What is U-Matic Video?

U-matic is the name of a videocassette format first shown by Sony in prototype in October 1969, and was introduced to the market in September 1971. It was among the first video formats to contain a videotape within a cassette, as opposed to the various open-reel formats of the time.

U-matic is also available in a smaller cassette size, officially known as U-matic S. This was developed as a more portable version of U-matic, to be used in smaller sized S-format recorders such as the Sony VO-3800 (the first portable U-matic S machine released by Sony in 1974) and the Sony BVU-100.

It was the U-matic S-format decks that heralded the beginning of ENG, or Electronic News Gathering.

In the early 1980s, Sony introduced the backwards-compatible High-band or BVU (Broadcast Video U-matic) format and the 'original' U-matic format became known as 'Low-band'.

This High-band format had an greatly improved colour recording system and lower noise levels. BVU gained immense popularity in ENG and location programme-making, spelling the end of 16mm film in everyday production. By the early 1990s, Sony's 1/2" Betacam SP format had almost replaced BVU outside of corporate and 'budget' programme making.

U-matic would also be used for the storage of digital audio data. Most digital audio recordings from the 1980's were digitally mastered to U-matic tape.

Four decades after it was developed, the format is still used for the simple tasks of the industry, being more highly specialized and suited to the needs of production staff than the domestic VHS. However, as time passes it has been replaced at the bottom of the tree of tape based production formats by Betacam and Betacam SP as these in turn are replaced by Digital Betacam and HDCAM.

U-matic tapes had a maximum recording time of 60 and 90 minutes

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