back to article Sony calls time on 8mm video format

Sony has pulled the plug on another iconic format from yesteryear, calling time on the 8mm video format. While it will continue to produce 8mm tapes for the time being, from September, Sony will cease production of 8mm digital VCR recorders, the GV-D800 and the GV-D200, Japanese-language AVWatch reports. It stopped making 8mm …

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Coat

Sony Stuff

Has it really been a year since the Walkman announcement was made? (The answer is no, not quite.)

Earlier this year, I was introduced to minidisc for the first time, with a Sony MDS-JE510 component unit--the first minidisc-anything I'd ever seen in many years of seeking out assorted pieces of audio equipment. (It's a slippery slope and I recommend not ever getting started. The stuff only multiplies!) It required near-heroic efforts to get it working again because I assumed it had worked from the factory. So many bad solder joints and the replacement of a few bad parts later, it came to life. It's still running today.

All I can say is that it is really too bad minidisc didn't really make it. It is everything cassette tape wanted to be when it grew up. Titling, full random access...really the only thing not to potentially like (other than the SCMS infestation) was the ATRAC compression and to my ears it never caused any problems. Then again, maybe I would like it. I'm still making mixtapes on high-bias cassette (remember those?) with a 1981 or 82 era Technics cassettte deck.

I'm also a latecomer to the 8mm video format. I never used conventional Hi8 machines, but I have a somewhat low end Sony Digital8 Handycam that I purchased secondhand not all that long ago. Despite its being a relatively low end model, it does a phenomenal job and has some nice features (slow frame rate recording, time lapse recording, stereo microphone, a light, some onboard video effects). If the Wikifiddlers are to be believed, Hi8 tape is actually a "safer" storage medium for the DV datastream that all Digital8 machines use due to its wider tracks. I gather that most of the modern Handycam product offerings don't do half of the stuff this one does (no Nightshot in particular). From what I've seen, today's flash-memory based cameras might be "better" due to no moving parts, and they might shoot HD video (something I have no interest in), yet many of them don't do as good of a job as the old Digital8 Handycam does. The cheap ones in particular tend to be fairly nasty, especially in lower light conditions. At least the 8mm tapes remain available and reasonably priced.

I'll get my coat. It's the one with the book of technological wonders that never made it, and a DAT Walkman in the pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

Hi8/D8 "safe storage"

May well be a safe medium but when my wife suggested last weekend that we sat down as a family and instead of the usual film we showed our sons (15 & 11) some of the videos we took of them as toddlers .... dug out all the tapes, found the charger to power up the Hi8/D8 camcorder (slight challenge as had not used this for ~3 years when miniDV camcorder was superceded by using my canon sx10 for filming as well as pictures) .... and discovered that while tapes may be ok the camcorder must have accumualted sufficient dust on its heads over the past few years of non-use that it no longer plays properly :-(

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Digital 8

I have a first generation Sony digital 8 camcorder. The picture became jittery, so I bought a HD camcorder to replace it. A few years later I decided to "play" with it to see if I could get it working well enough to copy the tapes to my computer over the firewire interface. It turns out all I have to do is occasionally slap it with my hand and then it works fine.

My model was a lower end model, and I can put in regular 8mm tapes (analog signal) and it will output a digital signal over the firewire interface. The downside is that the files are huge - a two hour tape can take up almost 30GB of space. Of course, converting them to mpegs cuts that by an order of magnitude.

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Silver badge

Format shift like your life depends on it!

I know what you mean, had something similar. 6 years of video tapes including some of my late mother. The unit packed up and I had to fish through eBay to get a camcorder that could play them. It was straight conversion to DVD, while they were playing no matter what was on them! Had one tape bunch up and almost rip itself up but I managed to save it. Some hairy moments, but all the vids are safe, both on DVDs and in high-quality video format files on another hard disk as well.

I learnt my lesson that you must keep format shifting or you risk losing all your precious memories.

The one good thing to come out of the exercise was that it spurred my father to get all the old family cine-films out and get them sent off for conversion to DVD. Even though I am in them, 40 years ago aged only 9 months, I had never seen them before and to see my late mother nursing me as a baby was one of the most emotional moments I have had and it could have been so easily lost forever.

Don't put it off, sort out those memories today or you may regret it.

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Gold badge

Sony Cameras, never again

I've had similar, except it was the eject mechanism that failed, so I couldn't even load the tape.

Two reasons why I'll never buy a Sony again:

1. The CMOS sensor on my camera was encased in resin and melted. Sony offered to replace them under warranty but it showed the cheapness of construction. Is a ceramic casing really so much more expensive?

2. Proprietary head cleaning tapes. My MiniDV camera picture showed banding on the picture. So I bought a cleaning tape (not from Sony) that didn't work. I bought a second cleaning tape that also made no difference.

So in the end I bought a Sony tape that worked fine. But I noticed it had electrical contacts which obviously "reset" some circuit internally to clear the problem with the picture. So the heads didn't need cleaning at all, it was just some software routine in the camera designed to sell cleaning tapes.

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Tape care

It's unlikely you heads are dirty from dust, unless you left the door open all this time, or were in the habit of leaving tapes out of their cases to accumulate dust, which then went into the camera . . .

