The Many Flavors of Super VHS
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
As JVC looked to improve the video and sound quality of the VHS video tape format in the mid 1980's, they rolled out the Super VHS (S-VHS) format in Japan in 1987 and then to other markets. For consumers needing to digitize a mix of home videos stored on different types of VHS and S-VHS formats, we'll look at the somewhat confusing variations of this higher resolution format. These include S-VHS-C, Super VHS-ET and S-VHS quasi-playback.
Super VHS cassettes and players look almost identical to their regular VHS counterparts. Other than a small 3mm hole on the underside of the S-VHS cassette, the main difference is the oxide formulas used on the S-VHS tape stock that allowed the format to record higher video bandwidth than VHS. The visual improvement is quite noticeable with S-VHS providing 400 lines of resolution versus 240 lines for VHS. To take advantage of the higher quality recordings for camcorder use, the compact S-VHS tape cassette, also known as S-VHS-C, was introduced and this format looked very similar to the popular compact VHS tapes (VHS-C). Recording quality of S-VHS-C camcorders competed with Sony's Hi8 format that also had 400 lines of resolution.
So can you play S-VHS and S-VHS-C tapes in a standard VHS video player? Not in the original VHS machines that were on the market. The full-sized and compact S-VHS tapes show as scrambled video when played. JVC and Panasonic were expecting consumers to start upgrading their VCRs to Super VHS versions but it turned out there was not much interest in upgrading for the higher resolution picture. S-VHS machines were backward compatible with VHS cassettes but S-VHS video recorders were not selling much in the first few years of production. So newer VHS players offered what is called S-VHS quasi-playback or Super Quasi-Play Back (SQPB). SQPB allows VHS players to view S-VHS recordings at VHS quality but the VCR did not record in S-VHS format. Families with a compact S-VHS camcorder could now play their camcorder tapes in the VHS machine although it would not show the higher resolution picture.
Between 1998-2000, JVC introduced another workaround to allow consumers to record higher quality video on VHS tapes without spending the additional money for blank S-VHS tapes which tended to be double the price. Super VHS-ET (Super VHS-Expansion Technology) promised an S-VHS recording on a standard VHS cassette tape. They only offered this functionality in Standard Play (SP) recording mode that was limited to about 2 hours and the S-VHS-ET tape recordings would not always play in other VCRs besides the recording machine. Lines of resolution for S-VHS-ET recordings tend to be somewhere between the 400 lines on S-VHS and the 240 lines for VHS. The ET feature was included in various industrial S-VHS machines along with consumer VCRs.
If you are not sure what format recordings you have on your full-sized or compact VHS or S-VHS tapes, check with your digitizing vendor to see what video tape formats they support. The camcorder and VCR market had its share of product and format hits and misses so make sure your family memories are saved regardless of which recording media you ended up with back in the day.