U-matic (Low-Band, High-Band, SP) ¾" video tape in PAL, NTSC & SECAM
dark grey plastic cassette, rectangular with bevelled upper corners

Sony KCA-60XBR U-matic video cassette

introduction to U-matic cassette transfer

U-matic is an analogue recording videocassette format introduced in the early 1970s which became widely popular, particularly in media and news-gathering contexts. According the Preservation Self-Assessment Program, U-Matic video tape ‘should be considered at high preservation risk’ due to media and hardware obsolescence: in the long term there is likely to be far more undigitised U-matic tape in the world than working machines capable of playing it back.

At Greatbear we have a collection of U-matic machines, including the late model Sony BVU-950 with internal Time Base Corrector, and are able to offer preservation-quality U-matic transfer of all variations and standards of U-matic video tape. This includes, PAL, NTSC and SECAM, Low Band, High Band (BVU) and SP (Superior Performance) U-matic tape to any digital file format.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our video transfers. Following International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives TC-06 guidelines, we deliver FFV1 lossless files or 10-bit uncompressed video files in .mkv or .mov containers for archives. We can also produce Apple ProRes mezzanine files for ease of editing. We provide smaller viewing files as H.264 encoded .mp4 files or on DVD. We're happy to create any other digital video files, according to your needs.

We can provide the appropriately-sized USB delivery media for your files, or use media supplied by you, or deliver your files online. Files delivered on hard drive can be for any operating system MacOS, Windows or GNU/Linux and filesystems (HFS+, NTFS or EXT3).

VHS video cassette recordings can vary both in duration and in the extent of physical tape degradation, so we always assess tapes before confirming the price of a transfer.

We offer free assessments - please contact us to discuss your project.

For an introduction to our assessment and treatment processes, please see our guide to "what happens to your video tape".

U-matic video machines

As the U-matic format has been around for such an unusually long period for a video tape format, there are a wide range of machines for replay and digitising and several variations of these. We have built up a range of the more reliable and flexible later models which give us an ability to convert and transfer all standards and tape variations of U-matic.

  • Sony BVU 950P x 3 (Hi Band SP built in TBC board)
  • Sony BVU 800 NTSC (Hi Band / Low Band) x 2
  • Sony BVU 850 NTSC (Hi Band / Low Band)
  • Sony VO-9600P (Hi and Low Band)
  • Sony VO-9850P (Hi and Low Band) x 2
  • Sony VO-9800P (Hi and Low Band) x 3
  • Sony VO-7630
  • Sony VO-7030

Certain Sony U-matic machines featured a ‘Dub’ connector that can offer a higher-quality than composite connection between machines, similar to the y/c connector. We have the correct cables and equipment to utilise this connection.


U-matic format variation

video standardU-matic recordingcomposite transfer supported?dub (y/c) transfer supported?preservation of LTC & VITC timecode supported?
PALLow Band✓ (LTC only)
PALHigh Band
SECAMLow Band✓ (LTC only)
NTSCLow Band
NTSCHigh Band
chunky cream-coloured U-matic video cassette with protective shield open revealing wide black shiny magnetic tape

Small U-matic cassette shell, open to show ¾ inch inch tape inside

2 large rack-mounted U-matic video recorders with multiple buttons, knobs and displays

Sony VO-9600P and Sony BVU 950P U-matic machines

dark grey plastic cassette, rectangular with bevelled upper corners, with rulers indicating width 21.9 cm by height 13.7 cm.

U-matic cassette dimensions: 21.9 x 13.7 x 3 cm. We also transfer the smaller 18.5 x 12 x 3 cm tapes

U-matic tape risks & vulnerabilities

At ¾ inch / 19mm, U-matic video tape is wider than almost all other video cassette formats and has a reputation of being quite tough. The polyester or PET-based tape is relatively thick compared to later Betacam and early digital formats.

We can resolve most problems that occur with U-matic tape:

  • Given the age of U-matic tape, and its widespread use over the years, it can and does degrade. Certain brands such as Ampex 187 and 197 suffer from binder hydrolysis and need 'baking' before it's safe to replay these.
  • Mould can grow on the unflanged edges of the tape pack and will stick the layers of tape together, needing treatment and manual unwinding, and usually re-shelling.
  • The clear leader at the beginning of each tape can become separated from the rest of the tape as the glue in the splicing tape dries up. The process of unwinding and rewinding tape can cause / exacerbate the problem.
  • Some early Sony brands can degrade in a way where the RF (radio frequency) off tape is very low in level, causing severe visual artefacts. Tapes like this often have a distinctive smell of wax crayons.

U-matic tape brands / models

Common brands / models of U-matic video tape include:

  • 3M / Scotch
    • MBR 60; MBR 30
    • UCA 60 Color Plus
  • Ampex
    • 297 SPA-60
    • 187 KCA-60
  • BASF
    • KCA-60
  • Fuji
    • KCA-60 H521; KCA-60 H521 EBR
  • Sony
    • KCA 10; KCA 30; KCA-10BRS; KCA-20BRS; KCA-60BRS; KCA-60XBR
    • KCS-20 BRK
    • KSP-30; KSP-60

U-matic recording history

The U-matic analogue recording videocassette format was first shown by Sony in prototype in October 1969, and introduced to the market in September 1971. It was among the first video formats to contain the videotape inside a cassette, in contrast to the various reel-to-reel formats of the time.

When introduced by Sony they originally intended it to be a videocassette format oriented at the consumer market. This proved to be a failure because of the high manufacturing and retail costs. U-matic was however affordable for industrial and institutional customers, and it became very successful for business communication and educational television. As a result, Sony shifted U-matic’s marketing to the industrial, professional, and educational sectors.

U-matic is no longer used as a mainstream television production format, but it has found lasting appeal as a cheap, well specified, and hard-wearing format. The format permitted many broadcast and non-broadcast institutions to produce television programming on an accessible budget.

Keeping a U-matic machine running well will become more and more difficult in the near future. Sony in particular has discontinued or run out of many key spares, such as pinch rollers. Happily, Greatbear have a good supply of new spares and service items so are confident we can continue to offer high-quality U-matic transfer and restoration services for some time into the future.

Black and white graphic U-matic logo / Black white and orange graphic U-matic SP logo

U-matic logo; U-matic SP logo

Video cassettes, tape boxes, compatible cameras and playback machines for U-matic and U-matic SP can be identified by these logos. Both are trademarks of the Sony Corporation.