In terms of longevity, one of the worst things that you can do to tape is rewind it after its been played. Best practice for archiving is to leave tape “tails out,” and rewind only before playback, so that once playback (or recording) is finished, you are once again in a “tails out” condition, at least for the portion being run. If your tapes were left for years (or sometimes as little as weeks) in this condition, they may be stretched in nasty, irretrievable ways.

The camera’s tape path is carefully engineered to be perfectly tensioned when running at normal speed, and forms a very clean pancake of tape on the take-up reel of the cassette as it goes. That is the optimum state to leave the tape, because the edges are supported evenly and there is the least amount of deformity from variations in alignment and tension that occur during fast wind.

Fast wind is not so carefully tensioned or aligned. If you look at a tape that has been spooled at fast wind, you will see a rough surface, which are the misaligned edges of tape overlapping one another. The tension on the supported portion of the tape is different than that of the misaligned, non-aligned edges. Over time, when left in this condition, the edges will change shape, imperceptibly curling, and will cause alignment problems on playback, which may be perceived as being caused by dirty heads, but is not. Deformed tape is much more prone to further damage when run again by the tape path and the heads themselves, and such a tape can quickly and exponentially deteriorate on subsequent use.

Another problem for tape is that, over time, the binder (that holds iron particles) decays, and sloughs off the recording medium as crud that can clog the heads. But modern HI/D8 formulations are/were pretty good, and should not be in that bad a shape even after say, 15 years, if kept under reasonable temperature conditions. I have tapes that old that are in perfect condition. Eventually though, they will die.

Or will they?

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Coat

Time moves on

I remember saving up for and then buying a Sharp 8mm camcorder in 1993. Did a great job. Then in 2000 I bought a digital8 camcorder, which was pretty damn good (manual exposure, white balance tuning, not just pointing it at a wall, ridiculously long zoom lens). Bought a Canon DV camcorder a few years later - what a load of rubbish! Picture looked like a bad NTSC to PAL conversion!

I'm tempted to bu one of the flash video cameras now, but don't really have a use.

The only thing I didn't like about 8mm was all the whirring and clicking necessary to get the tape going, even just putting it in rewind and the servos would start whirring and clicking!

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Silver badge

Whirring and clicking

Was the same with VHS-C tapes (remember them?) - the whirring and clicking was the tape being pulled out and wrapped around the video/audio heads. If you go from "Play" or "Record" mode to fast forward/rewind, the tape has to be retracted back into its cassette, which means more whirring and clicking. Using the scan forward/backward options is slower, but happens straight away without the tape spooling/despooling.

As for modern digital tapes, I don't have a clue. I've kind of gone straight from VHS-C/Video8/Hi-8 to solid state storage. Even have an old full-fat VHS "camcorder" somewhere, though I always thought camcorders were handheld. This thing is more.. shoulder mounted.

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MJI
Silver badge
Pint

8mm was good

I used a mix of Beta and V8 to produce a DVD of a preserved railway event from the 80s. It was so fun using the old formats. I borrowed a Hi8 edit deck for capturing.

I remember Video 8 well, the first decent small cassette system a lot better than VHS-C (C for Crap I decided), I never bought one but did have the use of an old Canon for a while.

A nice system but I prefer its replacement Mini-DV.

I am now using HDV - the last tape system I expect we will have.

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Silver badge

Sony just didn't get the digital revolution

Back in the analogue days, you could convince someone your VHS deck was marginally better than someone elses deck to defend your higher price. And in deed you can make better or worse VHS decks.

Now with digital media, perfect reproduction is easily obtained. Especially with digital outputs, your $10 Chinese DVD-Player will have precisely the same picture as your $500 Japanese one. Ideally Sony should have gone for the sensible route and should have made more versatile players, for example DVD-Players which can rip to harddisks and integrate with your computer network or ethernet based video distribution based on open standards. Instead they went for the copyright police route, even prohibiting their DVD-Players from playing VCDs or MP3s. The rest is history.

As for camcorders, I don't see the loss. None of the formats was ever meant for long-time storage. You record, and perhaps edit on the cheap format, then transfer it to the format you use in your archive. After all with the hundreds of portable formats, you'll never know if you'll be able to get a working player next year.

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MJI
Silver badge

Stuff VHS

A few people had them but it was fun to show how poor they were.

Even Panasonic lost

Even took on S-VHS and won on colour reproduction.

My Weapon of choice

Sony Super Beta deck - SLHF950

A real interesting example was during some celebrations in the mid late 1980s something Royal. Anyway I recorded some and so did another local chap, he used a Compact VHS portable, I used a Sony Beta portable.

Firstly he had quite a strong green tinge, secondly his edit master copy was worse than my duplicate copy, in other words his second generation VHS was worse than my third generation Beta, and I was showing my edit master.

This was pre 950 so later tapes were even better quality!

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MJI
Silver badge

Digital and quality

There is a difference between the cheap and expensive gear, not always obvious, but the picture from the first top end decks was definately better than the budget, I think it was a Pioneer model everyone raved about, the first cheapy was a Samsung.

Cameras and video cameras

Lenses are now important as are the sensor chips, so you will get a better recording from a 3 CCD semi pro camera than a budget 1 CCD cheap lens camera.

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