When talking about videotapes, what comes to mind are VHS, S-VHS, Video8, mini-DV, or even Betamax tapes.
There are many types of videotapes you may not have heard of. One of them is the Digital-S tape.
If you’ve come across a mention of it and have no idea what it is, here’s a quick explanation of the Digital-S tape.
Digital-S, JVC’s brainchild, was introduced in 1995. It is a professional digital videotape format.
Digital-S is the original name of the D-9 tape as it was later popularly known.
Digital-S Renamed D-9
The Digital-S name lasted until 1999. Thereafter it was renamed D-9 by the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers). The standard is defined under SMPTE 316M.
Shape and Size
The Digital-S tape resembles its VHS counterpart in shape and size. However, tape composition is of the high-density metal particle type.
It uses the 4:2:2 color component digital sampling.
Digital-S or D-9 works well with the 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio videos.
8-bit video is compressed at 3:3:1 employing the DCT-based intra-frame DV-quality compression.
This compression ensures that video quality is retained over multiple generations.
The horizontal resolution is 720 pixels or 540 TV lines.
The Digital-S tape format can support from two to four audio channels. Two are linear and the other two Hi-Fi.
Audio quality supported is 16-bit with 48kHz sampling. Each channel can be separately edited.
It also supports two cue tracks.
Digital-S HD (D-9 HD)
The Digital -S HD tape format was announced by JVC anticipating the demand for HDTV production equipment. But the project is yet to materialize.
Digital-S HD also known as D-9 HD is the high-definition version of Digital-S. It also uses a half-inch tape format. In other words, the same tape form factor as Digital-S.
However, video data is recorded at 100Mbits/s (100Mbps), This is similar to DVCPRO HD which has the same rate.
Up to 8 audio channels are supported.
With Digital-S HD, video can be recorded at the following resolutions:
- 720p60 (60fps)
- 1080i60 (60fps)
- 1080p24 (24fps)
Details of the D-9 HD project can be gleaned from this JVC page.
Digital-S Video Cameras
Digital-S video cameras were mostly for broadcast use. The BR-DY700 has the following features, among others.
- Three 1/2″ IT microlens CCDs. You won’t see any vertical smear with this CCD setup
- Shooting in almost total darkness with the Lolux mode. Even at 1.5 lux color reproduction is excellent.
- With 3.3:1 compression and 8 bit 4:2:2 component digital recording you get near-lossless superior picture quality
- Recording time is up to 104 minutes
- Play back tape in color with 10X picture search feature
- Equipped with two time code reader-generators with jam sync and external lock.
Further details are available on this JVC Professional page.
A Digital-S VTR has the capability of playing back S-VHS tapes. This is understandable as S-VHS was invented by JVC.
An example of a Digital-S VTR is the BR-D80U Editing VTR.
Among the features you can enjoy with a Digital-S VTR are:
- 3.3:1 compression, and 8 bit 4:2:2 component digital recording ensures loseless (to the naked eye) with superior picture quality
- Edit for 16:9 Digital TV
- Recording time up to 104 minutes
- Precise editing with audio scrubbing with 2 cue audio tracks
- Variable speed playback at +/- 1/3
- Rugged build for field use.
- Recording head life can last over 3000 hours
Popularity and Future of the Digital-S
During its heyday the Digital-S tape format was used by TV broadcast stations the world over, JVC claimed 17,000 units were used across the globe.
This would include editing recorders, source players, dockable recorders, and video cameras.
The Digital-S attraction was affordability. A TV station could get started with as low as $100,000 to adopt the Digital-S tape format.
Stations like Zhejiang CATV which have been using the S-VHS format found it much easier to transition to Digital-S from S-VHS.
Digital-S was also the house format for the FOX News Channel. However, in 2000 the station switched to the DVCPRO50 tape format.
FOX had adopted the Digital-S format in 1996 because it was the only 50Mbps recording facility available then.
A major drawback of the Digital-S format was it had no computer or portable editing facility when it came to post-production.
When it came to location shooting, the Digital-S camera didn’t score high marks. The camera was bulky. Battery power consumption was also high.
JVC aggressively promoted the Digital-S tape format. Still, it didn’t take off like that of its competitors – Sony’s Digital Betacam and Panasonic’s DVCPRO
Take a closer look at the Digital-S VTR below if you’re interested in further exploring the Digital-S format.