Sony EV-C200 Hi-8 VCR Never Had A Chance
Once the VHS vs. Beta wars of the 80's finally died down, Sony took another crack at a compact video format with Video8. Roughly the size of an audio cassette, Video8 delivered somewhat better visual quality than VHS. More importantly, it meant camcorders could get considerably smaller. Video cameras were where Video8 ruled, but the format never gained much success for TV recording or movie rentals, though Sony tried really hard with VCR's like the EV-C200.
Later Sony found a way to double the video quality of Video8 to just about the same as broadcast television (VHS is less than half of that). The thinking was that they could attract a more demanding videophile crowd with this new "Hi8" format. That never really happened either, but Hi8 found a home in the emerging field of desktop video production. So a new type of customer - the "prosumer" - emerged, using Hi8 as a way to shoot videos that looked as good as broadcast TV.
Hi8 gear could outperform professional equipment at a fraction of the pro price, but it did suffer a few issues. The tape was very susceptible to dropout, so it was a poor choice for editing - though some soldiered on with the kicky EVO9700 dual deck unit from Sony. So the preferred method was to shoot on Hi8, but then transfer to a more stable video format (or perhaps an early editing computer) for the actual editing, sadly losing a little quality when dubbing.
Hi8 decks like the EV-C200 were rare since so many people simply used their camcorders for playback, which has had unfortunate consequences. A lot of Hi8 gear just doesn't work anymore. Perhaps it's the smaller size, the tight tolerances, but when I've run into Hi8 equipment in recent years it has almost always croaked. Decks like my EV-C200 were never very popular to begin with, which may explain why this simple (except for the built in Faroudja time base corrector circuitry) 15 year old VCR still gets a couple hundred bucks on Ebay.
Sony still hasn't quite given up on Video8. In the shadow of the digital video revolution, they introduced "Digital8" in 1999. It uses the same DV codec as miniDV cameras, it's just that the hardware is targeted at budget minded consumers. Digital8 is also disappearing, but the good news is that the equipment is backwards compatible so you can still play back your old Video8 and Hi8 tapes to digitize them to your computer via firewire..
It's all a reminder of just how fragile our video taped memories can be. If you have material you want to save, now is the time to get it cleaned up and digitized onto your computer.