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Video recording before VHS & Beta….

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Panasonic NV-201 VTR

Most folks out there familiar with home video recording think that it all started with the emergence of the VHS and Betamax home video formats in the mid-1970s (and the format war that broke out between the two shortly after, a war being unfortunately repeated nowadays between HD-DVD & Blu-Ray discs).  But there was an era of video recording devices predating VHS & Beta, dating from shortly after the introduction of the very first videotape format (the 2″ Quadraplex format, aka 2″ Quad, introduced in 1956 by Ampex, and becoming the de facto videotape format for television networks and stations worldwide, but not for the home due to the format’s recorders being very costly, complex, and large, hence only the TV broadcast industry embracing it), to Betamax & VHS’s debuts of 1975 and 1977 respectively.

Some of the recorders from this era, like the 1967-vintage Panasonic NV-204 pictured above, usually were small enough to be practically used in any environment outside of a television control room, but their still high cost (but much less than the incumbent 2″ Quad) meant that they still weren’t ready for the home user just yet.  But they were still attractively priced for the industrial/institutional customer, i.e. schools, hospitals, businesses, etc.  However,  the popularity of these recorders was hampered by the fact that there was no standard format for them.  Most of these early non-professional industrial-market video tape recorders (VTRs), like the NV-204 pictured above also, did not use an industry-standard format, relying on proprietary formats usually specific to the make and model of VTR, and as a result, recordings made on one make and model of VTR could only be played back on the exact same make & model of VTR.

This was all to change in 1969, when the Electronics Industries Association of Japan, or EIAJ, called up a meeting with all the companies making industrial-market VTRs to have them all sit down and design and decide on an industry-standard format, which would ensure all recordings made on one manufacturer’s VTR could play back on another from a different manufacturer.  Hence, the EIAJ format was born.  It used  7″-diameter open-reels of 1/2″-wide videotape, and originally recorded black and white video (later VTRs using the EIAJ format in the early 1970s would offer color video as well).

The EIAJ format made non-professional industrial video standardized, and as a result, more affordable and attractive to purchase.  Many schools, businesses, and some of the first cable access TV channels debuting in the early 70’s made heavy use of EIAJ.  It would pave the way for the VTR industry to invade the home just a few short years later.

There are two very good and very informative web sites featuring these post-2″ quad and pre-VHS & Beta machines in all their retro glory, Labguy’s World (where I got the image above), and Quadruplex Park, which focuses more on professional broadcast machines (such as 2″ quad), but also focuses on the VTRs in mention here.