Back in the mid 2000s, there was this weird movie with Jim Carrey where he was going crazy and couldn’t stop seeing the number 23 everywhere. The movie was called “The Number 23,” and it was meh, if I’m being honest.
Just like Jim Carrey started seeing random 23s everywhere and he couldn’t understand why, that’s what it feels like for anyone who researches video formats of yore. In this case, instead of 23s, you’ll be seeing 8s everywhere. Super 8. 8mm. Hi-8. Even multiples of 8 like 16mm film are all over the place. It can get concerning. I can’t guarantee you that I haven’t started scribbling 8s all over my bathroom in permanent marker. Send help!
But this blog post isn’t about me. It’s about helping you learn the difference between two of those “8 style” films: Hi8 and 8mm tapes.
First Things First
Where does the 8 come from with these two film formats? That question is easy to answer: it comes from the width of the film. Both Hi8 and 8mm video tapes use film that is 8 millimeters wide, which is a little under half of an inch. Both formats come in little cassette tapes that look really similar to audio tapes.
Hi8 and 8mm tapes are actually pretty recent developments. These tape formats were invented around the 80s, and they had a big benefit: They were like VHS tapes used in a VCR but much smaller. This one fact made them awesome for digital 8 camcorders, since they were smaller and lighter than previous formats. Not to mention, in the 80s, everything was getting downsized. Especially video cameras.
Hi8 vs 8mm Tape Comparison
The benefit of using Hi8 over 8mm was the higher resolution of recording. Hi8 was a newer technology, so it had better video quality than 8mm. It was also smaller than the Betamax and VHS format camcorders. This made it great to use for home movies and aspiring videographers.
To give it a present day comparison, it would be like the difference in playback between HD and 4k television. Hi8 was also backwards compatible, which means that you could use 8mm in a Hi8 camcorder, but you couldn’t use Hi8 tapes in an 8mm camera.
To use another analogy, it’s like Playstations. A playstation 2 can play Playstation 1 games, but a Playstation 1 can’t play Playstation 2 games. That’s how Hi8 and 8mm tapes work.
Even though they look similar, they use a slightly different way to encode the data on the film, which is where the compatibility issues come from. Also, sound works differently on the two formats. Hi8 used better media formulation to improve sound quality—another benefit of using it for home video.
Nowadays, 8mm video format is old news, and people rarely use them. Sony stopped making it and their 8mm camcorder, Handycam, in 2007. This remains the truth for most analog videocassettes since the digital format is more convenient. Digital also promises much better quality than analog video.
If you do have Hi8 or 8mm cassettes, we recommend digitizing the tapes.