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Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

I was never alive during the analog era's heyday, though since we were relatively poor I still used a VCR and cassette player through my childhood in the 2000s and never gave it much thought. However, in the last couple of years I have had an interest in digital audio and general and have been looking into it a lot. I also recently have been learning about analog audio formats and been messing around with them just for some fun.
Recently, I acquired a new Super VCR because my old VCR broke, and when I put in a movie I listened to the audio through my headphones and I was shocked to say the least. The Hi-Fi audio sounded way better than vinyl or cassette, it almost sounded like a CD! It was extremely close. I recorded into my computer and found that it did represent 20hz to a little over 20khz just fine! I first did rhapsody in blue from fantasia 2000 (clip) then the opening DreamWorks part of Shrek (clip). These both sounded very good for analog audio, but these tapes were extremely worn out and you can hear a soft buzzing in the right channel at times. I grabbed a blank VHS tape and recorded lossless All Star onto it, keeping with the shrek theme. And it sounded amazing! Nearly perfect. You can compare these two clips of the digital file and the VHS recording.
This got me thinking: The majority of the bandwidth on the tape is going to the video, and yet the audio sounds so good! Even in LP mode, you can get 4 hours of very nice sounding audio on a VHS tape! And compared to something like reel to reel, VHS is much less expensive. This got me thinking. Why wasn't there a format that just used all of the bandwidth on a VHS tape for audio, and then you could fit a lot of good audio onto one? I looked and there was ADAT, which allowed for 16 bit or 20 bit digital PCM onto an S-VHS tape. But that wasn't exactly for consumers. I think that this would've been a really neat thing for audiophiles back then.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #1
I guess the market wasn't yet ready for this at the time.

I remember my dad had some VHS tapes back then with music recordings on them and they sounded very good. I am not sure if there was some mode back then that allowed extra high fidelity audio to be recorded.

Later on came the DAT recorders. Basically the same technique (helical scan head), but much smaller and the full tape bandwidth was reserved for audio only.

Digital audio on VHS was possible, but with expensive pro equipment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnolxuHn130
Sony PCM-501ES

Edit: Just found out S-VHS used the helical scan head to record audio, resulting in a way higher bandwidth compared to the VHS method of a separate audio head. Guess that makes S-VHS very suitable for high quality audio, but for today the system is obsolete. These days you can play FLAC from any solid state device as small as a watch and even sound better.

Also an interresting topic about the same: https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=119664

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #2
I was quite late I suppose getting VCR and my first was a VHS HiFi recorder circa mid 1985 or possibly 1986. The sound was very good but I think the tolerances between players may have been very tight especially when recording HiFi Stereo in that cramped available helical space which was mostly used up for the video. For example record something onto the HiFi stereo track and play it back and it sounded great. Take the tape and play it on a friend's HiFi VHS machine and it may not play back quite so great.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #3
Note that "HiFi" was an extension of the VHS format and not available originally. And for quite a while after the introduction, it was only on in the more expensive recorders. Stereo TV was also fairly new.

And what happened when people discovered that they had stereo TV signals? Did they hook it up to their stereo hifi? I kinda got the impression that people bought TV sets with two lousy speakers and still had no idea how good their VCRs could ever be, audio-wise. (I remember I was so impressed over the specs of the hifi VCRs that I started to experiment around with it for the audio's sake.) And then came LaserDisc ... well, maybe not in North America?

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #4
From what I can tell, LaserDisc never really made much of an impact in America. I haven't owned a LaserDisc player, though I would like to to see how the audio sounds and stuff. I also do need to acquire an S-VHS tape, to see how low the background noise goes with that. I'm interested to see how far above 20KHz you actually can encode onto a VHS with Hi-Fi.

Those PCM adapters seem cool, but I doubt I could ever get my hands on one of those.

