The following is a guide to analog and digital video formats, including many
that are now extinct or obsolete. A selection of online resources for
identifying current and obsolete media formats is also included.
||1" IVC-700/800/900 -
1967-? (extinct). An open-reel format using 1" videotape,
adopted by commercial and semi-professional producers, as
well as the U.S. military.
||1" SMPTE Type A - 1965-?
(extinct). An open reel format using 1" videotape. This was
the first one-inch wide format to be standardized by the Society
for Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE--hence
the name.) It was not considered broadcast-quality, and was
used in corporate and industrial applications.
||1" SMPTE Type B - 1975-?
(extinct). Introduced by the German company Bosch, this format
is visually similar to the other 1" SMPTE tapes. It was not
widely used outside Europe.
||1" SMPTE Type C - 1978-1990s
(obsolete). An open-reel format using 1" tape, Type C was
the most widely-adopted of the 1" SMPTE formats. It largely
succeeded 2" quad tape in broadcast outlets.
||1/2" Open Reel - 1965-late
1970s. An open-reel format using 1/2" tape. These were the
first genuinely portable videotape recorders, and were widely
adopted by artists, educators, and community activists. Most
1/2" open reel tapes fall into one of two categories: CV (Consumer
Video/Commercial Video); and AV (EIAJ Type 1). Though the
tapes look the same, the decks are not compatible.
||2" Quad - 1956-1980s
(extinct). An open-reel format, 2" quad (or simply, "quad")
was the first successful videotape format. Introduced in 1956,
it was the broadcast-television standard through the early
1980s. Because the equipment was large and expensive, it was
limited to broadcast operations. Quality was excellent and
the tapes are relatively durable. Over the years, there were
differing types of 2" Quad--low-band, high-band, and super
high-band--but most transfer houses that deal with 2" can
handle them all.
||2" Quad Video Cartridge
- 1969-? (extinct). These small cartridges used standard 2"
tape and were developed for television stations in order to
allow for automated playback of videotaped commercials.
||3/4" U-matic - 1971-1990s
(obsolete). A cassette format using 3/4" tape, U-matic (often
referred to simply as '3/4"') was widely used by broadcast,
corporate, and educational institutions. It was also commonly
used in newsgathering.
||3/4" U-matic SP - 1986-1990s
(obsolete). Though appearing identical to standard U-matic
cassettes, these higher-quality tapes are generally labeled
on the cassette body with the letters "SP." They can be played
on standard 3/4" decks, though at lower quality; standard
U-matic tapes can play on SP decks.
||Audiocassette - 1963-present. An unidentified audio cassette with a strange signal on it may in fact hold a recording from a Pixelvision camera.|
||Betacam - 1982-1990s
(extinct). This cassette format, utilizing 1/2" tape, appears
identical to the consumer Betamax format, and in the beginning,
the tapes were used interchangeably, but the recordings themselves
were not compatible. It was the first in the Betacam family
of tapes, and was widely used by broadcast outlets for newsgathering.
||Betacam SP - 1986-present.
A cassette format using 1/2" tape, Betacam SP was widely adopted
by professional broadcast outlets. The cassettes come in small
and large sizes; small cassettes can record up to 30 minutes
of video; the larger, up to 90 minutes. It is generally considered
a high-quality, stable format.
||Betacam SX - 1996-present.
A cassette format using 1/2" tape, Betacam SX is mainly used
as a newsgathering format; a higher compression ratio allows
for longer record times. Cassette housings are yellow. Because
of the heavy compression, SX is not considered an archival
||Betamax - 1975-mid-1980s
(extinct). A cassette format using 1/2" tape, Betamax was
developed by Sony for the consumer market, and despite its
superior quality, it lost out to JVC's VHS format. Similar
in appearance to the other Beta-family tapes.
||Blu-Ray - 2006-present.
Blu-Ray (so named because of the blue-violet laser used in
playback) is one of two competing High Definition playback
formats currently fighting for dominance. The format was developed
by the Blu-ray Disc Association, with the corporate backing
of Sony. Because of this conflict, and the accompanying potential
for obsolescence, use of Blu-Ray should be approached with
||CD (audio) - 1982-present.
