Developed by Sony (I believe) in the late sixties/early seventies the U-matic format was the forerunner to all home video formats.

It is named after the U-shaped route the tape takes inside the deck.

Different formats of U-Matic exist: Lo-Band, Hi-Band and SP, each with its own fans. Lo-Band is popular amongst advertising agencies and small TV outfits, due to its durability and suitability for presentations. It's also good enough quality to do on-line editing.

Hi-Band is used in many TV stations around the world as a companion to Betacam, and was the first casette based format used for broadcasting.

Superior Performance (SP), is very rare - only a handful of African broadcasters still use it. It's superior because of the chrome tape meaning less noise and better picture quality.

Further reading: the U-Matic PALsite at, Sony Broadcast and Professional Services at

After all this time, Umatics are still the preferred system for delivering post-produced ads to TV stations. Until recently I worked at the advertising agency: Ogilvy & Mather – the company still has a huge historical library of Umatic tapes.

You would think that after all this time, companies would switch to digital formats – after all, DVD and even MPEG CD-ROM are capable of similar video quality. I am told that the reason that this format is still strong is because Tape Operations departments (the part of the TV station that does the playing-out), are a conservative bunch and would much rather stick with this proven technology than experiment with new fangled digital things.

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