Videotape Formulation And Manufacturing: Tale Of The Tape

Regardless of the advances in disk-based technologies, the television industry still lives off videotape, and will for some time to come. As commercial videotape formats have shrunk from two-inch to quarter-inch, one thing has not changed --how videotape is purchased.

Buying tape is a religious experience. Either we will swear by a brand and formula until it lets us down (or is discontinued) or we're religiously cheap, buying whatever tape we can get at the best price, as long as its magnetic recording capabilities are somewhat better than masking tape.

Cheapness goes a long way, especially considering how much videotape a station can go through in a year. Consider the number of tapes used by a single mid-market station annually for newsgathering, sports, in-house program production, and commercial production. That's a lot of tape. The most popular form of tape purchasing cheapness involved Betacam SP camcorders. Superior to their non-SP predecessor, their benefits are only realized when metal (SP) tape is used. But metal tape is more expensive than oxide tape. So while many stations and facilities elected to spend the money on SP camcorders, they took the cheap way out on tape, especially for ENG.

Greater Than the Sum Of Its Parts
Videotapes are made by combining a plastic polyester backing on which a metal or oxide magnetic material and binder is coated. Each manufacturer has a different way of "cooking" its videotape formula, and the results can lead to arguments among tape users about which tape is better. It is akin to a religious war.

With videotape, there is always a trade-off. Say that your major concerns are dropouts or error rate. While digital error concealment and correction has made dropouts less of a concern, they are still evident. A tape that provides greater protection from dropouts might have the adverse side effect of increasing headwear. Want a "softer" tape to prolong head life? Then you might have to accept more dropouts and errors.

While most would agree that before recording, a virgin tape should be cycled in the VTR (fast forwarded and rewound) to even out the tension on the supply reel, most videographers and tape operators load a tape and start recording. But how often a tape is used is another issue that can lead to name-calling. We've all seen the labels where a number is crossed out each time a pass is made on a tape. Once the highest number is reached, the tape is discarded. That number can be 10, 20, or any number the head engineer or videographer decides. However, there is an urban myth that holds videotape, like a good wine, gets better at recording with age (or at least use).

"Polishing" a tape means that the tape heads have rubbed against the magnetic surface. Back in the 1980s, polishing a tape to increase recording sensitivity and remove debris was in vogue. Today, the activity is unnecessary. Better tape manufacturing (which includes polishing during the process and keeping the tape in clean room conditions) means a tape doesn't need this procedure anymore. In fact, polishing a tape today can do more harm than good. In the first pass, a tape is very clean and pure; any subsequent passes adds the potential for debris to come off the plastic as well as additional headwear. While there might be some small advantage to performing a single polishing pass, the disadvantages certainly outweigh them.

Fujifilm: Innovation, Choice, Quality
By Tom Daly
Director of Marketing, Professional Video & Audio Recording Media, Magnetic Markets Division, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A.

Fujifilm has forged its reputation in the professional broadcast market over the course of decades, remaining focused on a set of fundamental values that are essential to customer satisfaction÷technological innovation, choice, and exceptional quality.

Starting in 1963, with the introduction of its first broadcast videotape, Fujifilm has drawn from its unique and diverse strengths in both photography and removable media to help create some of today's most popular video, audio, and data storage formats. For instance, Fujifilm just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its patented ATOMM (an acronym for Advanced super-Thin layer and high Output Metal Media) technology, the metal particle coating procedure that has enabled great leaps in magnetic media recording capacities, performance, and reliability. ATOMM was actually made possible in part due to Fujifilm's expertise with film coating, a wonderful example of the cross-pollination that can occur in a company with expertise covering so many areas. As a result of ATOMM, Fujifilm introduced such advanced professional products as DVCPRO and D-9 (Digital-S) professional videocassettes, as well as Fujifilm Hi8 ME consumer videocassettes. ATOMM also led to the introduction of ZIP and DLT, formats that were designed originally for small and mid-range business data storage but have since become popular with video professionals.

NANO CUBIC Technology
Building upon ATOMM's success, Fujifilm recently announced its NANO CUBIC technology, an ultra-thin magnetic layer coating that results in higher resolution for recording digital data, ultra-low noise, and high signal-to-noise ratios ideal for magneto-resistive (MR) heads.

NANO CUBIC technology holds tremendous promise for the entertainment industry in that it is capable of catapulting digital videotape to 1TB native (uncompressed) capacities. In other words, one tape would be able to record up to 200 two-hour movies. Not so incredible a concept given that IBM has already announced a prototype÷using NANO CUBIC÷that was able to record 1TB of information.

Although essential for business, innovation can cause anxiety in cost-conscious customers and manufacturing partners alike, who are wary of the cost of transitioning to new formats. That's why Fujifilm has developed ways to mass-produce highly advanced new products so that they are affordable for users and profitable for manufacturers. Fujifilm's NANO CUBIC technology, for example, can be applied to currently available mass production lines, which means a relatively low cost to convert existing manufacturing facilities and, ultimately, a lower price for the end user.