Speaking of people having no ideas how good their VCRs could be, I remember as a kid since we didn't know any better, we always just hooked up our VCR to the flat panel through coaxial, not even Composite with 2 RCA audio cables. Probably part of the reason why I never noticed anything special.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #5
There was technological experimentation & development going-on but the "record companies" didn't get behind any of the new formats until CD came-along and consumers didn't show a lot of interest either.    I think the record companies actually resisted distribution on high-quality recordable formats (for obvious reasons).    Cassettes were introduced before music was distributed  on Cassette, so people were already copying cassettes, and copying from LP, or radio, to Cassette, but there was "generation loss" Some "semi-professionals" were using VHS Hi-Fi to record live performances (with the video disconnected).   But, I assume the recordings were distributed on cassette.  

Home & "prosumer" reel-to-reel was pretty good before that, and there was DAT & MiniDisc, but these were "home recording" formats.   And when CD was introduced there was no CD-R.  It was a playback-only format so they weren't worried about piracy.

formats and commercial music wasn't (widely) distributed in these formats.    VHS (and Beta) were first introduced for home recording, but they really took-off when movies were commercially released for home viewing.    And, although there were concerts and music videos released on VHS it never caught-on as a major audio-distribution format.     MTV used to play play music videos 24 hours a day, but I don't know anybody who was buying music videos...  They'd watch the video and then go buy the record (or Cassette).

The same thing happened with DVD & Blu-Ray.   DVD & Blu-Ray aren't popular as audio formats and very-little music is distributed in surround sound (Although I have a shelf-full of concert DVDs). 

Quote
Speaking of people having no ideas how good their VCRs could be, I remember as a kid since we didn't know any better, we always just hooked up our VCR to the flat panel through coaxial, not even Composite with 2 RCA audio cables. Probably part of the reason why I never noticed anything special.
Even before stereo TV, TV audio was FM and "technically" pretty good (for the day).   But, most TVs had tiny little speakers and the sound was lousy.   And those older TVs didn't have audio-output jacks. 

Quote
Recently, I acquired a new Super VCR because my old VCR broke,
In case you don't know this, nobody is manufacturing VCRs.   I've been digitizing any of my irreplaceable tapes that I wanted to keep (which requires some illegal "tricks" for commercial copy-protected tapes).

   

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #6
Speaking of people having no ideas how good their VCRs could be, I remember as a kid since we didn't know any better, we always just hooked up our VCR to the flat panel through coaxial, not even Composite with 2 RCA audio cables. Probably part of the reason why I never noticed anything special.

You certainly needed to hear the HiFi VHS tapes with the RCA left and right outputs plugged into a standard hifi system for the best audio effect. The mid to late 1980s was a time when video rental shops were booming (even here in the UK) and routing the HiFi VHS audio signal (often found on pre-recorded studio films of that era) through a stereo amp and speakers sounded great to me.

Ever since first getting the VHS HiFi machine it was always routed through my HiFi stereo system. I cannot remember when stereo TV took off but our broadcasting corporation (the BBC) were always quite innovative and for special events they did 'simulcasts' where the TV picture would be shown and at the same time the audio could be sourced from an FM stereo signal on BBC Radio 2 or 3. In the late 1980s (I think) the BBC gave us NICAM stereo whereby TV tuners would henceforth be capable of decoding stereo from the coax ariel cable and NICAM would be built into VHS recorders. I was very optimistic about this but remember being quite disappointed listening to films decoded by the NICAM decoder and played back through the hifi system. It was far less dramatic than listening to pre-recorded studio films released on VHS with audio on the HiFi track. When that was routed through the hifi system the audio was really quite something. Maybe it was more to do with dynamic compression than the actual capabilities of NICAM stereo.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #7
Most people did not have VHS Hifi-capable machines (able to play high quality soundtracks found in the helical scanned video tracks, not the crummy linear tracks). That and S-VHS were premium-priced features right up to the very end.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #8

