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What exactly is the difference between a DVCAM tape that is mini and a MiniDV tape? They look pretty much the same in terms of size. It seems like Sony is making DVCAM tapes that are the same size as MiniDV tapes now, and it’s getting hard to tell what, if anything, is different. I’m cataloging videos that have either been captured on tapes that say DVCAM, MiniDV, and some tapes that actually have both DVCAM and MiniDv printed on them. I’m basically trying to figure out what I should put as the "media format." Any ideas?

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Originally there was miniDV which is a standard consumer tape format (using ME tape) holding DV (at the time DV wasn't really a file format in it's own right).

Sony released a professional version of this called DVCAM with locked audio and which records at a shallower angle, running tape faster at the expense of running time, to reduce dropout.

You could use either DVCAM tapes (now known as DVCAM-L) which as well as holding more tape for longer runtimes used higher quality MP tape, or you could record on miniDV tapes in either DV mode (to remain compatible with miniDV cameras) or in DVCAM mode to take advantage of the better format. (The larger tape format uses the same width tape so the same head is used for either.) More recently DVCAM mini tapes have been available which use the better quality tape in the smaller package.

So DVCAM encompasses a file format, a recording format, the larger tape format and a marque of professional quality tape in the mini size tapes. DVCAM mini and miniDV tapes are interchangable but they are branded towards their intended use and there is a general difference in quality/price between the two.

In your case regardless of the brands written on the actual tape you should probably use miniDV if it holds DV and DVCAM or DVCAM mini if it holds DVCAM. If there is nothing recorded on the tape then it is suitable for either.

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According to this wikipedia article, it appears that DVCAM is Sony's proprietary (electronic) DV container format, and MiniDV is a physical media.

MiniDV media, as well as other sizes of DV media, can be used to store DVCAM (or any other DV stream variety).

To confuse matters, it appears that Sony markets a media format/size called DVCAM-L (visible in the photo demonstrating various DV cassette sizes) , presumably simply meaning "DV-Large" format, but with their proprietary container format brand as the name, for marketing reasons.

In summary, MiniDV is the physical media, (analogous to 5.25" floppy disk versus 3.5" floppy disk) and DVCAM is the "file format". Labeling a MiniDV tape with "DVCAM" is like labeling a CD as "Music compatible!" (which I have seen done before). It's true information, but worthless information, as the media can store any format of data.

To answer your final question, what to put as the "media format", that depends on whether you mean the physical format (which is MiniDV in your case), or the electronic format (which may be DVCAM in your case). I would probably say 'DVCAM', as that's the only piece of information that won't be immediately apparent to anyone looking at the physical tape.

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this is not entirely accurate, dvcam is not just a file format, the data is recorded onto the tape differently. –  JamesRyan Oct 13 '11 at 15:30
    
@JamesRyan: Thanks for the clarification, and more detailed answer. –  Flimzy Oct 13 '11 at 18:24

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