHS and Betamax formats and was specifically designed for the home video market.
Video8 tapes were more compact compared to VHS and Betamax, so several Hollywood studios started to release film titles from their backlog catalogues in this format believing that it was superior to the larger tapes. However, the need to invest in new equipment in order to play Video8, meant that ultimately this move failed.
Unsurprisingly, Video8 became obsolete in the mid-2000s when digital recording devices became more widely popular.
S-VHS or Super VHS was first introduced in 1987 as an improvement to VHS. The tapes looked very similar to VHS tapes except for a tiny hole that helped distinguish between the two.
The main difference of S-VHS was the increased resolution and superior sound which led to a higher cost. Unfortunately, consumers weren’t interested in paying a higher price for this format and as a result it didn’t come close to replacing VHS.
The Hi8 Tape
In 1989, Sony introduced the Hi8 tape (short for high-band video-8). It came in a smaller casing compared to the traditional VHS, while also having a higher picture quality. Despite its small size, the Hi8 tape still had a lot of recording power and was available in 30, 60 and 120 length tapes. Similarly, to other old tape formats throughout video tape history, Hi8 had a relatively short lifespan, lasting around 15 years, as it lost out to new developments and even smaller designs such as MiniDV.
MiniDV wasn’t introduced until 1995 by Sony and Panasonic. It was considered a state-of-the-art format and remained popular throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s before inevitably losing out to the rise in DVDs.
Essentially, the MiniDV was a smaller version of the Hi8 tape. The DV in its name stands for digital video, which meant that even though they were tapes, their quality could be comparable with digital picture and sound. MiniDV tape had three times the colour information of a VHS tape, which meant that colours were much brighter and richer.
You also didn’t lose out when it came to recording time as 60-minute, 90 minute and even up to 120-minute tapes were available. As a result of its high quality and compact size, it became the top choice for home moviemaking.
Sony was the first to introduce Digital8 in 1999. It was seen as the successor of the Hi8 tapeas it was a combination of its ability to transport but with a digital video codec.
During its use, Digital8 was primarily a consumer product. One of the reasons for this is due to its later release date to MiniDV, which gave the latter the lead in the professional market. By 2004, Sony was the only company who were still producing Digital8 equipment and after 2005 the products were solely for entry level customers. Now, Digital8 tapes are considered an obsolete format.
Unfortunately, all of these tape formats ended up losing out in their industry to new developments or new technology, and today they are mainly considered to be obsolete. However, that doesn’t mean that your memories have to be lost! The emergence of the digital era has gifted us digitisation, which means that the memories you have on your tapes can be preserved. Transfermagic can convert any of these formats from video tape history into digital ones such as USB.
If you have memories that you’d like to preserve or find any of these old video tape formats lying around your home, including VHS tapes, get in touch with us about our video to digital services today!
Photo credit: Jennifer Huang