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The History of the MiniDV

By Christian Roemer

Back at the end of high school, I worked at Best Buy. I was mostly relegated to the cell phone counter, which I wasn’t particularly fond of. Sometimes I would get to work in the photography department. Back in the early 2000s, digital pictures cameras were just starting to get good, but purely digital video cameras hadn’t quite caught up yet. Instead, MiniDV reigned supreme. I loved the camera counter, because MiniDV was so cool.

I even had a MiniDV camera before my college roommate stole it from me when he moved out of our apartment. Zack, wherever you are, I hope you enjoyed my camera.

But the theft of my MiniDV camera is neither here nor there. What you’re here to read is the history of the MiniDV format, not my personal history with it (complicated). Well strap in because here we go.



1995 - DV is born.

DV actually stands for digital video, which means that, even though MiniDV are micro-tapes, they actually record video digitally. Weirdly, the digital recording is stored on tapes of film in a process called lossy compression. Even weirder, the video is recorded in a compressed format, while sound is uncompressed. What does that mean? Well, that means MiniDV is basically like one of those bizarre horse/zebra hybrids that looks like a horse, acts like a zebra, but sadly doesn’t really fit in either category all that well.


1998 - MiniDV actually hits the market.

MiniDVs are the smallest home video recording tapes that ever made it to consumers. Even smaller than Hi8, a single Tic-Tac sized cartridge could record about an hour of content. Cool.


Late 2000s - RIP.

While MiniDV was a pretty neat and innovative technology at the time, it just didn’t do enough to revolutionize the industry and maintain its perch as a cool development. It turns out it was just as easy to record videos onto actual memory cards as it was to record onto film. The difference was that memory cards could be erased, recorded over, transferred to computers, or saved as needed. They were also much smaller. At the end of the day, tapes are still tapes. MiniDV fell out of favor, and I haven’t even though of this film format--or Zack--in a good 15 years.



The tale of MiniDV is one of mind-blowing innovation and an almost unbelievably fast decline. MiniDV was the creme-de-la-creme of home video recording for a few short years, but because pure digital recording is better than using tapes, it was destined to fail almost as quickly as it was developed.

Even though MiniDV is basically a forgotten format, banished to the netherregions of obsolescence with MiniDVD and dial-up internet, it was still neat for a little while. Honestly, I’ll miss the cute little tapes. They were so mini!

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