U-matic (1973 – 1990s)

U-matic was an analogue video cassette format introduced by Sony in 1971 (it reached the UK in 1973), using ¾-inch tape and a helical video head drum. It was the very first video cassette format, and all video tape formats prior to this had been open reel.

It was originally intended for domestic use, hence the first model that could record had a built-in TV tuner and wood on the sides of the cabinet (although it had no built-in timer, a separate timer was available in 1972). However, perhaps because the high price, it instead became the standard for industrial, educational and demonstration purposes, continuing to be used for for more than 25 years. It was also widely used in television production, particularly for on-location news gathering.

To prevent accidental recording, a small red button can be removed from the cassette.

A high-band version was launched in the 1980s (called BVU or Broadcast Video U-Matic) followed by U-matic SP (Superior Performance) before largely being replaced by Sony’s Betacam SP in the 1990s.

Two sizes of cassette were available, the smaller one (U-matic S) capable of up to 20 mins of video and suited to field recording.

Sources / Resources

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Preservation / Migration