Video Tape Formats & Information
by:  High-Tech Productions / Blank Video

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Look on your tape and you should see one of the symbols below


Mini DV DVCam BetaCam
Umatic Beta MII

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Mini DV   Mini DV tapes are the smallest of the video formats. They take and maintain crystal clear images because of the nature of a digital format. Editing enthusiasts benefit from Mini DV as well, since copying between two units is done with no quality loss. That means edited or copied video looks and sounds every bit as good as the original footage. Mini DV tapes are available in 30, 60,63 and 80 minute lengths.  You can also have Mini DV tapes transferred to VHS so you can watch them on a normal VHS VCR.  Digital camcorders have the highest resolution of all the camcorders, starting at 500 lines.
For more information on Mini DV, Click Here.

DIGITAL8   is a format that is far superior to HI-8 or 8MM. Sony was the first to introduce this format and has done a great job. It is backwardly compatible, meaning that the new Digital8 camcorders and VCR's will also play your 8MM and HI-8 tapes. You do not have to buy special tapes to record in Digital8. A regular 8MM or HI-8 tape will record up to 60 minutes of digital video and audio. Because of the design, using regular tapes is not a problem, but it uses twice as much tape. A 2 hour HI-8 or 8MM tape will record 60 minutes when done in the Digital mode and records up to 500 lines of resolution.

HI-8   camcorders record their signal at about 400 lines of resolution, slightly less than Mini DV, but substantially higher than 8mm or regular VHS formats. Most often, HI-8 camcorders record sound in hi-fi stereo. Slight quality loss is suffered when copying or editing from HI-8, but a better than average image is maintained.

Tapes from HI-8 camcorders generally must be played using the camera as the source, which means the user often must connect cables to their television or VCR.   HI-8 tapes can be bought in 30, 60, and 120-minute lengths.

8MM  camcorders often have many of the best features found in higher priced HI-8 units, including image stabilization, strong optical and digital zooms and innovative special effects. Regular 8mm tapes are the exact size and shape as their HI8 counterparts, but record video at a lower resolution level, and therefore, are less expensive than camcorders which product better image quality. 8mm can record for up to 2 hours and has a resolution of 270 lines.

HI-8 and regular 8MM tapes cannot be put into a standard VHS video recorder, a common misconception. There are no adapters to achieve this. They must be transferred to VHS in order to be viewed on a regular VCR.

VHS/C   and full size   VHS   record at a slightly lower resolution than 8MM. A standard T-120 VHS tape has a recording time of 2 hrs, and the resolution is 250 lines. Their appeal, or course, is the convenience of easy playback. The large VHS camcorders are almost a thing of the past at this point. There are still a few models available, but their substantial size and weight make them a difficult sell against smaller camcorders. VHS/C compact models, on the other hand, remain a popular choice, offering many of the same key features as 8MM camcorders, at an equally affordable price.

S-VHS    Super VHS, a full-size format with resolution similar to that of HI-8, is virtually out of the consumer camcorder market. The format still is a strong player in the industrial market, but its future may be bleak with the release of newer and better digital formats. This format is used for videographers mostly for shooting and editing. The S stands for super, as the resolution jumps from the VHS standard of 250 lines to around 400 lines. Unfortunately, most VCR's will not play a super VHS tape and has to be transferred to a regular VHS format in order for it to be viewed on non-S-VHS machines.

Camcorder users who prefer to insert their video tapes directly into their VCR may want to consider using the VHS/C compact format. VHS/C is regular VHS video tape wound into a smaller cartridge.

Since the cartridge is smaller, the length of VHS/C tape is limited to a maximum of 45 minutes - though longer times can be achieved using a long play mode, the quality usually is poor compared to the faster (sp) speed. The compact tapes are inserted into your VCR using a cassette adapter which comes with each VHS/C camera. Once inserted, the tape plays just like any other VHS tape you’ve ever used.

Beta   Betamax tapes were a format originally introduced by Sony in the 80's. It was thought to be a better format at the time. However, the Beta vs VHS wars took place and VHS was the victor. There are still a few Beta fans out there though and you can still get a Betamax machine if you look around. Click Here for more information on the Betamax format.

Umatic   Also known as 3/4" video tape. The format was introduced in 1971 but it is still used by some videographers who have been using the format for a long time. It can produce good quality video and 3/4" decks are still commonly available in duplicating houses. However, there is little reason for somebody to persue this format given the technical advantages of some of the other more recent formats. UMatic has been used by professionals the world round and found mostly in studios. The format is slowly being replaced with digital equipment such as DV and Mini DV.

BetaCam   BetaCam was first introduced in 1982. It is currently geared for broadcast use, although there have been some less expensive models destined more for industrial use. Pictures you will get using a BetaCam system (or other component format) will generally be markedly superior to those you would get using any of the preceding formats. Colors in particular come out looking much more vibrant and objects appear three-dimensional. The superiority of BetaCam shots comes partly from the technical aspects of the tape format but also in large part because of the use of superior optics and other camcorder and VTR components (and generally better operators!).

The difference between BetaCam and BetaCam SP, introduced in 1986, is in the tape. BetaCam SP uses a metal tape and is an improvement over BetaCam.

BetaCam cassettes are large. Ninety minute cassettes measures 5.5 by 10 inches (14 by 25 cm). Typically BetaCam field units (camcorders or dockable decks) handle only smaller cassettes with shorter lengths of tape (30 minutes and less). These smaller cassettes are 4 by 6 inches (10 by 16 cm) in size.

BetaCam SP is still the de facto standard for professional broadcast videotaping, partly because of the large number of units out in the professional videotape community. Some authors assume that over 90% of all professional videotaping is done using Betacam and Betacam SP. 

MII   introduced in 1986, is Panasonic's answer to BetaCam SP. All MII tape is metal. The 90 minute cassette at 4 by 8 inches (11 by 19 cm) is considerably smaller than the 90 minute BetaCam SP cassette. However the dockable decks take only a small 20 minute cassette (3.6 by 5 inches - 9 by 13 cm).

Technically, MII is equal to or superior to Betacam SP. Panasonic MII field equipment includes several small dockable decks usable with a variety of camera heads and some excellent portable decks.

Be aware if you get into MII that at some point repairs may become an issue and that few duplicating facilities or clients are likely to have MII. Therefore you will probably have to copy your MII programs to another format at some stage.

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Every country uses a different system to record video.


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