Understanding the Types and History of Videotape. How to Make It Last Forever?

15 January 2023 by
Apryl Zhang

The emergence of videotapes has revolutionised the development of the film and television industry. They are not only popular entertainment products, but also hold a plethora of precious memories for many people. As times change, videotapes have become relics of the past and collectible memories. However, preserving the valuable memories recorded on videotapes is not difficult.

What Is a Videotape?

Videotapes are a type of magnetic tape that store data linearly in a sequential manner. They are mainly used to record and play back images, music, and other data through a video recorder.

The Origin of Videotape

In 1956, the American company Ampex introduced the world's first magnetic tape recorder VRX-1000, which gave birth to the videotape as a medium for storing films. At the time, the recorder cost 50,000 US dollars, and only TV stations with substantial funds could afford it for commercial purposes such as live TV broadcasts. As various companies around the world joined the competition in the 1970s, the production cost of video recorders decreased significantly, leading to the emergence and popularity of household video recorders.

In the 1980s, three different tape cassette standards appeared on the market, including Sony's Betamax format, JVC's VHS format, and Philips' Video 2000 format, which further penetrated the consumer market. In the following years, other manufacturers were licensed by JVC to produce VHS format video recorders, leading to a significant increase in production and a subsequent decrease in prices. This attracted more public consumers to invest in VHS recorders, ultimately leading to VHS winning the format war and becoming the mainstream market for video recorders and tapes. The popularity of video recorders also directly contributed to the rise of the movie videotape rental industry. Until the early 2000s, before the rise of VCD and DVD, watching videotapes had become the primary source of entertainment for many households.

Types and Formats of Videotapes

Videotapes have been popular for many years, and during this time, different improved versions have been developed.

Open Reel Videotape

The earliest professional format of open reel videotape had a width of 1 inch (25.4 millimeters), and it is now difficult to find.

Cassette Videotape

Cassette videotape (also known as boxed videotape) is the most common type of videotape. The magnetic tape is enclosed in a plastic box-shaped shell. When playing the video, the video machine pulls out the magnetic tape. The advantage of this type of videotape is that it is easy to use and provides better protection for the tape. Cassette videotapes are divided into different types:

VHS、S-VHS  Videotape

VHS and S-VHS videotapes have dimensions of 7.1 x 4 x 1 inches and support the PAL format. With the most commonly used T-120 videotape, the recording time for standard play video is about 120 minutes. If the video is recorded at lower quality long play and extended play speeds, the recording time can be up to about 240 minutes and 360 minutes, respectively.

VHS、S-VHS videotape

VHS-C、S-VHS-C Videotape

VHS-C and S-VHS-C videotapes are smaller in size, measuring only 3.75 x 2.25 x 0.75 inches, and support the PAL format. The commonly used T-30 and T-60 videotapes can record 30 and 60 minutes of standard play video, respectively.

VHS-C、S-VHS-C videotape

Hi-8、Digital 8、Video 8 Videotape

Hi-8, Digital8, and Video8 videotapes have dimensions of 6.1 x 3.75 x 1 inches. The recording capacity of commonly used Video8 and Hi-8 videotapes ranges from 120 to 240 minutes.

Hi-8、Digital 8、Video 8 Videotape

DV, DVCam Videotape

DV and DVCam videotapes have dimensions of 2.6 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches and 4.9 x 3 x 0.6 inches, respectively. They can record video from 80 to 120 minutes.

MiniDV、DVC Videotape

MiniDV and DVC videotapes measure 2.6 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches and have recording capacity ranging from 60 to 90 minutes. They can support the PAL format.

MiniDV、DVC videotape

Lifespan of Videotapes

Videotapes have been recorded using magnetic powder to record information, but the magnetic properties of the tape deteriorate over time and with use. In other words, videotapes have a limited shelf life, and their degradation rate is also affected by temperature and humidity. After a long period of storage, the magnetic properties of the tape will gradually decline, and eventually the footage cannot be played back.

According to experts, videotapes that are frequently played back have a lifespan of only 5 years. Even if the tape is stored properly, its lifespan is at most about 15 years.

How to Permanently Preserve Videotapes?

With the advancement of technology and the almost complete digitisation of images, video recorders were discontinued in 2016, and videotapes can be said to be relics of the past. The most effective way to permanently preserve the precious memories recorded on videotapes is to convert them into digital format before the end of their lifespan, to avoid the deterioration and degradation of magnetic tapes that may cause the loss of treasured footage and prevent the ability to relive memories of youth.

Digitise Your Precious Videotape Now!

Capture.HK provides videotape digitisation services that make it easy to play and share your memories on electronic devices. You can also pass down your cherished memories to future generations. In addition, we can upload your digitised videos to Google Photos, allowing you to access and share your videos with friends and family anytime, anywhere. Furthermore, storing digitised videos in the cloud-based Google Photos helps to reduce the risk of losing your precious memories due to lost electronic devices, making it the most reliable and secure tool for preserving your memories.

Learn more about Capture HK Videotape Digitisation service.

*This article is brought to you by Capture HK.

Capture HK is the premier analogue media digitisation company in Hong Kong.

Capture HK's business covers photographs, photo album digitisation, videotapes digitisation, including VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS-C Hi-8, Video8, Digital8, DV, DVCAM, MiniDV, DVC and digital media digitisation, including Secure Digital (SD), Smart Media (SM), MultiMediaCard (MMC) Compact Flash (CF), xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick, USB Drive, CDROM, DVD.

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