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Film Formats – How Things Have Changed Over The Years

From the early beginnings of motion pictures and sound, there have been many different storage formats on which these Hollywood blockbusters and home movies have been saved. As it often the case with the latest in advancements, new technology is always there to supersede the previous incarnation, making us upgrade to the latest format, often meaning that we need to back up our old home movies and music that we love to continue enjoying them.

Evolution of film formats

But which formats have made the most impact over the years? It is not necessarily so that due to a formats technological superiority that a particular format will take off, for example, the VHS (Video Home System) format that dominated the late eighties and nineties was initially the inferior product. The earlier Betamax system that was introduced by Sony produced slighter higher resolution playback compared to VHS, which was created by JVC. This two-competing-systems market started what was to become known as the videotape format wars.

Long before the videotape made it into the homes of regular consumers, home entertainment was popularised very early on with the Gramophone or Phonograph. As with any new invention, the home music devices came in many formats and allowed people a choice in both price and quality. The invention of the record and the two-sided record was the mainstay for home audio entertainment right up until the early eighties. With record sales dominating the 60s, 70s and early 80s, it was only until the arrival of the audio cassette that format of the record started to decline rapidly.

The 1970s saw much advancement in home video recording and playback. In most instances, home movies were recorded onto film reels and had to be played back using a video projector. All that changed in the early 70s when home video playback tapes were introduced. Betamax and VHS were two competing systems that in general offered the public a chance to record television and buy movies that they could watch at home. These two different formats created a format war between the two competing companies that invented the formats: JVC and Sony.

After many years, VHS proved to be the popular format, attracting all of the necessary movie studios backing to make Betamax a format of the past. The 90s was the ultimate era of the VHS tape, but as with all formats, the home VHS system was later superseded with the introduction of a video disc system. Many formats sprung up, including laserdisc, VCD (Video Compact Disc) but the DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) which offered superior picture quality and playback over its VHS counterpart won the day. Whilst this new format had been one of the most popular consumer video and audio playback devices ever introduced, it soon had a successor down the line. Enter Blu-Ray.

As Sony had almost single-handedly lowered the price of DVD players with its inclusion of a DVD player in its PlayStation 2 console, they were looking to make headway in creating a new format to store higher definition video and audio onto. Since High Definition television had too much information to store on tape, and not forgetting that this new digital signal and compression would be wasted if converted to an analogue system, a large format disc system was needed. 

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Sony created the Blu-Ray disc system, which prints its information ten times smaller than a regular DVD, thus giving it up to a whopping 50GB of storage available on a single-sided disc compared to roughly 7GB on a regular DVD. The ‘Blu-Ray’ name comes from the blue laser needed to be able to read this ever so finely printed information.

But like so many generations before it, the Blu-Ray didn’t have it all its own way. The competing system known as HD-DVD was seen as a natural successor to the DVD format, but thanks to pressure from the majority of movie studios that preferred Blu-Ray and again for its inclusion in the PlayStation 3 this time around, Blu-Ray won the second big video format war to be the most popular digital format for home use for now and the years to come.

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