Formats Explained


XDCAM HDThe XDCAM family was first released by Sony in 2003, and consists of four product lines that differ in types of encoder used, frame size, container type and in recording media. The first cameras supported two formats, namely MPEG IMX (good for the best picture quality) and DVCAM (good for the longest recording time). MPEG IMX will give 68 minutes at 30mbps recording rate, 55 minutes at 40mbps or 45 minutes at 50mbps, with DVCAM giving 85 minutes. The four XDCAM product lines are:

  • XDCAM HD 4:2:2

XDCAM SD has been popular with many different sectors of the industry, from broadcasters and production facilities to professional sports teams and corporations along with government and educational facilities worldwide. The XDCAM’s disc-based recording offers users a number of benefits. The professional optical discs used make it possible to access information in a fraction of the time of a normal disc. Clips recorded to a professional optical disc are always recorded onto a blank section, removing the time consuming process of having to find the right section to start recording, and a cameraman's fear of recording over a good take! So XDCAM cameras are always ready to take the next shot. At present the XDCAM optical discs come in three sizes: the 23GB PFD23, a single-layer rewritable disc, the 50GB PFD50, a dual-layer rewritable disc or the 128GB PFD128QLW, a quad-layer write-once disc.

Following on in 2006 XDCAM HD was released to address the mounting requirements for affordable yet fully featured HD acquisition. A great advantage of the XDCAM HD range is that the camcorder offers HD/SD dual format recording capability and it added a new recording format to the XDCAM range; MPEG HD (usable in all XDCAM products except XDCAM SD).

In 2008 Sony released the XDCAM EX product line, offering an exciting new, low-cost entry point into the world of HD. XDCAM records onto the SxS Pro card (S by S), a solid state memory card which complies with the ExpressCard™ standard. The first camera which accepted the SxS card was Sony's popular PMW-EX1. SxS Pro is expensive, so in 2009 Sony introduced the SxS-1, a more affordable version, though with a shorter lifespan. However it will still last on average 5 years if used to its full capacity every day! The newly released Sony PMW-350 and PMW-500 are the top of the range XDCAM EX cameras. The below table illustrates the storage capacity of Sony SxS cards:

SxS Memory Card Recording Time
Mode SettingResolutionAudio FormatRec Time on 8GbRec Time on 16Gb
35Mbps (VBR)1920x1080 / 59.94i, 29.97P, 23.98P
1280x720 / 59.94P, 29.97P, 23.98P
LPCM 16-bit, 48kHz, 2chApprox. 25minApprox. 50min
SP Mode 25Mbsp (CBR)1440x1080 / 59.94i, 23.98PsF (2-3 P/D)LPCM 16-bit, 48kHz, 2chApprox. 35minApprox. 70min


The most recent addition to the XDCAM range is XDCAM HD422. These cameras represent the pinnacle of of Sony's XDCAM's and include the flagship models, the PDW-700 and PDW-F800. Both cameras offer MPEG HD422 recording at 1920x1080 resolution, with the PDW-700 providing uncompressed 4 channel 24bit audio recording, and the PDW-F800 uncompressed 8 channel 24bit audio recording. Both cameras can also record at a bitrate of 50mbps, making their footage acceptable for broadcast usage. These latest cameras are also IT friendly, with the added benefits of networking support, iLink interface (File Access Mode), and proxy file recording (allowing lower resolution clips to be recorded simultaneously, making it possible to start the editing process earlier). The XDCAM range offers flexibility and convenience at prices designed to appeal to a wide range of budgets.


HDCAM SRHDCAM SR was introduced in 2003 as the follow on from 1997's HDCAM (HDCAM being an HD version of Digital Betacam). The SR stands for Superior Resolution and it uses a 50% higher particle density tape and is capable of recording either RGB 4:4:4 or component 4:2:2 high-definition video at an astonishing net video rate of 440 megabits-per-second, providing a combination of higher bandwidth, higher bit depth, and lower compression than any previous half-inch or quarter-inch HD VTR. As a result, the HDCAM SR recorders capture the full detail of the Common Image Format 1920x1080 sampling structure without pre-filtering or sub-sampling. HDCAM SR recording also capitalizes on the unique new scalable MPEG-4 studio profile compression algorithm to achieve a mild compression ratio.

Tapes come in a variety of lengths; 6, 33, 40, 64, 94 and 124 minutes. The tapes also come with a pre-attached Tele-File sticker, which contains a 1K memory chip to store meta data about your tape.

HDCAM SR is used for movies and commercials, sophisticated green screen effects, digital intermediates, telecine transfers, archiving and as of 2007, many prime-time network television shows use HDCAM SR as a master recording medium. It delivers breathtakingly natural, detailed pictures while significantly driving down production costs.


HDVHDV was developed in 2003 by JVC and supported by Sony, Canon and Sharp, with the four companies forming the HDV consortium in September 2003. HDV Offers an ideal migration path from DVCAM to entry-level HD production. HDV records pictures at 1080 line resolution onto a standard DV format cassette which serves to reduce camcorder size and weight, and this smaller cassette size also cuts media costs. It allows dual-format HDV/DVCAM recording and playback with the same camcorder or VTR editing deck - reducing hardware inventory requirements, storage and transportation costs. Furthermore, it's easy to incorporate HDV material into the HDCAM world via an external converter.