Quote
Recently, I acquired a new Super VCR because my old VCR broke,
In case you don't know this, nobody is manufacturing VCRs.   I've been digitizing any of my irreplaceable tapes that I wanted to keep (which requires some illegal "tricks" for commercial copy-protected tapes). 
When I said "new" I meant I just got another VCR as the old one we had broke years ago, and I got it for a similar reason, to mess around with but to also digitize a lot of the old tapes that we still had, and I have been doing that. I know that VCRs have been gone for a while.
Most people did not have VHS Hifi-capable machines (able to play high quality soundtracks found in the helical scanned video tracks, not the crummy linear tracks). That and S-VHS were premium-priced features right up to the very end.
Makes sense, by the time I was around it was well past VHS's heyday and anything was definitely very discounted.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #9
I had a little internal format back then, video was feed from c64 showing song name and position in time (like a timeline) and audio was cd/dat sourced. Of course hifi s-vhs machines were used (in vhs mode).

I do seem to recall there was a digital format that used vhs video bandwidth for recording (not a consumer thing).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADAT
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Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #10
There WAS and it was rather expensive and I owned one purchased from Full Compass in Madison WI.

https://www.hifiengine.com/manual_library/technics/sv-p100.shtml

 Got mine in September of '82 for $2500. It was 14 bit EIAJ and compatible with the Sony PCM-F1. Later I bought a Sony PCM-701 which used the same boards as the F1 but was in an AC line powered version for $1000 vs $1800 for the F1. I still have the 701 and used it to play the early tapes last year. I'm still toying with the idea of adding a SPDIF output to get a digital transfer into the computer but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pass an ABX test of the analog vs the digital.

Slick use for a HiFi consumer format was when I had an LP cut from a digital master delivered on BetaMax F1 format. LPs need advance audio to set groove pitch and depth. The engineer used the HiFi tracks for the advanced audio and the digital audio from the video to drive the cutter head. Being digital there was no penalty for going another generation down.


Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #11
I was testing to see how high VHS Hi-Fi actually represents, so I made a log sine sweep from 10hz to 48khz. Somehow, when I was recording to the VCR I did something wrong because the sine wave was extremely quiet, but these were the results.



This really surprised me; that's definitely not distortion.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #12
There WAS and it was rather expensive and I owned one purchased from Full Compass in Madison WI.

https://www.hifiengine.com/manual_library/technics/sv-p100.shtml

 Got mine in September of '82 for $2500. It was 14 bit EIAJ and compatible with the Sony PCM-F1. Later I bought a Sony PCM-701 which used the same boards as the F1 but was in an AC line powered version for $1000 vs $1800 for the F1. I still have the 701 and used it to play the early tapes last year. I'm still toying with the idea of adding a SPDIF output to get a digital transfer into the computer but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pass an ABX test of the analog vs the digital.

Slick use for a HiFi consumer format was when I had an LP cut from a digital master delivered on BetaMax F1 format. LPs need advance audio to set groove pitch and depth. The engineer used the HiFi tracks for the advanced audio and the digital audio from the video to drive the cutter head. Being digital there was no penalty for going another generation down.


Interesting. Yeah, I was pretty much surrounded with F1s, 701s, 501s, and finally 601s in the 1980s.  But I recall the 701 and F1 boards being  a bit different around the audio front end, and a somewhat different parts layout.  Same chips though.  These things started out as a consumer device, and did find a bit of use there, but they also got deep into pro and semi-pro studios, particularly in remote recording.  The company I worked for replaced a 10" reel Nagra 4S with Dolby A NR with a PCM-F1 and a couple of the matching SL2000 Beta portable machines.  We had a whole bunch of them, and the challenge was finding good reliable Beta machines to work with them.  We ended up using machines made for video duplication facilities.  They were more reliable and had little doors in the top cover that you could open to clean the video heads.  I even built a broadcast audio microwave link between a studio and transmitter site using a pair of 701s and a video microwave system, tapping off the error correction to trigger an analog phone loop fall-back.  I still own an F1, two 701s, a 501 and a Nakamichi F1, though I don't really know why. 