It's important to note that companies that enjoy cradle-to-grave customer relationships tend to be those who embrace another key fundamental, product choice. Fujifilm has an impressive selection of magnetic and optical recordable and rewritable media, highlighted by its new DV131 DVCAM format videocassettes, along with DVD, DLT, and LTO media, all of which are popular with video professionals. Fujifilm also sells a large portfolio of analog video products, including Betacam and broadcast-grade VHS videocassettes. In other words, Fujifilm believes customers should be free to choose a format, not have one dictated to them.

Finally, the last fundamental value÷high quality÷may seem obvious, especially to TV news professionals who live and die with the images they bring back from the field. But some companies may be tempted to reach for higher profit margins at the expense of product quality. That's just false economizing, because the first time you let a customer down, he may never forgive and forget.

Fujifilm has invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and talent in building its brand and creating a reputation for customer service in the broadcast industry.


Maxell: Unique Processes
By Rich D'Ambrise
Senior Manager of Engineering, Maxell Corporation of America

Selecting professional videotape can be a daunting task in an environment where hardware manufacturers imply, if not downright insist, that their equipment works best with their brand of media. While this might be an effective sales technique, it needlessly limits the range of media choices for professionals in the broadcast, production, and post-production industries.

Maxell has recently experienced success in breaking through the confusion in many professional markets, including Los Angeles and Detroit, with an aggressive program of sampling that has convinced broadcast and production professionals that our media offers superior performance, reliability, and durability. Here's why.

Maxell is a media specialist. We dedicate all of our research and development resources and also the exceptional creativity of our technology and manufacturing teams to perfecting our media products. For example, we have a team of chemists who are exclusively dedicated to ensuring Maxell's proprietary binder systems, which are a critical component of blank tape performance, are the finest in the industry.

Similarly, we have magnetic particle specialists who concentrate on developing our exclusive magnetic materials, which improve signal strength and output while insuring optimal reliability and durability both of the tape and the recording equipment.

To illustrate my point more specifically about the advantages of teams of specialists working on various elements of tape technology and manufacturing, I would like to describe three of Maxell's exclusive technologies.

Ceramic Armor Particles
Having determined that metal particulate magnetic material represented the next leap forward in magnetic performance, Maxell set upon developing a superior method for stabilizing the particles to prevent oxidation and signal degradation. Through determined research efforts, a technique was found to encapsulate each metal particle in a ceramic compound (Maxell's Ceramic Armor metal technology), yielding outstanding particle stabilization.

As the process was developed and perfected for manufacturing, however, we discovered two very important side benefits that had just as much to do with the superior performance of our metal particle tape as did particle stabilization. We found that the ceramic coating also produced stronger, smoother particles that aided in the dispersion process, yielding a more uniform magnetic layer, as the ceramic coating helped the particles slide past each other more easily.

In addition, the smooth ceramic coating enabled the particles to be aligned more precisely along the tape surface during the orientation process, improving packing density and thereby increasing signal strength. Maxell's Ceramic Armor metal particulate process is the enabling technology behind our digital videotape products, such as HDCAM, Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, D-5, and DVCPRO, among many others.

Black Magnetite
Magnetic Particles
Black Magnetite magnetic particles are derived from a proprietary process that prevents magnetite particles from oxidizing into gamma ferric oxide, improving their magnetic energy by a net factor of 14 percent. It is the basis for many of our VHS, S-VHS, and Betacam videocassettes. This stabilizing process allows Maxell to improve the performance of our tapes' magnetic oxide coatings.

Unique Binder Systems
Finally, there are Maxell's binder systems, which are designed specifically for each professional video format. Incorporating customized combinations of magnetic particles, ceramic additives, solvents, plastics, and other components, each binder system is created to yield precise tape characteristics that optimize head-to-tape contact and tightly control the level of abrasion for superior magnetic and physical performance as well as headwear and head cleaning.

These and many other details that go into the development and manufacturing process are convincing a growing number of industry professionals that the name on the cassette does not have to match the name on the camcorder or the studio deck.


Quantegy: Securing Supply And Demand
By Steve Smith
Director of Marketing, Quantegy

While most people know Quantegy was spun off from the Ampex Magnetic Tape division in 1995, few realize that we also acquired the assets of 3M's audio and video media when it ceased operations that same year, thus adding some of that company's intellectual property (recipe books) and physical assets to our own.

While part of Ampex, the Magnetic Tape division enjoyed the luxury of close format development with the hardware side of the business. Our tape formulations were designed specifically for the formats in question÷one-inch, D1, and D2.

Today, as an independent company, Quantegy's decision to manufacture a new tape format (i.e. secure a license with the format's creator) is based upon whether we feel a format will be commercially successful, and if we believe that we can realize a good return on investment. This means taking into account the requirements of manufacturing the specific videotape format, including plastics, slitting, packaging, market introductions (which can take from 12-24 months), while maintaining the ability to tweak the format.

