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Video Formats Compared


(Originally Published Feb. 1995, another oldie but goodie.)
(Note: This article may seem a little dated, but it never the less contains some good information).



Remember the good old days of trying to pick between VHS and Betamax as your video format choice. Thanks to effective marketing techniques on JVC’s part, VHS won the race.

However, now that video quality has become a concern among both hobbyists and professionals alike, and there is such a fine line between consumer and broadcast formats, we are now faced with making a decision between as many as ten different styles of video tapes. And selecting the on that is right for you may be a difficult choice.

In addition to regular VHS and 8mm, one can opt to go with their respective high resolution counterparts: Super-VHS (S-VHS) and Hi-Band (Hi-8). Also available is VHS Compact and S-VHS Compact (the smaller 20 & 30 minute cassettes that play back in a full size VCR via an adapter). And then there is the old industrial workhorse, 3/4” U-matic and its higher resolution brother, 3/4” SP.

The popular broadcast format, Betacam SP, has been brought down within the financial reach of industrial and event videographers with their new UVW series of VCRs and camcorder. And Panasonic’s version of a broadcast component format is called MII.

Add to these the expensive digital formats like D1, D2, D3 and D5 (there is no “D4” because the number four is an unlucky Japanese numerical value), and you have at least fourteen separate video formats from which to select.

(Today add DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, Digital-S and DVCPRO-50 to the list of choices).

You can probably rule out the Dx (D1, D2, D3 and D5) formats right off the bat, unless you have about $80,000 to spend on each VCR. (Blank tape for these formats can be very expensive.)

Unless you are producing high-end industrial / corporate videos, you really don’t need to get into Betacam or MII right now. 3/4” is quickly being replaced, however, some excellent values can be found in used 3/4” equipment.

That leaves us with a choice of either one of the VHS or one of the 8mm formats. Regular VHS and 8mm are still great formats if you have no intention of going on to a second or third generation. In other words, you’re satisfied with what you shot right out of the camera and you have no intentions of editing.

But since you’re reading this publication, chances are editing is a major part of your video lifestyle. And that’s where S-VHS and Hi-8 become the attractive choices. Both S-VHS and Hi-8 provide a horizontal resolution of about 400 lines or better and their respective signal to noise ratios are very comparable.

And, both S-VHS and Hi-8 are downwardly compatible with their non-high resolution formats (you can play and record, let’s say, regular VHS tapes in a S-VHS VCR, but not vise-versa).

Many videographers swear that the video they shoot with Hi-8 is superior to what they have seen with S-VHS. The reason this is generally true is not because of the actual video format, but rather the camera that they’re shooting it in.

For reasons unknown, Sony and Cannon (the two major manufacturers of Hi-8 cameras) have put more effort into the quality of their lenses and CCD pickup elements (the little chip behind the lens that converts light into electrical pulses).

These quality optical systems is what gives the improved picture that one might see off of a Hi-8 camera. Panasonic and JVC (the S-VHS guys) make excellent consumer and “prosumer” camcorders, but their optics just don’t stand up to those on Hi-8 cameras. And the popularity of the smaller, lighter Hi-8’s have moved them to the top of the sales statistics for consumer-grade camcorders. (Industrial and professional cameras are another story altogether.)

Mix and Match

So, why has S-VHS become the virtual industry standard for high-end editing. Primarily because it is a more durable video format. It is less prone to tape stretching and video drop-outs. The comparable editing VCRs cost less than Hi-8 editing VCRs. And the S-VHS format permits audio and video inserting without limitations and the blank tape cost is less expensive than Hi-8.

“Well, should I have a Hi-8 system or a S-VHS system"

Why not have the best of both worlds? The video signal that goes in and out of camcorders and VCRs is a universal language. The output of a Hi-8 VCR (or camera) connects perfectly into the video input of a S-VHS VCR (or vise versa). And both format can interchangeably travel in and out of any digital video mixer or other signal processing device.

The ideal video system for the low-to-mid level professional videographer would be a quality camcorder (AG-455/456, TR-101, TR-700, VX-3, Cannon L1/L2) as the acquisition tool. And an industrial-level S-VHS VCR (Panasonic AG-1970/1980, JVC S-365) as the editing VCR.

To take the strain off of your Hi-8 camcorder as being the source VCR(s), you can pick up one or two Sony EV-C100 Hi-8 VCRs used for a great price.

The Right Connections

To achieve the most out of your hybrid Hi-8 / S-VHS system, make sure that you use the S-Video (Y/C) connectors throughout your entire signal path. And be sure to use quality S-Video cables to make those connections. Also, be sure not to skimp on the quality of your video tape.

Broadcast Quality

The term “broadcast quality” is thrown around frequently, especially in advertising the performance of a particular piece of video gear. Anymore, there really isn’t a standard for true broadcast quality, which is demonstrated by the fact that TV shows like “America Funniest Home Videos” broadcast some of the poorest quality footage ever produced.

The ironic part is that Hi-8 and S-VHS put out better quality today than the television networks did five years ago. So, given all of that, you may want to think about either S-VHS, Hi-8, or a combination of both (or DV) when building your editing system.



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