Last updated on February 6th, 2024 at 10:12 am
Hi8 is an 8mm video format introduced by Sony in 1989.
Hi stands for High-Band.
Hi8 is called “High-Band 8” for two main reasons:
Compared to its predecessor, the standard 8mm video format or VIdeo8, Hi8 offered a significantly higher bandwidth. This increased bandwidth allowed for:
- Improved video resolution: Hi8 could capture video with better horizontal and vertical resolution, resulting in a sharper and more detailed picture.
- Enhanced audio quality: Hi8 supported higher fidelity audio recording, offering a more immersive and realistic sound experience.
- More complex special effects: With its increased bandwidth, Hi8 enabled camcorders to process and generate more sophisticated special effects like chroma keying (green screen) and picture-in-picture.
The “High-Band” portion served as a marketing term to clearly differentiate Hi8 from the standard 8mm format.
By emphasizing the “High-Band” aspect, manufacturers aimed to highlight the improved capabilities and attract potential buyers looking for higher-quality home video recording.
Therefore, the name “Hi8” carries a dual meaning:
- Technical: It emphasizes the increased bandwidth and the resulting video and audio quality benefits.
- Marketing: It distinguishes Hi8 from its predecessor and positions it as a superior choice for consumers seeking better home video recording options.
It’s worth noting that while “High-Band” accurately reflects the technical advantage of Hi8, the format itself wasn’t marketed directly as “High-Band 8.” Instead, the “Hi8” branding emphasized the improved picture quality and other features without explicitly mentioning the technical details.
Hi8 Historical Highlights
1. Predecessor and Competition:
- In 1982, Sony introduced the standard 8mm format, marking the first widely available 8mm video format for consumers.
- However, its video quality wasn’t great, facing competition from the more established VHS format.
2. Hi8 Arrives:
- In 1989, Sony unveiled Hi8 as a direct upgrade to the 8mm format.
- Its smaller tapes, higher resolution, and improved audio quickly attracted consumers and videographers.
- Other manufacturers like Canon, Hitachi, and Matsushita soon adopted the format, solidifying its market position.
3. Evolution and Digital Transition:
- Hi8 dominated the compact camcorder market throughout the 1990s.
- In 1999, Sony introduced Digital8, a variant that used the same Hi8 cassette size but digitally recorded audio and video using the DV codec.
- Digital8 offered further improvements in quality and features but gradually faced competition from MiniDV, another digital format with larger tapes.
4. Decline and Legacy:
- As digital video technology advanced and formats like MiniDV and later High-definition camcorders emerged, Hi8 usage declined in the early 2000s.
- Production of Hi8 camcorders and tapes eventually ceased.
- While no longer in active production, Hi8 camcorders and tapes are occasionally used by niche videographers who appreciate their vintage aesthetic and portability.
- Tape-to-digital services transfer Hi8 footage to digital formats for preservation and accessibility.
The Significance of Hi8
Hi8 played a crucial role in democratizing high-quality video recording for consumers.
Its compact size, improved video quality, and affordability made it popular for capturing personal memories and events and even for professional use in documentaries and newsgathering.
While superseded by digital formats, Hi8 remains a significant mark in the history of consumer video technology.
Hi8 matched S-VHS with an equal resolution.
On the camcorder front, it improved the Video8 format, which supported a resolution of 240 lines.
Hi8 features improved resolution and upped the signal-to-noise ratio and colour rendition.
Technology Behind Higher Resolution
How is the improvement in a resolution made possible? It was done by increasing the frequency of the luminance signal.
Let’s compare the luminance frequency of Video8 and Hi8 to understand this better.
Video8 has a luminance frequency ranging from 4.2MHz and 5.4MHz.
With Hi8, the frequency is increased to between 5.7MHz and 7.7MHz.
This allows for higher-density video data to be stored. For the record, Hi8 records at 3.6 times the density of VHS.
The luminance frequency of VHS is between 3.4MHz and 4.4MHz.
For S-VHS, it is upped to between 5.4MHz and 7.0MHz.
Hi8’s reign lasted about 10 years before Digital8 emerged with a resolution of 500 lines.
When it was first introduced in 1989, Hi8 stood apart from its cousin Video8 regarding tape type.
Hi8 supported two types of tapes –
Hi8 Metal Evaporated (ME) and Hi8 Metal Particle (MP).
These two tape formulations support the storage of high-density video.
Hi8 tape was physically not equipped to carry the dense video information required by the format. As such the tape is susceptible to damage.