One of the best examples of this was with the introduction of Sony's Digital Betacam format. OEMs tend to keep the hardware and tape proprietary for 6-12 months, so that they can closely monitor the complete VTR hardware/media system. For Digital Betacam, the first time we got a thorough look at the format, specifically the tape, was when it was publicly introduced. While enhancements to a format continue throughout its life cycle (think of all the "types" of U-Matic VTRs there have been through the years), the tape formulations are part of this evolution and are engineered around the hardware. Likewise, new formats and formulations are evolutions of existing formats. Betamax evolved into Betacam. VHS evolved into Recam and MII. Even the newest formats, such as DVCPRO with dual layering technology, aren't new. What is new is the width and thickness of the tape, which require new processing and slitting methods.

For Quantegy, our goals have always been to provide superior service, quality, and pricing÷and in the tape business÷all three are givens. As an independent tape company, we consider ourselves the industry's alternative. Any tape user who understands how tape is manufactured wants to have a high quality second supplier that will not be subject to the same influences as its primary supplier.

For example, your second supplier (which typically will provide 20-25 percent of your raw stock) should have its manufacturing and warehousing facilities in a different geographic area than your primary supplier. This protects you from natural disasters, shipping delays or stoppages, and raw material shortages. It is for these reasons that we have manufactured tape in our Opelika, AL facility since 1951 (with videotape being introduced in 1959) and warehouse that tape in three diverse areas÷Los Angeles, Kansas City, KS, and Harrisburg, PA. This provides us with unprecedented reach for delivery and service, especially if tape is ordered "just in time."

The last thing a user wants to do is run out of tape, and our ability to go from receiving an order to delivery can be as short as two hours.

While we are the primary manufacturer of one-inch tape and see Digital Betacam being the dominant tape format through the next five years, we do see an end of the development cycle in rotary/helical scan video technologies. Once the industry has firmly embraced digital, we believe that computer storage and creation solutions will begin to find their way into the television industry. In five years, LTO will be able to store a TB on a single cassette with a 30MBps transfer rate. This will provide a more robust and cost-effective format for the transportation and storage of digital video.

> Quantegy

Sony: Services And Benefits
By Jo Ann Vozeh
Director of Marketing, Media Application Systems Division, Sony Electronics' Business Solutions and Systems Division

Building upon its more than 50 years as a leader in videotape manufacturing, Sony delivers a broad range of professional tape storage solutions to users, which deliver enhanced workflow, inspire creativity, and offer unparalleled reliability.

This year, as the market leader in both analog and digital videotape for the broadcast market, Sony reached the milestone of manufacturing its 200 millionth Betacam-based format tape, which includes the HDCAM, MPEG IMX, Digital Betacam, Betacam SX, Betacam SP, and Betacam oxide formats.

These formats helped revolutionize television newsgathering and field production, and now they are doing it with electronic cinematography. For nearly 20 years, the Betacam family has been instrumental in the self-contained ENG concept and in the development of portable lightweight ENG camcorders. Sony MPEG IMX recorders and players playback almost all of Sony's half-inch tape formats, providing Sony customers with important legacy protection.

In the early stages of their development, it was particularly important to create lighter and smaller broadcast recorders based upon a new half-inch tape format that could withstand the intense rigors of field acquisition, editing, and today's high-speed data transfers into servers for editing.

In addition, production crews needed a tape that would stand up consistently under the increased stress of Betacam transports in unpredictable environments. Not only was the Sony Betacam videocassette smaller and lighter than the 16mm film and three quarter-inch U-Matic videotape being used at the time, it offered significant recording and editing efficiencies, which were never before realized.

Co-Development And Disaster Recovery
While developing a new VTR format, Sony co-develops the format's videotape in order to maximize the recorder's performance. The benefit of tape co-development is that it assists in maintaining VTR head life. Sony tape in Sony VTRs, in many cases, extends the head life by hundreds of hours. In addition, there is the added benefit of the tape being able to withstand the intense rigors of editing, including high speed data transfer into a server.

After the recording has been made, Sony continues its support commitment. It has dedicated a significant amount of resources to handling customer service, technical support, and program material recovery for almost any type of recording media ever made.

Our technicians not only have more than 20 years of experience in recording media engineering, but are also crossed-trained on Sony hardware to have a complete understanding of the interaction between recorders and tape.

Sony's recovery service helps a diverse customer base÷from content creators to law enforcement officials, retrieve information lost due to extreme conditions such as prolonged exposure to weather, water, salt, age, intentional tape destruction, and even volcanoes.

For one client, we routinely retrieve lost images because tapes are exposed, sometime for days, to saltwater and sand. Once, this customer sent us a tape for salvaging because, during a documentaty shoot, it got too close to the heat of a volcano. We successfully retrieved all the lost program material. Overall, Sony has a 95 percent recovery success rate at retrieving program material from damaged tapes.

Sony's recovery process is so thorough we're routinely asked for help in tape recovery for use as evidence in criminal court cases. We recover program material from both Sony and non-Sony tapes that may have been deliberately damaged or damaged by a variety of factors. We can even determine the manufacturing date of the tape to help establish timelines in court cases.

> Sony