The Compact Disc was originally designed as a digital format
for the playback of audio. Standard CD audio uses 16-bit samples
and a 44.1 khz sample rate, with a potential disc capacity
of 74 minutes of audio. Although the format is universally
used and record/playback machines are ubiquitous, the long-term
stability of the physical medium remains in question. Additionally,
other digital audio storage formats can offer higher-quality
sound. For this reason, CDs are a less-than-ideal archival
||CD-ROM (data) - 1985-present.
CD-ROM discs (the acronym stands for "Compact Disc Read-Only
Memory") are visually identical to audio Compact Discs, but
are used for the storage of digital data rather than the playback
of audio. Standard CD-ROMs can hold 700 mebibytes (just over
700 megabytes) of data. Although the format is very widely
used and record/retrieval drives are ubiquitous, the long-term
stability of the physical medium remains in question. For
this reason, CD-ROMs are a less-than-ideal archival medium.
||D2 - 1988-present. D2
is a cassette-based digital videotape format, which records
an uncompressed composite video signal on 3/4" tape. Developed
for the broadcast industries, D2 tapes and equipment are quite
expensive, leaving them out of reach for most not-for-profit
or smaller institutions. D2 cassettes come in three different
sizes, generally marked as D2 in the upper-right corner. The
format is not currently in wide use, and is in danger of becoming
quickly obsolete—but because of the format's relative
newness and high quality, extant D2 tapes are not generally
considered to be at high risk for preservation purposes.
||D3 - 1991-present. D3
is a cassette-based digital videotape format, which records
an uncompressed composite signal on 1/2" tape. D3 was originally
introduced as a rival to the earlier D2 format for high-end
broadcast use, offering longer cassette run times and somewhat
lower cost. Because of their relative newness, D3 tapes are
not generally considered to be at high risk for preservation
||Digital 8 - 1999-present.
This cassette format, utilizing 8mm wide tape, was created
primarily as a consumer format. The cassettes are identical
to those used by Hi8 decks, and Hi8 tapes will play on Digital8
equipment. Digital8 can record on regular 8mm tapes, but the
quality can be compromised.
||Digital Betacam - 1993-present.
A digital version of the Betacam format that offers 2:1 compression
in a component format. Commonly known as "Digibeta," these
tapes are at present (2006) a standard archival remastering
format, due to their high quality, durability, and the widespread
availability of playback equipment.
||DV - 1995-present. DV,
originally known as DVC (for Digital Video Cassette) uses
1/4" videotape to record a digital video signal. The acronym
DV is also frequently used as a generic term encompassing
related compact digital videocassette formats, including MiniDV
(which is a DV variant using identical technology in a smaller
cassette), DVCAM, and DVCPRO. Despite its relatively high
quality, the small size of the cassettes and the thinness
of the tape mean that DV is not an acceptable archival format.
||DVCAM - 1995-present.
Widely used both by independent videomakers and artists, as
well as broadcast television outlets, DVCAM is also used as
a master format due to its ability to record lengthy programs.
It is not, however, used as an archival format.
||DVCPro - 1996-present.
DVCPro is a DV variant developed by Panasonic for high-end
production, including newsgathering, field production, and
industrial use. Has recently been declining in popularity
relative to other small digital formats.
||DVD - 1996-present.
DVD is currently the most widely-used display format for media
art. Identical in size and appearance to audio and data CDs,
DVDs (the letters have variously stood for for Digital Video
Disc and Digital Versatile Disc--officially, the name is simply
"DVD") generally use the MPEG-2 standard for compressing video
and audio. Because of this compression, and because the long-term
stability of the discs remains unclear, DVDs are not recommended
as an archival video format.
||DVD-ROM - 1996-present.
A read-only disc format for storage of digital data. Visually
identical to Compact Discs or DVDs, DVD-ROMs can hold between
4.7GB and 17GB of data. DVD-ROM drives are backwards-compatible
with CD-ROMS; many can also play back standard video DVDs.
DVD-ROMs cannot be read in conventional DVD players.
||HD-DVD - 2006-present.
HD-DVD is the disc format for playback of High Definition
television signals developed by a group of electronics companies,
led by Toshiba. As of this writing, it is competing with the
Blu-Ray format for control of the market. Because of this
conflict, and the accompanying potential for obsolescence,
use of HD-DVD should be approached with caution.
||HDCAM/HDCAM-SR - 1997-present.
