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Video formats have come an incredibly long way in the past few decades.

Technology is ever-advancing; it is constantly changing and being improved upon, a trait that directly impacts and affects the video industry, who in turn are continually having to vary the format of their videos in order to keep up to date with modern technology. The video formats that you have used in the past are greatly dependent upon how old you are. Let’s take a look at the various video formats in more detail:

1975, Betamax: Betamax is considered to have started the home video revolution. Created by Sony, the Betamax system allowed users to record television broadcasts and view movies at home, something that they were unable to do until this point. By the late 1980’s Betamax became obsolete, losing the video format war to its rival VHS.

Sony C5 Betamax Video Recorder
Sony C5 Betamax Video Recorder

1976, VHS: VHS is an abbreviation for Video Home System. It was launched in 1976 after being created in Japan by the Victor Company. VHS is an analogue recording videotape cassette, encoded in FM on a magnetic tape. The magnetic oxide particles are rearranged to encode video and audio signals. VHS finally fizzled out in 2007/2008 after a steep decline in sales of both VHS players and individual videos.


1978, LaserDisc: The LaserDisc was created in North America by Phillips, MCA and Pioneer, which is where it was initially licensed and sold before being released globally. This was the first time optical discs had been used for storage, offering higher quality video and audio than VHS was able to provide and using NTSC/PAL encoding. Though these discs offered many benefits over VHS, they did not gain in popularity due in part to the high costs involved in purchasing the player and the discs, and also because they could playback but not record, and the discs were too large only holding approximately an hour of video content.

1980’s, Video8: Video8 was released as a new format to filming videos, with the audio being of a much higher quality due to Video8 device using audio frequency modulation to record the audio along the same path as the video. In the late 80’s, Video8 was developed into Hi8, which increased the recorded bandwidth of the signal improving the resolution to laserdisc quality. In 1999 Digital8 was introduced, and it is this that rivals MiniDV in our current video format market.

1996, DV Video: DV Video is the ideal format for anyone wanting to edit his or her videos. DV stands for Digital Video. It compresses within every frame rather than between consecutive frames allowing it be edited easier and it uses a Firewire (IEEE 1394) interface to allow the video to be transferred between camera, desktop, editing equipment etc. HD DV is now also available, as are MiniDV’s.

1997, DVD: Launched in 1997, the DVD was set to replace all earlier video formats, including the VHS and Betamax. Due to the advantages DVD had over previous video formats, it quickly became the leading format for the distribution of pre-recorded material, as well as being able to store computer information and data. One DVD can hold up to 4.7GB of data, i.e. 2-3 hours of standard video.

2001, MP4: MP4 (or MPEG-4) was released in 2001, offering a new level of flexibility for video formatting. MP4 format has been backed strongly by Apple, and it is the format used in QuickTime players. MP4 is applied in a number of other formats, for example, 3GP and 3G2 both use P4 as a video container.

2006, Blu-Ray: Blu-ray is an improvement over DVD’s, allowing much higher storage of up to 25GB for standard Blu-ray discs and up to 50GB for double layered Blu-ray discs, which is equivalent to approximately 4.5 of HD video or 20 hours of standard video. Blu-ray is supportive of 1080p resolution, which is considered to be the best high definition format, compressions MPEG-2, AVC MPEG-4, VC-1.

2006, HD DVD: HD DVD was launched at a similar time as Blu-ray, and competed with Blu-ray up until 2008, where it finally lost the battle after Toshiba announced it would stop manufacturing and developing HD DVD players.

About the author: Tom Black, Indie film producer and video marketing expert from Slinky Production in Birmingham, UK.

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