The Quest for the 8mm/VHS Adapter

8mm/VHS Video Cassette Size Comparison
8mm/VHS Video Cassette Size Comparison. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

You Want To Play Your Video Tape!

You have a recorded 8mm/Hi8 or miniDV tape. You want to watch it, but you don't want to hook up those darn cables from your camcorder to your TV. So, in a burst of inspiration, you head down to the local electronics store to buy an 8mm/VHS adapter.

You pick something up that seems like it would work (after all it says it is a VHS adapter). You take it home, but, to your dismay, the 8mm tape doesn't fit!

Frustrated, you head back to the store to return the "wrong" VHS adapter, demanding that the salesperson get you a VHS adapter that fits 8mm tapes.

In response, the salesperson rolls his eyes and delivers the news that there is no such thing for 8mm tapes. You respond, "But my cousin in Jersey has one, he just pops in his camcorder tape in the adapter and puts it in his VCR". However, there is more to the story.

Let's get right to the point - THERE IS NO 8mm/VHS ADAPTER!

8mm/Hi8/miniDV tapes cannot, under any circumstances, be played in a VHS VCR. It turns out the Jersey cousin has a VHS-C camcorder that uses a different type of small tape that can take advantage of an adapter to that can be inserted into a VCR for viewing.

So, why can't you play an 8mm tape in a VHS VCR using an adapter? Let's explore the details that will answer all questions regarding compatibility between 8mm/Hi8/miniDV and VHS-C with VHS.

How 8mm/Hi8 and miniDV are Different From VHS

8mm, Hi8, miniDV are formats with different technical characteristics than VHS. These formats were never developed with the intention to be electronically or mechanically compatible with the past or current VHS technology.

  • 8mm/Hi8 tapes are 8mm wide (about 1/4 inch), and miniDV tape is 6mm wide, while VHS tape is 1/2-inches wide. This means that it is impossible for a VHS VCR video head to read the taped information correctly since a VHS VCR requires a 1/2-inch wide tape to play back.
  • Along with the video and audio signals that are recorded, is a control track. The control track tells the VCR what speed the tape is recorded in and helps the VCR keep the tape lined up with rotating head drum on the VCR properly. Since the control track information is different on an 8mm/Hi8/miniDV tape than on a VHS tape, a VHS VCR cannot recognize the 8mm/Hi8/miniDV control track info and, thus, would not be able to keep the tape lined up properly with VHS tape heads, nor recognize the speed at which the recording was made.
  • Since 8mm/Hi8 tapes are recorded and played at different speeds than VHS, even if the tapes could physically fit into a standard VHS VCR, the VCR still couldn't play back the tapes at their correct speeds, since these speeds to do not match already established VHS tape recording and playback speeds.
  • 8mm and Hi8 audio are recorded differently than VHS. 8mm/Hi8 audio is recorded in AFM HiFi mode, while the audio on a miniDV tape is recorded at either a 12-bit or 16-bit digital format. This audio recording is done via the same heads as do the video recording.
  • The audio in the VHS format is recorded and played back by either the tape moving across a stationary head, away from the video heads, or, in the case of HiFi Stereo VHS VCRs, by a process called Depth Multiplexing, in which separate heads on the rotating VCR head drum record the audio under the video recording layer, instead of on the same layer as the video signal, as 8mm and HI8 do.
  • Due to the way VHS VCRs have to record and read audio, they are not equipped to read the AFM (Audio Frequency Modulation - similar to audio for FM radio) audio recorded on an 8mm or Hi8 tape.
  • 8mm/Hi8/miniDV video is of higher resolution than VHS and is recorded in a wider bandwidth, that is different from VHS, so once again, a standard VHS VCR still could not read the video information correctly, even if the tape could fit into a VCR.

The VHS-C Factor

Now, let us get back to the "Jersey Cousin" who places his tape in an adapter and plays it in a VCR. He owns a VHS-C camcorder, not an 8mm camcorder.

The VHS-C tapes used in this camcorder are smaller (and shorter) VHS tapes (VHS-C stands for VHS Compact) but are still the same 1/2" width of a standard VHS tape. Also, video and audio signals are recorded in the same format and employ the same record/playback speeds as regular VHS. As a result, there are adapters available to play VHS-C  tapes in standard VCR.

