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S-VHS tape

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A S-VHS cassette contains a ½ inch (12.7 mm) wide magnetic tape wound between two spools, allowing it to be slowly passed over the various playback and recording heads of the video cassette recorder.

S-VHS is based on VHS, but employs different tape material (MP = Metal Particle tape) and works with a higher Resolution, i.e. close to 400 Lines. Regular VHS tapes could not be used to record in the S-VHS mode because the cassette shell design prevented it. However, the S-VHS tapes are simply a higher grade of VHS tape, and nothing more. In fact, there are several different tape formats, all of varying quality:

  • Standard Grade
  • High Grade
  • Hi-Fi Grade
  • Professional Grade
  • Industrial Professional Grade (probably S-VHS quality)
  • S-VHS
  • Industrial Grade S-VHS
  • D-VHS (Digital VHS)

In the early days of the format, the S-VHS tapes were simply far more expensive than regular VHS tapes. Even in the early 1990s, the S-VHS tapes were $10 compared to $2.50 for a good TDK standard-grade VHS tape. For people who loved to archive their TV programs and maximize the recorded quality, S-VHS was the only way to go. Unfortunately, the six-hour EP speed in SVHS, although superior in detail, was still just as unreliable when it came to archiving important tapes. So, the S-VHS enthusiast was stuck with buying the expensive SVHS tapes and using the SP speed. But $10 for a two-hour video was (and still is) awfully expensive, especially if you’ve got several hundred movies archived.

S-VHS Hacks

This wealth of varying formats required the higher-grade tapes to guarantee a certain recorded quality. Astute enthusiasts quickly figured out that the difference between the two types of tape, from a cassette design standpoint, was nothing more than a small recognition hole drilled on the bottom of the SVHS cassette! A sensor within the S-VHS VCR would detect the presence of the hole and permit the recording of S-VHS signals on the tape.

Early in the life of the format, some enthusiasts started to experiment with VHS tape formulations at S-VHS quality. We found that we could drill a similar recognition hole into a standard VHS cassette and the S-VHS VCR would then see this tape as an S-VHS tape. People used drills and soldering irons to create these holes in the VHS cassettes and suddenly they were able to archive many more programs far more cost effectively and at far greater image quality.

Taping S-VHS signals onto a typical cheap VHS tape resulted in a higher-resolution image that was viewable, but would never be mistaken for true S-VHS taped images. The images were grainy. As one went up the VHS tape quality chain, the S-VHS images rapidly approached the quality of the true S-VHS tapes. The challenge in those days was to find the right standardgrade VHS formulation that came closest to the true S-VHS quality. The best solution was found in TDK standard-grade tapes.

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