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Back in the 1980s a typical method of publishing movies for home use was the Video Home System (VHS) tape. How were these tapes transferred and mastered? In other words, when they have a movie on film like 35mm, somehow the film has to be transferred to the tape. Also, since often new introductions and miscellaneous things like the "FBI warning" need to be added, there must be some new version of the movie made. Therefore, I would guess that some intermediary format was used to "master" the movie on tape. In the music industry, recordings used to be "mastered" in the same way to specialized tape systems. How were VHS format productions typically mastered and what was the format (or formats) typically used?

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Seems that with dead technology also comes dead knowledge. I was able to dig up one lone article that explains part of the process, and it's a scan of a Billboard article from October 26, 1985.

To sum it up, films are sent to a "transfer facility" to obtain a Master transfer copy. From that Master, a Sub-Master is made and that Sub-Master is used in a huge Master/Slave bank of VHS decks. When the Sub-Master wears out, a new Sub-Master is made. Master and Sub-Master tapes are made on 1-inch video tapes, which are professional broadcast quality tapes. The movies themselves are optimally made from film negatives rather than prints, although many off-market distribution companies (not studio sanctioned) had no access to negatives so they relied on color corrections in the transfer.

As for how the actual film was converted to tape, it appears that many professional transfer facilities used a Rank-Cintel Mark III or some model which came after that. Remember, the home VHS market didn't start until 1976, so there was no need to transfer film to VHS prior to that.

  • That is interesting. When you say "1-inch video tapes", what format would they be in? – Tyler Durden Nov 28 '17 at 15:32
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    Not sure what you mean by that, but the Wiki on 1 inch (aka Type C) videotape might answer your questions. By comparison, we used 3/4" (aka Umatic) videotape when I worked in the studio at Cablevision (our local cable TV provider), which was a bit more cost-effective and close enough in quality to 1" so that no one cared. – Johnny Bones Nov 28 '17 at 17:50
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    Aha, Type C, that is what I was looking for, thanks. – Tyler Durden Nov 28 '17 at 17:56
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    The very terms '1-inch' & 'Umatic' are enough to make me shudder these days ;) I still have nightmares about the time we could "only have 5 1-inch machines", because Godley & Creme were in the main suite & they'd commandeered all the others in the building. [This is stuff you could edit on your phone these days...] – disassociated Nov 29 '17 at 18:53

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