What is Betacam SP?

Betacam is a series of half-inch professional videotape products developed by Sony from 1982 onwards. All Betacam variants include the original ‘Betacam’ to Betacam SP and Digital Betacam. They all use the same shape cassettes, meaning vaults and other storage facilities do not have to be changed when upgrading to a new format.

Each cassette comes in two sizes: S and L. Betacam cameras only load S tapes whilst the VTRs can play both S and L tapes. The cassette shell and case for each Betacam cassette is coloured differently depending on the format allowing for easy visual identification.

It is an analog S-video format it stored the luminance (Y) in one track and the chrominance (C) on another, performing Compressed Time Division Multiplex, or CTDM. This splitting of channels provides a crisp, true broadcast quality product with 300 lines of horizontal luma resolution along with 120 lines of chroma resolution (versus ~30 for Betamax and VHS).

The original Betacam format records on cassettes loaded with oxide-formulated tape, which were to all intents and purposes theoretically the same as used by its consumer market-oriented predecessor Betamax. A blank Betamax-branded tape will work on a Betacam deck and a Betacam-branded tape can be used to record in a Betamax deck but this practice was discoraged by Sony.

Betacam tapes have a standard play time of 3 hours.

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