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What Is an 8mm Video Tape?

Adam Hill
Adam Hill

Video tape is a method, introduced in the mid-20th century, of recording video and sound onto thin magnetic tape as opposed to movie film. Many formats of video tape have been used since that time, with 8mm video tape being one common format. This format actually refers to three closely related formats of video tape, all of which are 0.315 inches (eight mm) wide.

The earliest of these three formats was called Video8®, which can hold up to two hours of recording. This format is entirely analog, and the resolution of the recorded images is somewhat low. Its low cost, though, made the Video8® a widely used format. The Video8® was followed up with a higher-resolution format, the HI-8®, which came in half-hour, one-hour, and two-hour lengths.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Both of these formats were analog and could not be played in a video cassette recorder (VCR). In order to view the recording, the user had to connect the video camera itself through a cable to a VCR or television set, and play the tape using the camera as a source. A far superior format was introduced later, called the Digital8®.

A Digital8® camcorder can record and play not only Digital8® tapes, but also both earlier formats. However, because of the way Digital8® camcorders were designed, they use twice as much tape. For example, a two-hour HI-8® or Video8® can only record 60 minutes worth of video in a Digital8® camcorder.

In all three formats of 8mm video tape, the magnetic tape is wound around two plastic spools inside a hard outer case. Their size is not much larger than a typical audio cassette, but they operate much more like video cassettes. The 8mm tape is used almost exclusively for filming amateur home movies and similar recordings, but has seen use in other ways as well. For example, Sony™ at one time manufactured professional quality equipment for video editing and production that used 8mm tape. Many airlines also adopted the 8mm format in the 1980s for playing in-flight movies.

As with all magnetic tape media, 8mm video tape is prone to signs of deterioration and losing its recorded contents over time. The usable life of tapes can be lengthened by keeping them out of direct sunlight in a dry, dust-free environment. Even with these precautions, it is a good idea to eventually transfer videos from 8mm video tape to another, more durable format, if preservation is desired.

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