With the advent of tapeless formats, and recognising the need to offer the same flexibility, JVC, Sony and other manufacturers offer on-camera recording units, which convert an HDV camcorder into a hybrid system capable of recording both onto tape and onto file-based media. These recorders connect to a camcorder via FireWire and do not recompress HDV video, offering exactly the same image quality as if video were recorded on tape.

HDV is accepted with various restrictions for broadcast use. For more information on this, please see the technical specifications section of our website.


HDCAMAs mentioned in the HDCAM SR section; HDCAM was introduced by Sony in 1997 as an upgrade to the Digital Betacam format, at a time that no other HD tape format was available. The tapes come in the same lengths as the HDCAM SR tapestock, but without the 1K meta data storage chip.

HDCAM offers superb High Definition picture performance, whether you prefer to post produce in HDCAM or down convert for editing within existing SD infrastructures, HDCAM offers greater flexibility to match your creative preferences and production needs. Shoot at 25P to give your television productions a prestige, ‘filmic’ look. Alternatively, select 50i or 60i for a more immediate feel, especially with fast-moving action – the choice is yours. The uprated HDCAM SR came about as HDCAM doesn’t actually record every detail that the HD-SDI signal potentially has to offer.


XDCAM EXAn exciting new, low-cost entry point into the world of HD, XDCAM EX records onto “SxS PRO” memory cards which comply with the ExpressCard™ standard. Up to 100 minutes of HD content can be recorded onto two removable 16GB cards. 1080/720 switchable and supporting a variety of standards, including Cine Alta 1080/23.98PsF, XDCAM EX makes it fast and easy to shoot, edit and distribute great quality HD.


DVCPro-HDPanasonic’s DVCPRO (or DVCPRO25) was developed in 1995 primarily for ENG (Electronic News Gathering) and has an even greater track width than DVCam version of DV using another tape type (Metal Particle instead of Metal Evaporated). Additionally, the tape has a longitudinal analogue audio cue track. Audio is only available in the 16 bit/48 kHz variant. Apart from that, DVCPRO25 is otherwise identical to DV.

DVCPRO50 arrived in 1997 and doubles the coded video bitrate from 25 Mbit/s to 50 Mbit/s, and improves colour-sampling resolution and the resulting picture-quality is reputed to rival Digital Betacam, a more expensive studio format.

In 2000 Panasonic released DVCPRO HD, also known as DVCPRO100. It uses four parallel codecs and a coded video bitrate of 100 Mbit/s. Despite HD in its name, DVCPROHD downsamples native 720p/1080i signals to a lower resolution. Compression ratio is approximately 7:1. While technically DVCPRO HD is a direct descendant of DV, it is used almost exclusively by professionals and tape-based DVCPROHD cameras exist only in shoulder mount variant.

Digital Betacam

Digital BetacamDigital Betacam (commonly referred to as Digibeta, d-beta, dbc or simply Digi) has been the industry standard for some time now, superseding both Betacam and Betacam SP. Released by Sony in 1993 the Digital Betacam format records a compressed component video signal plus 4 channels of uncompressed 48 kHz audio. A 5th audio track is available for cueing, and a linear timecode track is also used on the tape. Digital Betacam is considered to be the gold standard of formats for standard-definition digital video, is capable of outperforming cheaper digital formats such as DVCAM and DVCPRO, and associated equipment is comparatively expensive. Panasonic offers the DVCPRO50 competing format, which has similar technical abilities.

Another key element which aided adoption was Sony's implementation of the SDI coaxial digital connection on Digital Betacam decks. Facilities could begin using digital signals on their existing coaxial wiring without having to commit to an expensive re-installation.


DVCAMDVCAM is a professional DV format released in 1996 as a response to Panasonic's DVCPRO. Like DVCPRO, DVCAM uses locked audio, which prevents audio synchronization drift that may happen on DV If several generations of copies are made. DVCam is very similar to Mini DV (in fact Mini DV footage can be recorded onto DVCAM), but DVCAM tape runs faster and the tape heads record the data onto a physically wider track on the tape, in fact 50% wider when compared to baseline, at 15 ?m track pitch. The effect of this is that the same data is spread across a larger tape area and therefore a higher number of magnetic particles within the tape. This helps to reduce errors caused by drop-out which can be induced by minor tape imperfections.


MiniDVMniDV is one of three common digital formats used in sound and picture recording. Using digital technology, MiniDV captures video and audio on high-density cassette tapes. This format is very popular, as it delivers sound and video that is decidedly sharp and high quality.

The MiniDV format is one of the most commonly used formats for camcorders. Leading manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Sharp, Canon, and many others offer MiniDV camcorders. These camcorders deliver video that is much clearer than analogue camcorders. They also offer stronger colour reproduction. Furthermore, MiniDV camcorders are lightweight and compact, many featuring extras like MPEG and night recording. DV provides a quality digital picture at a low price.

Betacam SP

Betacam SPIn 1986, Betacam SP was developed, which increased the horizontal resolution from the 300 of Betacam, to 340 lines. While the quality improvement of the format itself was minor, the improvement to the VTRs was enormous, in quality, features, and particularly, the new larger cassette with 90 minutes of recording time. Beta SP (for "Superior Performance") became the industry standard for most TV Stations and high-end production houses until the late 1990s. Despite the format's age Beta SP remains a common standard for video post-production. The recording time is the same as for Betacam, 30 and 90 minutes for S and L, respectively. Tape speed is slightly slower in machines working in the 625/50 format, increasing tape duration of one minute for every five minutes of run time. So, a 90 minute tape will record 108 minutes of video in PAL.