HDCAM is a digital HDTV cassette format. Some HDCAM machines
can play back older Betacam tapes. HDCAM-SR, introduced in
2003, offers a higher bitrate than HDCAM and thus can provide
higher fidelity. HDCAM tapes are black with orange cassette
doors; HDCAM-SR tapes are black with blue cassette doors.
||Hi8 - 1975-2000. A higher-quality
version of Video8, Hi8 was widely used by independent documentarians,
video artists, and community organizations; it has largely
been supplanted in that realm by MiniDV. The tape is extremely
thin and fragile.
||Laserdisc - 1987-present.
A playback-only analog disc format developed by Pioneer. Laserdiscs
were 30cm in diameter, resembling large audio CDs. The discs
could be easily cued to a single frame anywhere in the program;
this interactive capability was used both in educational and
technical applications and artists’ video. Laserdiscs
were most commonly recorded in one of two formats: CAV (Constant
Angular Velocity), which allowed for freeze-frame, reverse
playback, and other special effects; and CLV (Constant Linear
Velocity), which did not allow these special features. Most
commercially produced laserdisc titles were CLV discs. See
also RCA Videodiscs/SelectaVision.
||M-II - 1986-1990s (extinct).
This 1/2" cassette format was developed for broadcast outlets
by Panasonic. A competitor to Betacam, MII (pronounced "m-two")
was not as widely adopted and eventually failed. Among its
main users were NBC in the United States, and NHK in Japan.
||MiniDV - 1995-present.
MiniDV is one of the most commonly used formats in the consumer
and educational markets, as well as among artists and independent
video makers. Its quality is relatively high and the tapes
(and equipment) are relatively small. However, that small
size does make the cassettes vulnerable to damage and deterioration.
MiniDV should not be considered a format for long-term retention.
- 1975-1985. A playback-only analog disc format, originally
in competition with the more popular Laserdiscs, RCA Videodiscs
can be identified by the plastic enclosure in which the discs
are held; the discs are only exposed within the Videodisc
player. See also Laserdisc.
- 1987-1990s (extinct). Introduced as a children's toy, Pixelvision
used standard audiocassettes, but moved the tape at a much
higher speed, resulting in a recording time of only about
10 minutes on a 90-minute cassette. Now highly collectible,
the original cameras have been modified by enthusiasts so
that they can output composite video into another recording
||S-VHS - 1987-present.
Outwardly identical to VHS, S-VHS tapes offer higher picture
and audio quality. Generally, S-VHS decks are backwards-compatible
and will play regular VHS tapes. S-VHS did not achieve wide
||VHS - 1976-present.
VHS (Video Home System) was the most successful home videocassette
format by far, and soundly defeated its rival Betamax, despite
the latter's higher quality. The miniaturized VHS-C is for
use in home camcorders; it plays in home VCRs with an adapter.
||Video8 (8mm) - 1984-present.
Video8 was developed as a consumer format, and offered quality
similar to that of VHS. Its small size allowed for equally
small camcorders, which helped it in the consumer market.
The tapes, however, are relatively unstable.
||Video CD - 1993-present.
Video CD (or VCD) is a disc format utilizing MPEG-1 encoding;
its quality is quite low—generally lower than VHS. A
higher-quality variant, Super Video CD (SVCD) uses MPEG-2
encoding. Primarily popular in Asia, and frequently utilized
in the distribution of pirated movies. Most modern DVD players
can also play Video CDs.
VidiPax: Magnetic Tape Preservation
The Web site of Vidipax, a magnetic media preservation facility, offers a video format guide, an audio format guide, and a virtual museum showcasing old wire recorders, reel-to-reel audio decks, and video recorders. The basics of magnetic tape preservation are explained with sections devoted to tape composition, problems with magnetic tape, storage, reformatting, and restoration.
Texas Commission on the Arts Videotape Identification and
This online guide was created by the Texas Commission on the Arts to assist custodians of video materials with the care and preservation of these materials. The guide includes detailed descriptions of different video formats, instructions for condition assessment, and an evaluation of the factors that can affect the materials' longevity. The 55-page Videotape Identification and Assessment Guide is available for download as a pdf.
This Web site tracks the history of video tape recorders before
Betamax and VHS. LabGuy's World features a virtual museum
of extinct video recorders and video cameras, a catalog of
extinct video equipment and related documentation, and information
on key pioneers in VTR history.