However, since VHS-C tapes are smaller than standard size VHS tapes, many users get them confused with 8mm tapes. In other words, many people just refer to any small video tape as an 8mm tape, without regard to the fact that it may actually be a VHS-C or miniDV tape. In their mind, if it is smaller than a VHS tape, it must be an 8mm tape.

To verify what format tape you have, take a close look at your small tape cassette. Does it have the 8mm/Hi8/miniDV logo on it, or does it have a VHS-C or S-VHS-C logo on it? You will find that if you can place it a VHS adapter, it will have to have either a VHS-C or S-VHS-C logo, which means that it is not an 8mm/Hi8/miniDV tape.

Also, another way to verify this is to go to a retailer that sells videotape, and buy an 8mm or Hi8 tape, a miniDV tape, and a VHS-C tape. Try to put each one into the VHS adapter you have. You will find that only the VHS-C tape will fit properly into the adapter, with the adapter closing properly, grabbing the tape so that it shows when you manually lift the front of the adapter where the tape end goes into a VHS VCR.

To determine what tape format your camcorder uses, consult your user guide, or look for the official logo that should be on one side of the camcorder.

If it is a VHS-C camcorder, you will see the VHS-C logo. If it is an 8mm/Hi8 or miniDV camcorder, it will have the correct official label for those formats. Only camcorder tapes used in an official labeled VHS-C camcorder can be placed into a VHS adapter and played in a VCR.

The 8mm/VHS Combo and VHS-C/VHS Combo VCR Factor

Another thing that has added to confusion on the relationship between 8mm and VHS (especially for those that are old enough to remember) is that there was a brief period of time when some manufacturers produced 8mm/VHS and VHS-C/VHS Combo VCRs. During this period, Goldstar (now LG) and Sony (PAL version only) made products that featured both an 8mm VCR and VHS VCR built into the same cabinet. Think of a today's DVD Recorder/VHS combination units, but instead of having a DVD section on one side, they had an 8mm section,  in addition to the separate section used for recording and playing back VHS tapes.

However, there was no adapter involved as the 8mm tape was inserted directly into what was an 8mm VCR that just happened to be in the same cabinet as a VHS VCR - the 8mm tape was never insert-able into the VHS section of the combo VCR with/or without an adapter.

In addition, JVC also made a few S-VHS VCRs that actually had the capability to play a VHS-C tape (not 8mm tape) without the use of an adapter - the VHS-C adapter was built into the VCR's loading tray. Needless to say, these units weren't that reliable over time and the products were discontinued after a short period.

Also, it is important to re-emphasize that these units were never able to accept an 8mm tape.

As a final nod to combo VCRs, JVC has also made miniDV/S-VHS combo VCRs that featured both a miniDV VCR and S-VHS VCR built into the same cabinet. Once again, these are not compatible with 8mm and the miniDV tape is not inserted into the VHS slot for playback.

How an 8mm/VHS Adapter Would Have to Work If It Did Exist

Still need more evidence as to why there are no 8mm/VHS adapters?

If an 8mm/VHS Adapter did exist, it would have to do the following:

  • The adapter would not only have to house the 8mm tape cassette correctly - it would also have to contain special circuitry to convert the signal on the 8mm tape and re-record it to a VHS tape (adjusting for compatible VHS playback speed and audio/video format requirements) all within the dimensions of the VHS adapter case.
  • Even with today's miniaturization technology (and impossible with technology in use 10 or 15 years ago with 8mm/Hi8 and VHS were more widely used), no such technology has been developed, let alone made available to consumers, other than having to connect an external 8mm camcorder or 8mm VCR to a TV or VCR for tape viewing or copying.
  • Just sticking an 8mm tape into a VHS cassette shell (even if it could fit), does not address the further technical conditions listed above. In other words, in order for an 8mm/VHS Adapter to work - all of the above technical hurdles have to be solved, which the past and current technology cannot do.