When the tape is played back, it can develop hits. In other words, horizontal lines over some frames. The more the tape is played, the more the chances it has to develop more hits.
As such, it’s advisable to make a copy of the master tape and use it for playback or conversion to digital/.
Also, avoid rewinding and fast-forwarding the tape often to prevent damage.
(Source: Compression for Great Video and Audio: Master Tips and Common Sense
By Ben Waggoner)
Technical Specification Summary
To help you better understand the Hi8 specifications, we have put the information in table form.
|400 lines horizontal
|Standard NTSC and PAL formats
|SP (Standard Play), LP (Long Play)
|SP offered higher quality, LP offered longer recording time
|SP: 90 minutes (NTSC), 120 minutes (PAL)
|LP: 180 minutes (NTSC), 240 minutes (PAL)
|Hi8 cassette tape
|8mm magnetic tape
|5.7 MHz – 7.7 MHz
|Increased bandwidth compared to standard 8mm
|Hi8, Metal Hi8
|Metal Hi8 offered longer recording times and potentially better quality
|AFM (Analog Frequency Modulation)
|PCM Audio Support
|Available on some higher-end models
|32 kHz sampling rate, 8-bit resolution
|For higher quality connection to TVs and monitors
|Optical zoom varied by model
|Typically ranged from 4x to 20x
|Battery or AC adapter
|Batteries varied by model and usage
First Hi8 Camcorders
Sony and Canon released their first Hi8 camcorders a few days apart in February 1989, with Sony leading the way.
Sony’s CCD-V99 was priced at $2,200.
Canon’s A1 was priced at $2300.
It was reported that video produced by both these cameras exceeded the quality of the Super 8 mm home movie format.
Professional Use of Hi8
Although Hi8 was largely meant for the consumer market, it was also used for professional purposes.
Hi8 was no match for professional video cameras, which cost $30,000 to $40,000 back in the day.
Paul Lundahl’s Hi8 documentary “Anatomy of a Spring Roll” was televised nationally on PBS in the late 1990s.
The found footage section of The Blair Witch Project was shot with a Hi8 camera, too.
Hi8 camcorders, owing to their portability, were also popular in the electronic newsgathering (ENG) field.
Last Hi8 Camcorder
Hi8’s reign as King of Camcorders lasted until the introduction of Digital8 and MiniDV.
Both of these formats offered a resolution of over 500 lines. Also, a main selling point was lossless footage transfer through a Firewire connection.
Hi8 soon fell out of popularity.
The last Hi8 camcorder released was the Sony CCD-TRV238 in 2007.
Check out the top Hi8 camcorder models still available for sale.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Video8 Camcorder Play a Hi8 Tape?
No, a Video8 camcorder can’t play a Hi8 tape recorded with a Hi8 or Digital8 camcorder.
You can load a Hi8 tape into a Video8 camcorder, which will play. However, you’ll not get a picture.
Video8 doesn’t support the high luminance frequency of the Hi8 tape.
Can a MiniDV Camcorder Play a Hi-8 Tape?
The tape width of a mini-DV is 0.25 inches. Whereas the tape width of Hi8, Video8, and Digital8 is 0.31 inches.
That would make it impossible for a mini-DV camcorder or player to play Hi8 tapes. There are also no Hi8 to mini-DV adapters.
How Long Will Hi8 Tapes Be Available in the Market?
Unfortunately, Hi8 tapes are no longer actively manufactured and have not been for several years. This means their availability on the market is dwindling and will continue to decrease over time. Here’s what you need to know:
- Production ceased: Major manufacturers like Sony halted production of Hi8 tapes in the early 2000s as digital options like MiniDV superseded the format and, later, high-definition (HD) formats.
- Existing stock: You might still find pockets of new old stock (NOS) Hi8 tapes online or at specialty stores, but these will become increasingly rare and likely priced at a premium.
- Focus on preservation: If you have existing Hi8 recordings, prioritize digitizing them to digital formats like MP4 or MOV for long-term preservation and accessibility. This process ensures your precious memories are not lost due to tape degradation or lack of playback equipment in the future.
While finding new Hi8 tapes will become increasingly difficult, exploring alternative formats and focusing on digitization are crucial steps to safeguard your Hi8 recordings and enjoy them for years.
Also, read How to Connect a Sony Hi8 Camcorder to a TV.
Fundamentals of Digital Audio, New Edition. By Alan P. Kefauver, David Patschke
Popular Mechanics September 1989