Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX

Digital Betacam (DigiBeta, Digi, D-Beta), Betacam SX, MPEG IMX born digital recordings in PAL & NTSC
grey-blue, rectangular plastic cassette, printed with text: for Digital - Component Digital Video Cassette

Sony Digital Betacam video cassette

introduction to Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX cassette transfer

Digital Betacam formats were widely used in television production in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, just prior to the adoption of high-definition (HD) video. As a consequence there are many tapes with valuable content at risk of deterioration and loss.

At Greatbear, we provide archival quality transfer of these 'born digital' Digital Betacam (aka DigiBeta or D-Beta), Betacam SX and MPEG IMX video tape recordings, in both PAL and NTSC standards. We can transfer 2, 4 or 8 channel audio and preserve timecode.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our video transfers. We use the International Association of Sound & Audiovisual Archives Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Recordings, delivering FFV1 lossless files or 10 bit uncompressed video files in .mkv or .mov containers. We create viewing files as H264 encoded .mp4 files or DVD. We can deliver any other digital video files,  according to your needs. 

We can provide the appropriately-sized usb 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).

Due to varying tape durations and their gradual physical degradation, it’s not always appropriate to create fixed prices for our services. We’ve found that assessing tapes prior to confirming costs a more accurate and fair method.

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

Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX machines

Sony's range of Betacam video tape recorders have evolved using the same chassis and ergonomic layout from the BetaSP, BVW series through the DVW (Digital Betacam), DNW (Betacam SX), MSW (MPEG IMX) and HDW (HDCAM) series of machines. These machines are flexible, easy for engineers to service and offer high reliability and often tape and format interchangeability.
Sony also made the J range of smaller, more portable, desktop players that could play several formats and offer PAL / NTSC standards but with less connection flexibility and lower reliability and servicing ease.

These formats and machines were very popular with content creators and broadcasters and many still exist on the second hand market. Spares and parts are still available new from Sony but at very high cost with no guarantee of stocks in the future.

We have a range of DVW, DNW and J3 machines with supplies of key spares, including:

  • Sony J-3 SDI
  • Sony DVW A500
  • Sony DVW A510
  • Sony DNW-A65P (PAL / NTSC)

Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX format variation

colour encoding systemdigital Betacam recording type280 Mbit/s SDI digital transfer of audio & video2, 4, 8 channels of audio supportedpreservation of timecode supported
PALDigital Betacam
PALBeta SX
PALMPEG IMX
NTSCDigital Betacam
NTSCBeta SX
NTSCMPEG IMX

Digital Betacam cassette shell open, showing ½ inch / 12.7mm tape inside

Sony DVW-A500P Digital Betacam and Sony DNW-A65P Betacam SX machines

Digital Betacam cassette dimensions: 25.3 x 14.4 cm. We also transfer the smaller 15.6 x 9.6 cm tapes

Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX risks & vulnerabilities

The half inch wide metal particle tape used for these three formats is much thinner than earlier analogue formats and so much less robust when physical problems happen. Any mould growth on the edge of the tape pack can be catastrophic, sticking the top or bottom edge of the tape layers together and ripping the tape when wound or played. DigiBeta and BetaSX tape is 14µm thick while MPEG IMX tape is 12.65µm.

We've found some 1990s era Sony branded DigiBeta tapes to shed on playback and gradually increase errors or playback conditions until first the audio crackles and disappears then visual artefacts appear in the picture. Tapes like this can be replayed and captured perfectly but do need some work before this is possible.

Machine obsolescence isn't a huge issue at the moment and generally these machines are reliable and long-lasting but this won't always be the situation, and key spares must be sourced and preserved for the future.

Digital Betacam / Betacam SX / MPEG IMX history

Digital Betacam was launched by Sony in 1993, superseding the analogue Betacam and Betacam SP. As a ½ inch digital component video format, it was vastly cheaper and more accessible than the earlier, ¾ inch D1 format.

Betacam SX was introduced in 1996, as a digital version of the already popular Betacam SP, while being a cheaper alternative to Digital Betacam.

Both formats became popular with news-gathering and television production companies in the years prior to HD.

MPEG IMX was a 2001 development of the Digital Betacam format, encoding at a higher bitrate than Betacam SX.