Long before we had 24/7 access to camera phones and video streaming services, pre-Blu-ray and even DVD, people used videotapes to not only watch films but record their own home movies.
During that reign of the videotape, a lot of different formats hit shelves to fight for a spot in the competitive video market. In fact, you probably have a box full of some of these old tapes just sitting around collecting blankets of dust somewhere in your house. Good news for you is that your aging tapes can be digitized to preserve all the memories stored on them.
But do you know what kind of tapes you actually have? Sure, you know you’ve got some VHS tapes but what about the small ones? They all look so similar, how do you keep track of what is what?
Here’s your “what is this” guide to identifying what old film formats are currently housing your childhood memories.
Unless you were born after 2010, you know what a VHS tape looks like. About an inch thick, VHS tapes looked like oversized audio cassette tapes. If there’s a old battered box full of vintage videotapes lying around, it’s probably full of these more so than anything else.
If it wasn’t for the VHS, the Betamax would have been the tape format throughout the 80s and 90s that we so gladly rented from Blockbuster on our Friday nights. Roughly the same size as VHS, but a little shorter lengthwise and a tad taller height-wise, the Sony Betamax typically had a label on the right-hand side of the deck and a visible film reel on the left. If you’ve got a Betamax tape, then you’ve got a real film relic on your hands.
The only differences between the VHS and the Super VHS is under the casing. It improved luminance resolution and video bandwidth, but at a glance there are no physical differences between the two tapes. Chances are strong that you may have a Super VHS home movie stash because they did gain dominance in the camcorder market due to the improved picture quality.
The VHS-C was a compact (much smaller tape) version of the standard VHS. It was primarily used for consumer camcorders because of its smaller and more portable size. You’ve likely got a VHS-C tape if you also have the standard VHS-C adapter tape required for you to playback the VHS-C in your old VCR. You would record on the small tape using your camcorder and then pop it in the adapter to playback your footage using the VCR.
The 8mm tape line
As video recording technology kept improving throughout the 80s and 90s, the tapes themselves started getting smaller too. As a result, knowing which tape you have tends to get most confusing with the next three 8mm tape formats. Each small 8mm tape looks identical on the surface and some are even backwards compatible, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re all the same.
The first of this bunch of three to be released was the Video 8 tape. These totally analog tapes worked with Sony’s Handycam which had garnered commercial success in the late 80s for amateur filmmakers and TV production companies due to the much smaller size and easy portability.
Next came the Hi8 tape. This Video 8 successor had improved resolution and provided both analog video and audio but with the provision for digital audio (PCM sound) as well – a consumer first. Hi8 tapes should be marked accordingly with “Hi8” on the bottom of the casing for easy recognition.
The last of the 8mm tape lookalikes was the Digital 8 tape, released right before the millennium. While it’s not outwardly visible, Digital 8’s main difference was in its name – it was digital. Sure, it used the same analog recording equipment as its predecessors but the signal was digitally encoded having identical digital audio and digital video specifications as DV. Digital 8 is also easy to spot because it was only made by Sony and every tape clearly has “Digital 8” printed on the bottom.
When the Mini DV was released in the mid 90s, it was everything the name implied. Smaller than the average audio cassette, the Mini DV made amateur film making more portable and accessible than ever before. There were many manufactures that produced Mini DV tapes, but each tape was always labeled with the Mini DV logo in the upper right-hand corner.
The last of a dying breed. The Micro MV hit the market in 2001 and was significantly smaller than the Mini DV and Digital 8 tapes – nearly 70% smaller, which seemed unfathomable at the time. It was also only manufactured by Sony and gained limited success. Needless to say, it was tiny and if you have a Micro MV, you’ll know it because it will easily be the smallest tape format in your box.
So, as you wipe that thick layer of dust off that old box to start sorting through your old tape collection, it’s important to know one thing before digitizing your memories. Legacybox does them all! Whether it’s VHS, Micro MV – even Betamax, we can help you uncover decades worth of nostalgia and preserve it for decades to come.