Back tracking a bit...Beta HiFi pre-dated VHS HiFi by a year, and was a big deal because Beta never had linear stereo audio tracks.  VHS had stereo analog tracks, I think even with noise reduction, but when it came to developing a HiFi audio system the VHS boys got to learn from Sony's mistakes a bit.  Both were AFM systems using a couple carriers and PLL demodulators along with pre-emphasis and analog noise reduction, but the Beta HiFi system suffered from head-switching noise more than the VHS system.  I, for one, did use Beta HiFi to record and play audio.  In the late 1990s I installed a pair of VHS HiFi machines in a radio station to record and archive 4 hour programs.  Both VHS and Beta HiFI systems were capable of reasonably flat frequency response to 20KHz, and had measured S/N ratios in the 80dB range, but both suffered from lots of raw noise in the system that demanded companding noise reduction.  That meant it was difficult to realize good measured THD because a tone would open up the noise reduction and surround the tone with all sorts of nasty stuff.  It worked OK for music and soundtracks, not well for test tones.  One video duplicating facility I was asked to consult with tried to pre-compress film soundtracks to keep HiFi track audio loud enough to hide the noise.  I recall it being a failed attempt.

Laserdisc audio was initially also AFM analog, and stereo, and while it did have wide band response it suffered from noise badly.  The slap-on fix was CX noise reduction, which was initially available as an external box, then internal on newer machines.  Laserdisc got PCM audio later, limited to 2-channel stereo 16/44.1, then eventually Dolby Digital/AC3.

However, there were other consumer-targeted digital audio systems.  Sony's Video8, in the home-deck version, had at least a couple machines with the ability to record/play digital audio for video, but also record PCM "Multi Audio", 6 stereo "tracks" of digital audio only, which at the LP speed let you record up to 24 hours of digital audio on a signal Video8 or Hi8 tape in 6-4hour passes.  I vaguely recall it wasn't 16 bits, though, possibly 12 bit, possibly 8 bit, with companding NR. I remember bench testing a unit and liking it, so it couldn't have been too horrible.  That would have been late 1980s. 

DAT (formerly R-DAT) was introduced by Sony in 1987, again as a consumer digital format.  Again, it was simply too expensive for consumers, but found its way into pro applications. DAT uses a rotary head like a video recorder, and can record stereo linear PCM at 16/44 or 16/48.  There were several Walkman-sized portable recorders.

Digital Compact Cassette was introduced by Philips/Matsushita in 1992.  DAT was first to market, never really penetrated the consumer market at all despite a few pre-recorded music releases, but did find application in pro studios through the 1990s and early 2000s, whereas DCC died fairly young.  It was supposed to be the less-expensive DAT and compete with MD, but none of that could beat the lowly analog cassette in the real market. 

Then there was the MiniDisc introduced by Sony (who else?) also introduced in 1992 to compete with DCC. It was a small-ish magneto-optical disc, the data was compressed (actually bit-rate reduced)stereo or mono audio using the ATRAC codec, an early data reduction scheme using psychoacoustic masking models.  Oddly, I just tested a home deck today! Worked fine, sounded pretty good.  The strength of the format was portability, they made portable players and player/recorders.  There were a few MD pre-recorded releases too.  The MD found pro use for recording interviews in the field, and there were a few semi-pro studio units, but it really never fully penetrated the market.  It survived quite a bit longer than DCC, but still not a big win.

All of the consumer and semi-pro digital recorders were at least partly responsible for the copy protection/prevention battles that started in the 1980s when we suddenly had the ability to make a pretty darn good digital "clone" of copyrighted recordings.  Lots of copy protection schemes, court cases, and the Home Audio Recording Act (google it). There was even one scheme that put tight notch filters into commercial recordings that theoretically couldn't be heard, but could be detected no matter how the recording was copied.  Weird times.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #13
This got me thinking. Why wasn't there a format that just used all of the bandwidth on a VHS tape for audio, and then you could fit a lot of good audio onto one? I looked and there was ADAT, which allowed for 16 bit or 20 bit digital PCM onto an S-VHS tape. But that wasn't exactly for consumers. I think that this would've been a really neat thing for audiophiles back then.