The Bottom Line On Addressing 8mm/VHS Adapter Claims

Taking all of the above factors into consideration, it can be concluded that it is both mechanically and electronically impossible for a VHS (or S-VHS) VCR to play or read the information recorded on an 8mm/Hi8, or miniDV tape and, as a result, no VHS adapter for 8mm/Hi8 or miniDV tape has ever been manufactured or sold.

Manufacturers that make VHS-C/VHS adapters (such as Maxell, Dynex, TDK, Kinyo, and Ambico) don't make 8mm/VHS adapters, and never have. If they did, where are they?

Sony (the inventor of 8mm) and Canon (co-developer), never designed, manufactured, or sold an 8mm/VHS adapter, nor did they ever license the manufacturing or sale of such a device by others.

Any claims of the existence of an 8mm/VHS adapter are erroneous and must be required to be accompanied by a physical demonstration to be considered legitimate. Anyone offering such a device for sale is either mistakenly identifying a VHS-C/VHS adapter for an 8mm/VHS adapter, or they are outright scamming the consumer.

For one physical demonstration example on why there are no 8mm/VHS Adapters - View the video posted by DVD Your Memories.

How To Watch Your 8mm/Hi8 Tape Content

So, your dream of finding an 8mm/VHS adapter has been crushed - but all is not lost.

Even though 8mm/Hi8 tapes are not physically compatible with a VHS VCR, you still have the ability to watch your tapes using your camcorder, and even copy them camcorder videos to VHS or DVD.

To watch your tapes, you simply plug in your Camcorder's AV output connections to the corresponding inputs on your TV. You then select the correct TV input, press play on your camcorder, and you are set to go.

What To Do If You Don't Have Your Camcorder Anymore

If you find yourself in the situation where you have a collection of 8mm and Hi8 tapes and no way to play them back or transfer them because your camcorder is no longer operational or you no longer have one, there are several options available to you:

  • Borrow a Hi8 or 8mm camcorder from a friend or relative for temporary use (Free - if you have access to one).
  • Buy an inexpensive HI8 (or a Digital8 camcorder that has the ability to also playback analog Hi8 and 8mm) camcorder to play your tapes back. (The best long-term and least expensive option if you have a lot of tapes -- and if you can't borrow a camcorder) - Buy Used Via Amazon.
  • Buy a Sony Digital8/Hi8 VCR (only available used from third parties at this point - try Amazon.

How Do You Copy 8mm/Hi8 to VHS or DVD?

Once you have a camcorder or player to play your tapes, you need to transfer your tapes to VHS or DVD for longer-term preservation and playback flexibility.

To transfer video from an 8mm/Hi8 camcorder or 8mm/Hi8 VCR, you connect the composite (yellow) or S-Video output, and the analog stereo (red/white) outputs of your camcorder or player to the corresponding inputs on a VCR or DVD recorder.

Note: If your camcorder and VCR or DVD recorder both have S-Video connections, that is preferred as the S-Video connection provides a better video quality over composite.

You may find that a specific VCR or DVD recorder may have one or more of these inputs, which may be labeled in a variety of ways, most commonly AV-In 1, AV-In 2, or Video 1 In, or Video 2 In. Just choose one of the sets and you are set to go.

To "transfer" or make your copy from 8mm/Hi to a VCR or DVD recorder, use the recorder's input selection option to choose the right input. Next, place the tape you want to copy into your camcorder and place a blank VHS tape in your VCR or blank recordable DVD into your DVD recorder. Start the VCR or DVD recording first, then press play on your 8mm/Hi camcorder to start the tape playback. The reason you want to start the VHS or DVD recorder first is to make sure you don't miss the first few seconds of the video that is being played back on your Camcorder.

More Info

The above procedure is only one option you have for preserving your camcorder content. For more detailed step-by-step instructions on the above, and other options, including using a PC or Laptop - read my article: Playback and Transfer of Old 8mm and Hi8 Tapes.

So, there you have it, the answer to the mystery of one of the most sought after, but non-existent, consumer electronics products. There is no 8mm/Hi8/miniDV VHS adapter, nor has there ever been one, but all is not lost. Now, go out and preserve those precious memories, before you lose the chance...