1956, the Ampex company announced that it had developed a new device:
the videotape machine. This large reel-to-reel tape machine used
four record heads (and was for this reason given the name "quad")
and two-inch wide tape. The invention was quickly embraced by the
broadcasting community, and on 30 November 1956, CBS broadcast the
first program using videotape. Videotape is very similar in composition
to audiotape. Most videotape consists of a Mylar backing, a strong,
flexible plastic material, that provides a base for a thin layer
of ferrous oxide. This oxide is easily magnetized and is the substance
that stores the video and audio information.
In 1969, Sony introduced its EIAJ-standard three-quarter-inch U-Matic
series, a videocassette system. Although there were earlier attempts
to establish a standard cassette or cartridge system, the U-Matic
format was the first to become solidly accepted by educational and
industrial users. Similar in construction and function to the audiocassette,
the videocassette is a plastic container in which a videotape moves
from supply reel to take-up reel, recording and playing back short
program segments through a videocassette recorder (VCR). This form
of construction emerged as a distinct improvement on earlier, reel-to-reel
videotape recording and playback systems. The cassette systems,
especially after they were integrated with camera and sound systems,
enabled ease of movement and flexible shooting arrangements. The
new devices helped create a wave of video field production ranging
from what is now known as "electronic news gathering" to the use
of video by political activist groups, educators, and home enthusiasts.
last group was always perceived by video hardware manufacturers
as a vast opportunity for further sales. After several abortive
attempts to establish a consumer market with a home cartridge or
cassette system, Sony finally succeeded with its Betamax format.
Sony's success with Betamax was followed closely by other manufacturers
with VHS (the "video home system"), a consumer-quality 1/2-inch
videocassette system introduced by JVC. Although the VHS format
still dominates the home entertainment field, several competing
formats are vying for both the consumer market and the professional
field. The greatly improved Super-VHS (S-VHS) format has technical
specifications that equal broadcast and cable TV quality. The S-VHS
system is in turn being challenged by two 8mm cassette formats--Video
8 (a consumer-grade video format developed by Sony that uses eight
millimeter-wide tape) and Hi8 (an improvement on Sony's Video-8
format that uses metal particle tape and a higher luminance bandwidth).
Other formats that are competing for the professional market include
the 1/2-inch Betacam and Betacam SP systems, the 1/2-inch M-formats
(M and M-II), 3/4-inch U-matic SP, and the even more recent digital
formats (D-1 and D-2).
It is safe to say that the development of videocassette systems
has transformed many aspects of televisual industries and more general
experience with television. The innovations within news services,
the rapid expansion of home video systems that transformed the financial
base of the film industry, and the acceptance of "video" as an everyday
aspect of contemporary experience all rely to a great extent on
Various professional quality videocassettes
Photo courtesy of 3M
Browne, Steven E. Video Editing: A Postproduction Primer.
Boston: Focal, 1989; (2nd edition, 1993).
Thomas D., Donald N. Wood, and Lynne Schafer Gross. Television
Production: Disciplines and Techniques. Dubuque, Iowa: Brown,
1978; (5th edition, 1992).
Herbert. Television Production Handbook. London: Pitman,
1961; 5th edition, Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1992.