In the late 1970s and 1980s, various consumer video technologies entered the household, including the Betamax, VHS and Video2000 systems. Changes in the media landscape and the rapid growth of video as a domestic medium affected the established worlds and ways of making and screening amateur films. Video entered homes first as a television recording technology with the videocassette recorder, but later became adopted as a medium for amateur film, especially after the release of the camcorder.
Film versus video
Video is an electromagnetic medium. Contrary to film, video makes use of magnetic tape for the electronic transfer of signals. Consumer video technologies were initially perceived as complementary to amateur film cameras.
Ampex video tape, as used in the television industry in the 1960s.
This was during the 1960s and early 1970s, when the first consumer video recorders were released, including the Ampex VR-1500 (1963), Philips EL 3400 (1964) and Sony CV-2000 (1965), also called 'videotape recorders' (VTRs). Unlike the later 'videocassette recorders' (VCRs), they made use of a 'reel-to-reel' recording mechanism, which means that the magnetic tape used as a recording medium was held on a reel. Reel-to-reel videotape recorders were designed primarily for the recording of television programs, but could also be used for making video recordings at home by connecting a separate video camera and microphone to the stationary video recorder.
Ampex 1-inch reel-to-reel video tape recorder from 1966.
The Philips N1500 video recorder, released in 1972, was one of the first consumer video recorders that made use of video cassettes for the recording of electronic audio and video signals. Compared to open-reel videotapes, the cassette recording system had several advantages. It helped to protect the magnetic tape from dust and other potential threats to the recording mechanism, and significantly eased the process of video recording itself.
Demonstration of the Philips N1500 video recorder at the Firato 1971 fair in RAI Amsterdam, Netherlands.
A Philips N1500 video recorder from 1972, the first consumer video cassette recorder (VCR).
A video cassette for Philips' VCR system.
With the releases of Sony’s Betamax, JVC’s Video Home System (VHS) and Philips’ Video2000 systems in the late 1970s, video cassette recorders massively entered the household. Because the new home video systems were mutually incompatible, they competed with each other in the so-called 'videotape format war', which lasted well into the 1980s. The new home video systems had many advantages over the Philips N1500 video recorder, including smaller size and significantly longer recording time. Sony’s Betamax videocassettes, for instance, provided a recording time of more than three hours.
A Sony Betamax video cassette.
A Sony Betamax video cassette recorder.
From portapak to camcorder
One of the first portable video sets was the Sony DV-2400 'Video Rover', also known as the first consumer 'Portapak'. Sony’s portapak was released in 1967 and consisted of a portable half-inch reel-to-reel video recorder and a black-and-white video camera, weighing a whopping 7 kilograms without the battery pack. Despite its sizable weight, the portapak was promoted for its great portability. Sony's portable video recorder became heavily associated with guerrilla television and other counter-culture collectives.
Sony Portapak Video Rover II AV-3400.
With the introduction of the Betamax, VHS and Video2000 home video systems in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the recording and screening of self-made videos was further stimulated. Video could record for longer than film, recorded audio synchronously with video, and allowed for instant playback of recordings. However, the lack of standardisation, relatively high price for a complete video set and the weight of a video camera prevented video as an amateur medium to develop into a real alternative to the film camera.
This all changed with the arrival of the camcorder, a video camera with an integrated recorder.
A VHS Movie Bauer VCC 406 video camcorder from 1984.
VHS video tapes.
At first, camcorders used regular-sized videocassettes, but soon, smaller ones were made that could be carried around more easily. The question of whether video could be considered an alternative to film as an amateur medium was frequently discussed in amateur cine-clubs. Seasoned film hobbyists especially considered video an inferior medium because of its perceived low image recording quality, limited display on the small television screens of the time, and initial lack of electronic montage possibilities.
Home video technologies continued to rise in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s due to the advance of compact 8mm-based electronic video camcorders, like Sony's popular Video8 Handycams, the standardisation of the VHS video format, the arrival of high-resolution video recording systems (S-VHS, Hi8), and improved montage possibilities. Gradually, a new generation of amateur users emerged, who explored rather than rejected the new possibilities provided by video as an electronic medium.
A father tapes his child with a “compact video” camcorder, August 7, 1985.
A Philips video camcorder from 1993.
A video clip about the arrival of video and the impending demise of Super 8 film as amateur medium, made by Dutch amateur filmmaker Cor Lievendag and other members of the Heerhugowaard cine-club in 1993. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
VHS video of a marriage proposal by Emilia van der Meer from 1993. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision