S-VHS logoIntroduced in Japan in 1987, S-VHS (Super VHS) was an improved version of the VHS standard for consumer video cassette recorders.
Like VHS, the S-VHS format uses a "color under" modulation scheme. S-VHS improves VHS's luminance resolution by boosting the frequency deviation of the luminance carrier. This produces a 60% improvement in (luminance) picture detail, or a horizontal resolution of 400 lines per picture height (versus VHS's 240 lines). The often quoted horizontal resolution of 400 means S-VHS captures greater picture detail than even analog (NTSC) cable broadcast TV, which is limited to about 330 lines. In practice, when timeshifting TV programs on S-VHS equipment, the improvement over VHS is indeed quite noticeable. Yet, the trained eye can easily spot the difference between live broadcast TV and a S-VHS recording of it. This is explained by S-VHS's failure to improve other key aspects of the video signal, especially the chroma signal. In VHS, the chroma carrier is both severely bandlimited and rather noisy, a limitation that S-VHS does not address. To be fair, poor color resolution was a deficiency shared by S-VHS's contemporaries (Hi8, Laserdisc, ED-Beta.)
In terms of audio recording, S-VHS retains VHS's conventional (linear) and Hi-Fi (AFM) soundtracks. As neither is changed from the VHS format, the linear audiotrack delivers sound quality scarcely better than AM radio. The analog Hi-Fi soundtrack uses VHS's depth multiplexing technique to sandwich an AFM (audio frequency-modulated) signal beneath the video signal. This is hardly a criticism, as VHS Hi-Fi already delivers excellent audio fidelity, approaching CD-quality. In addition, some professional S-VHS decks can record a PCM digital audio track (stereo 48 kHz), along with the normal video and Hi-Fi analog audio.
Nearly all S-VHS VCRs are backward compatible with VHS tapes, meaning S-VHS equipment is fully functional as a legacy VHS record/playback unit. Older VHS VCRs cannot view S-VHS recordings at all. Many newer VHS VCRs offer a feature called S-VHS quasi-playback (SQPB.) SQPB allows VHS players to view (but not record) S-VHS recordings, albeit at VHS quality levels. This feature is useful for viewing S-VHS-C camcorder tapes.
In recording mode, S-VHS VCRs require S-VHS videotape, which has a different oxide media formulation for higher magnetic coercitivity. (As a sidenote, most S-VHS VCRs can also make VHS recordings on S-VHS tape, and conversely, conventional VHS VCRs can record on S-VHS videotape. Both functions are useful for low volume, high-quality duplication.) Finally, recent model S-VHS VCRs offer a recording capability called S-VHS ET. S-VHS ET permits near S-VHS level recording on conventional, cheap VHS tapes, offering a compromise between more-expensive (native) S-VHS recordings and inferior (legacy) VHS recordings. The S-VHS ET recordings can be viewed in most VHS SQPB VCRs and non-ET S-VHS VCRs.
Shadow of VHS
Despite its designation as the logical successor to VHS, S-VHS did not come close to replacing VHS. In the home market, S-VHS failed to gain significant market share; for various reasons, timeshifters were not interested in paying more for an improved picture. Likewise, S-VHS rentals and movie sales did very poorly. A few prerecorded movies were released to S-VHS, but poor market acceptance prompted studios to transition their high-end product from S-VHS to Laserdisc.
In the camcorder role, the smaller form (S-VHS-C) camcorder did enjoy limited success among home video users. It was more popular for the amateur video industry, as it allowed for at least second generation copies (necessary for editing) to be made at reasonable quality. Panasonic sold industrial S-VHS decks for amateur and semi-professional production use. Community access television and other low-budget venues made extensive use of the S-VHS format, both for acquisition and subsequent studio editing. But the professional (network) studios largely avoided S-VHS, as the more expensive Betacam format had already become a de facto industry standard. (Quite simply, S-VHS's exhibited numerous technical deficiencies in a studio environment.)
As of 2005, consumer S-VHS VCRs are still available, but difficult to find in retail outlets. The largest VCR manufacturers, such as Matsushita (Panasonic) and Mitsubishi, are gradually moving toward DVD recorders and hard-disk based DVRs. DVD/VCR combo units rarely offer S-VHS, only VHS. In the mainstream consumer camcorder market, DV and DVD camcorders have largely eliminated S-VHS-C camcorders from consideration. The digital camcorder outperforms S-VHS-C units in all technical aspects: audio/video quality, recording time, lossless duplication, and form-factor.
To get the most benefit from S-VHS, a direct video connection to the monitor is required, ideally via an S-Video or component video connection. However, consumer S-VHS equipment was usually limited to S-Video and composite input jacks, with older television sets tending to also lack S-Video inputs. Nevertheless, viewing a S-VHS recording through a VCR's built-in RF modulator yields a discernable perceived quality improvement over VHS. Since the late 1990s, the increased popularity of S-VHS and other formats, such as DVD, has made S-Video and component video hookups commonplace on many TV sets.
It is not unusual to see the term S-VHS incorrectly used to refer to S-Video connectors, even in printed material. This may be due to S-VHS being one of the first consumer video products equipped with the S-Video connector; however, S-Video connectors are now common on American and Japanese video gadgets: DVD players and recorders, MiniDV camcorders, cable/satellite set-top boxes, etc.
Last update: 07:36 PM Friday, May 5, 2006