In terms of audio recording, S-VHS retains VHS's conventional analog (linear) and Hi-Fi (AFM) soundtracks. As neither is changed from the VHS format, the linear audio track delivers sound quality scarcely better than AM radio. The Hi-Fi soundtrack is identical to that of VHS: an AFM (audio frequency-modulated) signal is sandwiched between the two carriers of the video signal, and recorded at a physically lower layer in the tape, literally underneath the video signals. This delivers excellent audio fidelity, approaching CD-quality. In addition, some professional S-VHS decks can record a PCM digital audio track (stereo 48 kHz), along with the normal video and Hi-Fi analog audio.
Nearly all S-VHS VCRs are backward compatible with VHS tapes, meaning S-VHS equipment is fully functional as a legacy VHS record/playback unit. Older VHS VCRs cannot view S-VHS recordings at all. Many newer VHS VCRs offer a feature called S-VHS quasi-playback (SQPB.) SQPB allows VHS players to view (but not record) S-VHS recordings, albeit at VHS quality levels. This feature is useful for viewing S-VHS-C camcorder tapes.
In recording mode, S-VHS VCRs require S-VHS videotape, which has a different oxide media formulation for higher magnetic coercitivity. (As a sidenote, most S-VHS VCRs can also make VHS recordings on S-VHS tape, and conversely, conventional VHS VCRs can record on S-VHS videotape. Both functions are useful for low volume, high-quality duplication.) Finally, recent model S-VHS VCRs offer a recording capability called S-VHS ET. S-VHS ET permits near S-VHS level recording on conventional, cheap VHS tapes, offering an economical way to get a better picture out of older VHS tapes. The S-VHS ET recordings can be viewed in most VHS SQPB VCRs and non-ET S-VHS VCRs.
Here is a list of modern-day, digital-type measurements (and traditional, analog horizontal resolutions) for various media. The list only includes popular formats, not rare formats, and all values are approximate (rounded to the nearest 10), since the actual quality can vary machine-to-machine or tape-to-tape. For ease-of-comparison all values are for the NTSC system, and listed in ascending order from lowest quality to highest quality.
In the camcorder role, the smaller form (S-VHS-C) camcorder did enjoy limited success among home video users. It was more popular for the amateur video industry, as it allowed for at least second generation copies (necessary for editing) to be made at reasonable quality. JVC, Panasonic and Sony have sold industrial S-VHS decks for amateur and semi-professional production use. Community access television, local cable stations and other low-budget venues have made extensive use of the S-VHS format, both for acquisition and subsequent studio editing, but the network studios largely avoided S-VHS, as descendants of the more expensive Betacam format had already become a de facto industry standard. S-VHS-C competed directly with Hi8, the latter offering smaller cassettes and longer running time and ultimately selling much better.
As of 2007, consumer S-VHS VCRs are still available, but difficult to find in retail outlets. The largest VCR manufacturers, such as Matsushita (Panasonic) and Mitsubishi, are gradually moving toward DVD recorders and hard-disk based DVRs. DVD/VCR combo units rarely offer S-VHS, only VHS. In the mainstream consumer camcorder market, DV and DVD camcorders have largely eliminated S-VHS-C camcorders from the mainstream, confining the format to a small niche on the very low end of the market. The digital camcorder generally outperforms S-VHS-C units in most technical aspects: audio/video quality, recording time, lossless duplication, and form-factor. The videotapes themselves are available, mostly by mail order or online, but are vanishingly rare in retail channels, and substantially more expensive than high-quality standard VHS media.
In terms of video performance, ED-Beta offered even greater luminance bandwidth than S-VHS: 500 lines of horizontal resolution per picture height versus S-VHS's or Laserdisc's 420 lines, putting ED-Beta nearly on par with professional digital video formats (520 lines). However, chroma performance was far less spectacular, as neither S-VHS nor ED-Beta exceeded 0.4 megahertz or ~30 lines maximum, whereas NTSC broadcast has a chroma resolution of ~120 lines, and DVD has a chroma resolution of ~240 lines. S-VHS was used in some TV stations for inexpensive "on the spot" camcorder capture of breaking news, however it was not suitable for multi-generational (studio) use.
In terms of audio performance, both VHS and Beta had offered analog Hi-Fi stereo of outstanding quality. Rather than re-invent the wheel, both S-VHS and ED-Beta re-used the AFM schemes of their predecessors without change. Professional S-VHS decks did offer digital PCM audio, a feature not matched by ED-Beta decks.
In the U.S. market, the mainstream consumer market had largely ignored the release of S-VHS. With the Betamax market already in sharp decline, a "format war" for the next generation of video simply did not materialize. Sony discontinued the ED-Beta product line in the U.S. market after less than two years, handing S-VHS a victory by default, if it can even be called that. (VHS decks continued to outsell S-VHS decks until the end of the VCR product life cycle.)
There is anecdotal evidence that some TV stations purchased ED-Beta equipment as a low-cost alternative to professional Betacam equipment, prompting speculation that Sony's management took steps to prevent its consumer (ED-Beta) division from cannibalizing the sales of its more lucrative professional video division. Nevertheless, it is clear to all that by the time of ED-Beta's introduction, VHS had already won a decisive victory, and no amount of fair competition on behalf of ED-Beta could possibly have regained the home video market.
It is not unusual to see the term S-VHS incorrectly used to refer to S-Video connectors (also called "Y/C connectors"), even in printed material. This may be due to S-VHS being one of the first consumer video products equipped with the Y/C connector; however, Y/C connectors are now common on many American and Japanese video devices other than video tape recorders: DVD players and recorders, MiniDV camcorders, cable/satellite set-top boxes, graphics cards, video game consoles, and TV sets themselves. Where the "S-" in "S-VHS" means "super", the "S-" in "S-Video" refers to the "separated" luminance and chrominance signals.