Formats live or die based on the availability of pre-recorded music and drama. VHS Hi Fi was never taken seriously as an audio-only format.  I had a number of VHS HiFi machines. The first one was a RCA machine that was also S-VHS and cost me almost as much as my first CD player. The last VHS Hi Fi machine I purchased was under $70 but did not do S-VHS.

Sony was famous for their PCM-F1 which was a digital audio adapter tied to a Betamax video tape machine. I think that Panasonic promoted a similar digital adaptor for use with VHS tape, but somehow it did not seem to get traction in the marketplace.

The PCM adapters that required the concurrent acquisition of video tape machines were pretty quickly supplanted by DAT machines that combined the tape and digital adapater functions into one far smaller and more convenient package. 

It was the massive introduction and consumer acceptance of the audio CD that forced all other formats into obsolescence of niches. It was a playback-only format for a few years, but the introduction of CD-R media and compatible hardware that was the death knell for any other format in the consumer mainstream.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #14
I had a museum client in 1992 that used several custom-burned CD-Rs for environmental sound for an exhibit.  The cost to custom-burn one CD-R then was about $200 each, partly because the blank media was expensive (I think about $20/disc), but the CD burner and software was a $35K investment.  We were burning them with $200 burners and throwing them in the trash routinely less than a decade later. Today a USB burner is under $20, software is free, and blanks are around $0.10 or less in quantity.   And CD-Rs are so yesterday.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #15
I cannot remember when stereo TV took off but our broadcasting corporation (the BBC) were always quite innovative and for special events they did 'simulcasts' where the TV picture would be shown and at the same time the audio could be sourced from an FM stereo signal on BBC Radio 2 or 3. In the late 1980s (I think) the BBC gave us NICAM stereo whereby TV tuners would henceforth be capable of decoding stereo from the coax ariel cable and NICAM would be built into VHS recorders.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NICAM#Broadcasts_to_the_public , BBC started test-broadcasting NICAM (some programmes from some transmitters, but unadvertised) in 1986, and it was not officially introduced until 1991. 1991, then soon began the DCC vs MiniDisc format war.

I remember simulcasts (turn on the radio, mute the TV). It never actually struck me that (some) hifi VCRs supported recording from simulcast - grab picture from one source and stereo from another.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #16
I remember simulcasts (turn on the radio, mute the TV). It never actually struck me that (some) hifi VCRs supported recording from simulcast - grab picture from one source and stereo from another.

Live Aid (13th July 1985) was such a 'simulcast' event. Also I believe, the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert broadcast from Wembley Stadium London on 11th June 1988. I recorded large chunks of both concerts.  Live Aid audio was definitely sourced from FM radio. My VHS HiFi machine could definitely use an external audio source such as FM radio to lay alongside the video. I will have to dig out those old tapes and the machine itself.


Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #18
I used to make 3 hour mix tapes on VHS HiFi for parties and lock away the LPs. It prevented problems like arguments over what to play next, or drunken mishandling of the LPs and turntable.
The main problem with the format was that the audio heads switched for each field. Misalignment or weak signal caused fluctuations in the signal level as they switched, resulting in a "purring" noise in the audio. 2:1 compansion (similar to DBX) was used to reduce the effect. This had its own problems because different manufacturers implemented the compression / expansion time constants differently, resulting in audible "pumping" of the output if played on a different machine than the one it was recorded on.
Regards,
   Don Hills
"People hear what they see." - Doris Day

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #19
"splice" has given a better description of what I was alluding to in my reply #2. 'Purring' and 'pumping' are good descriptors for what I experienced when playing back my tapes on other people's machines.

Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #20
VHS as a medium for high quality audio was quite popular in eastern Europe. While it was more or less laughed at in Germany, in Poland this used to be quite popular. I remember in the early 90's this was actually so popular, that people had bootleg'd and pirated albums on VHS tapes sold at bazars.

