VHS (Video Home System) (1977)

Invented and developed by JVC, VHS (Video Home System) was a video tape cassette format. It was the most successful video tape format for public consumers and won the battle over Sony’s Betamax video format. The first VHS recorder was available in Japan in 1976.

In 1974, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry decided to standardise the industry into one consumer video format. The choice was Sony’s proprietary Betamax format. However JVC and Matsushita persuaded them to drop the push towards a single format since JVC believed that an open standard format shared among competitors without technology licensing was fare better for the public consumer.

A VHS cassette tape is larger than most other tapes and has a flip-up cover at its front that protects the ½-inch tape inside. Leader tape at both ends of the tape provide an optical auto-stop for the VCR transport mechanism.

Betamax (1978)

Introduced by Sony to the US market in 1975 (UK: 1978). Betamax was an analogue video tape format which targeted the consumer market. The cassettes used ½-inch tape, with an initial recording length of 1 hour.

Betamax was the first commercially successful consumer video format. However a format war broke out between Betamax and VHS with VHS eventually winning, despite Betamax having close to 100% of the market prior to the introduction of VHS.

Easier availability of VHS machines to rent in the UK along with longer record times helped VHS to win the battle even though Betamax could potentially offer better picture quality, however on domestic television sets in the 70’s and 80’s, the difference was negligible.

By 1988, Sony began manufacturing VHS video recorders and the format war was by then lost.

Compact VHS (VHS-C) (1982)

Introduced by JVC, VHS-C is a smaller version of VHS, used in analogue video cameras.

Since VHS-C employs the same tape as VHS, it can be played back in a VHS machine by using an adaptor.

Back in the 80’s, VHS-C’s main competitor was Video8. They were pretty evenly matched, however Video8 took over eventually since it could capture up to 120 minutes in SP record mode, whereas VHS-C could capture only up to 60 minutes.

Video8 (1985)

Introduced by Sony in 1985, Video8 was an analogue video tape cassette format using 8mm tape, designed for use in 8mm camcorders such as Sony’s Handycam.

The horizontal resolution of Video8 was same as VHS, 240 lines, however in terms of audio quality, Video8 outperformed non-HiFi VHS and even Betamax.

Vidoe8 competed well in the camcorder market, despite competition from VHS-C which had the advantage of being playable on VHS machines through an adaptor. Video8 could capture 120 minutes of video record time whereas VHS-C was limited to only 60 minutes (in SP mode).

Subsequent (better quality) versions of Video8 were released, starting with Hi8 in 1989 and a digital version called Digital8 was released in 1999.

Hi8 (1989)

Introduced by Sony, Hi8 (high-band Video8) was an analogue 8mm video tape format used in camcorders and based on the older Video8 format.

Hi8 used a higher-grade tape and improved recording mechanisms to increase bandwidth.

Hi8 was rated at a luminance resolution of 400 lines, about equal to LaserDisc quality which was equivalent to lower end broadcast-quality. Recording lengths were up to 120 minutes.

Popular with amateur enthusiasts, Hi8 camcorders were also used in television productions that required equipment of lightweight portability.

Hi8 camcorders were available until 2007.

Digital 8 (1999)

Introduced by Sony in 1999, Digital8 was a digital video cassette format used for recording in camcorders.

The cassette was the same as the Hi8 format, but the information was stored using DV codec, which was the same as other formats such MiniDV.

The Sony DCR-TRV285 was the last Digital8 camcorder and was discontinued in 2007.

MiniDV (1995 – late 2000’s)

MiniDV was introduced in 1995 and was a joint collaboration of leading manufacturers of video camera recorders. MiniDV was a digital video tape cassette format, based on the DV standard for storing digital video.  Because of its small size, it was a popular format for camcorders, and subsequently enabled manufacturers to greatly reduce video camera sizes.

A MiniDV tape could hold up to 120 minutes of digital video when recorded at LP (long-play) speed and was the smallest of the four DV formats. All cassette sizes used ¼-inch wide tape, and MiniDV used metal evaporated (ME) tape. All consumer camcorder video tape was discontinued by 2011.