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  • Writer's pictureZack Lowe

What Kind of Video Tape Is This?

So you found them in the closet. They look like videotapes and have written labels like "Christmas 91." You know they are important family memories, but what the heck kind of tapes are these?

There are many different types of videotape formats. All in different sizes with different types of playback. Here are a few of the tape types you might stumble into.

VHS Tapes/S-VHS Tapes VHS stands for (“Video Home System”) Never knew that - Pretty cool huh? They are most common type of video tape. They were introduced in the late 1970s and were the dominant home video format until the early 2Ks. S-VHS (Super-VHS) is the last generation of VHS. They look like VHS, just a different logo. These never took off, although they offered improved picture quality over normal VHS - with a higher price tag, of course.

Betamax & Betacam Tapes

Betamax tapes arrived slightly before VHS and for a while there, gave it a run for its money as the dominant home video format. Betamax ended up losing the battle for a variety of reasons, although the biggest was a shorter recording time compared to 2-3 hours plus for VHS. We don't see many Betamax home movies at Revolve, although they are still out there. Usually owned by photo/video enthusiasts who didn't mind investing in pricier gear.

Betacam tapes were used for news, broadcast and other pro applications. It had a much longer popularity lifespan than Betamax - was used in newsrooms and TV studios until the early 2ks.

Compact VHS (VHS-C) Tapes These are smaller tapes that play in standard VCRs with an adapter. One of the most popular home movie camcorder formats. Video8, Hi8, Digital8 Tapes Another popular video camera format. Higher video quality than VHS-C. The 90's were the heyday of Video8/Hi-8. Digital8 tapes arrived a little later in the decade and have the highest video quality of Video8/Hi8 family. The tapes are typically black like a VHS, but resemble a thick audio cassette in size.

MiniDV Tapes The newest (and last) generation of home video camcorder tapes. They are small, about 2 1/2 inches and generally hold about 60 minutes. There is an HD version of MiniDV - the last upgrade of the last version of Mini-DV. Not too common though.

BONUS FORMAT -3/4'' U-Matic Tapes The video tape of the 70's - kind of a precursor to the VHS. Its biggest use was for news broadcasts and TV stations. You're likely to see news segments, commercial spots and professional events on a 3/4 tape (if you can get it play).

We once transferred a large amount of these for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. They used them for years in exhibits and displays. 3/4 U-Matics are getting more and more difficult to transfer. The original 3/4 machines are old and cranky to operate and in most cases, the tapes are experiencing a chemical breakdown.

Should I Transfer Video Tapes to Digital?

The answer is - "If The Content Matters - YES!" The chemicals used to make magnetic tape are breaking down due to age. At Revolve, we regularly digitize video tapes. Generally, the tapes that still playback the best are the ones stored in a climate control environment and taped on higher quality media. That's not to say that the wedding video stored in the attic for 15 years won't still look good. Truth is, you never know until you can play it back on high quality gear and get it back into working order.

A local video conversion to digital service can help. Trying to connect old gear and playback old tapes at home is getting more and more difficult as the players age. If your memories matter, contact Revolve today. We'll help give old memories a new lease on life. Easily sharable and viewable from all modern digital devices. If it matters - preserve it!

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