Technically they never up-scaled the technology, afaik. I.e. only the stereo Hi-Fi helical track capability of VHS was used, the video track was either blank, or contained a still image, sometimes and endless loop something like a fireplace or a river. The way Alesis used S-VHS tapes as a digital audio tape, I can't remember. I don't think that kinda use was widespread.

I remember seeing them still being sold at bazars in 2003, that was around the time, where they started to disappear. I don't know, if the once I've seen have been sold for the pirated music on them, or just as VHS cassettes.

I've heard people talking about encoding PCM digital audio onto regular VHS tapes. The idea was to keep the analog video signal, but instead of an analoge AFM Hi-Fi audio signal, digital PCM values would be recorded onto the tape. I've never came across such tape, though, let alone a VTR capable of doing that.



Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #23
<snip>
I've heard people talking about encoding PCM digital audio onto regular VHS tapes. The idea was to keep the analog video signal, but instead of an analoge AFM Hi-Fi audio signal, digital PCM values would be recorded onto the tape. I've never came across such tape, though, let alone a VTR capable of doing that.

PCM worked fine on both VHS and Beta tapes. I still have some 'masters' made back in the early '80s. The Technics machine I referenced earlier was VHS and self contained. The Sony  PCM-F1, PCM-501, PCM-601 and PCM-701 were encoder/decoders that converted analog audio to video and back. The video was monochrome 525 (no color burst) and could be recorded on any NTSC tape format. Personally I used Beta, VHS and U-Matic. I had access to broadcast 2 inch quadruplex and 1 inch SMPTE C machines but I never tried it. The drop out compensation in the broadcast machines might confuse the error correction. I believe the PCM switch on my Beta units disables the dropout correction. FYI Drop Out Correction (DOC) takes video from the preceding line and uses that to fill in the hole in the video. This is a must for video as black steaks in the video is bad. It gets a little more complicated to take care of the chroma phase reversal in each line of NTSC color video. That processing would be difficult to 'unprocess' for the PCM. It's much easier for the PCM to simply deal with the 'hole'.

IIRC there was 1 or 2 other manufacturers that made PCM processors. Hitachi and or Sansui might have made one too.

The commercial Sony PCM-1600 / 1610 / 1630 units were better for production as the data block size was tailored to fit in the video frame. This meant you could edit the audio like it was video on video frames. The consumer version might have been more tolerant of poorer tape performance but the data block size did not line up with video frames. Consequently you could not edit the video while the audio was playing. What I found out at the time was if the audio was in 'mute' so there was no data at the edit point you could  edit with no breakup. I built a box to process data from the PCM-701 that used lookup tables 1/16 dB per step and a hardware multiplier to fade in and out of mute. A 2 digit thumb wheel switch selected the fade rate in video frames and the record tally from the 3/4" (U-Matic) in insert mode triggered the fade up. A 'cut' was actually a 1 frame fade out followed immediately by a 1 frame fade up with the new source. In the BC (before computer) time it was OK. Adobe Audition and the like is SO much better but back then Apple ][s and TRS-80s were the norm and nowhere near capable of the data rate of digital audio. Now that's a walk in the park and HD video is no big deal for the average PC.


Re: Why wasn't there ever a VHS based consumer audio format?

Reply #24

Oh, they're actually using the entire picture frames to encode the data! That's pretty neat! makes me want to convert this into an arbitrary tape data storage...

Whatever for? The data rate is a paltry 1.4 megabits/second. That's 635 megabytes per hour, AKA 0.635 gigabtye per hour. To add a little insult the error correction isn't great and consumer tape deck reliability was.....

 I bought a 2 terabyte drive last week at Fry's for $59. That is 2000 gigabytes that can transfer at 80 megabytes/second and fits in a shirt pocket. It also plugs into any computer with a USB port.

YOUR project however would be pretty secure as nobody could play and decode your tapes.


 
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