MiniDV vs Digtial8 - Facts and Tips

Various DV-format tapes
grm_wnr / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

With the popularity these days of shooting video with smartphones, digital cameras, and GoPros, the days of recording video on camcorders that use video tape has certainly faded.

However, there are still a lot of recorded tapes that need to be played, and there are still a number of working camcorders that can still record. If you fall into either of these categories, or have "inherited" a camcorder or tapes, two formats that you may encounter are miniDV and Digital8, which were the first digital camcorder formats that still used tape for video recording.

Digital Camcorder Beginnings

About 20 years ago, the first digital camcorder format arrived on the scene in the form of MiniDV. Manufacturers such as JVC, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, and Canon all brought its models to the market and over a couple of years and several price downturns, MiniDV became a viable choice, along with other existing formats available at the time, such as VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, and Hi8.

However, in addition to miniDV, Sony, in their usual upstart fashion, decided (in 1999) to bring another digital camcorder format to the market: Digital8 (D8). So instead of a single digital camcorder format, going into the early 21st century, consumers had a choice (for better or worse) of two digital formats.

Features Common To Both MiniDV and Digital8:

MiniDV and Digital8 Format Differences:

Digital8

  • Could use HI8/8mm or Digital8 tape as the recording media.
  • Uses the same body design and size as a HI8/8mm camcorder
  • D8 Format currently only manufactured by Sony
  • Both Digital and Analog Video In/Out capability (Analog In/Out was not available in Europe)
  • Maximum One Hour recording time on each tape (using a 120min HI8 Tape)
  • Can also playback Analog 8mm/Hi8 tapes

MiniDV

  • Uses MiniDV (6mm) tape as the recording media.
  • Maximum Ninety minutes record time on tape in LP mode (using a standard 60min tape length).
  • Camcorders could be made much smaller that Digital8 camcorders
  • MiniDV format manufactured by several companies, including Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony.

To summarize, at the time they were available, MiniDV and Digital8 were both good options, but for different reasons:

The Digital8 Option

If you were an owner of a Hi8 or 8mm camcorder, upgrading to Digital8 was a logical upgrade. This is due to the fact that Digital8 was a hybrid system that not only allowed digital video recording, but also provided for playback compatibility with older 8mm and Hi8 tapes. Also, with the same computer IEEE1394 interface as MiniDV, Digital8 is also compatible with a multitude of desktop video. editing options.

Digital8 camcorders also had analog video in/out capability (except European models), which enables one to make a digital video copy from any analog video source that has an RCA or S-Video output. Although most MiniDV camcorders also have this ability, this feature was often eliminated on the more entry level models.

The MiniDV Option

If you are starting from "ground zero" and were not concerned about compatibility with previous formats or have price concerns, then MiniDV was the better choice. The Camcorders were smallerĀ and have a host of features for excellent video making. However, the most important factor had more to do more with politics than technology.

MiniDV was is an industry standard that already had a track record by the time Sony introduced Digital8. Ity was supported by several major manufacturer's including Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, and also, ironically, Sony. This allowed not only an abundant selection of MiniDV models, from tiny units not much larger than a pack of cigarettes to the large semi-pro 3CCD types used in independent film production and news gathering, but also allowed for more flexibility for video duplication.

The pro versions of MiniDV, referred to as DVcam and DVCpro were standards that were used (and may still be used in some cases) commercial and broadcast video applications around the world.

As a result, with Sony being the only backer of Digital8, it fell the wayside, especially if the cost of MiniDV camcorders continue their downward spiral (some MiniDV camcorders were less expensive some of the Sony D8 models).

Last, but not least, although Sony made a couple of portable Digital8 VCRs, they are expensive. Ironically, Sony, along with Panasonic and JVC have both consumer and professional MiniDV VCRs available (both desktop and portable) and, although expensive, were available on wider basis, and were used commonly in video editing suites.

What To Do If You Have a MiniDV/D8 Camcorder And/Or Tapes

If you find yourself in possession of a miniDV or Digital8 camcorder or tapes, here are some important tips.

  • You cannot play miniDV or Digital8 tapes in a VHS VCR. It is also important that you cannot play back Digital8 recorder video on an analog 8mm or Hi8 camcorder.
  • In order to play back these tapes, you need a working miniDV or Digital8 camcorder or miniDV or D8 VCR. There is no adapter that allows these tapes to be played in a VHS VCR. The main reasons, the tapes are not the correct width - miniDV tapes are 6mm wide, D8 tapes are 8mm wide, and VHS tapes are 1/2-inch (12.7 mm) wide, and since video and audio are digital recorded, and VHS VCRs are analog, the signals are not compatible.
  • If your miniDV or Digital8 camcorder still works, you can use it to transfer your recordings to DVD using either a DVD recorder or using a PC, if your PC or laptop has an iEEE1394 (firewire connection). If not you may have to use analog-to-USB video converter.
  • If your miniDV or Digital8 camcorder not longer works, there are no new replacements being made, but you may be able to find some used models on sites such as Amazon or eBay. You might also touch base with friends or relatives to see if they have a functions camcorder in each of these formats

If you find yourself with a collection of miniDV and Digital8 tapes, and no way to play them back so you can transfer them to DVD, then you only option would be to have it done professionally by a video duplication service.

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