Is there an alternate brand available that could be used on either the Sony SR 5500 HD VTR or Panasonic D5 HD VTR?

For the Sony SR 5500 deck you can use either HDCAM or HDCAM SR tapes. The Panasonic D5 will accept D5 tape.

Can I use HDCAM tape for recording HDCAM SR video?

No. Sony's HDCAM SR (superior resolution) format records more color at a higher resolution. But, you don't get more color and more resolution without creating more data. And that's why HDCAM SR requires a new kind of tape.

HDCAM SR records in 4:4:4 full bandwidth RGB color, while HDCAM is a 3:1:1 format. Plus, SR has a higher picture resolution, 1920x1080 pixels, compared to 1440x1080 for HDCAM.

All that additional sampling translates into a lot more data. In HQ mode, the data transfer rate required by SR is 880 Mbps (megabits per second) or over 6 times the data rate of 140 Mbps for HDCAM. Even in standard mode at 440 Mbps, SR still moves more than 3 times the data that HDCAM does. Dealing with the extra data requires two things — a better compression algorithm and a higher density recording media (tape).

On the compression side, SR employs the new MPEG 4 compression scheme which is more efficient than the DCT codec used with regular HDCAM.

On the recording media side, the new SR tape formulation uses 50% smaller metal particles. Those tiny particles allow more data to be recorded into a given amount of space, 2.7 times more data. And, they provide more than twice the output signal of HDCAM.

So, that's why you can't use HDCAM tape to record in SR resolution. There's just too much data!

Can I use large and small HDCAM cassettes in all HDCAM camcorders?

HDCAM camcorders only accept small shell cassettes, but the HDCAM VTRs can take both the large and the small shell cassettes.

Does HDCAM SR use the same tape as HDCAM?

No, a new tape has been made with metal particles that are about half the size of HDCAM. This allows for a much higher density recording layer that provides an additional 6dB of signal saturation. Therefore, you would have to use the HDCAM SR tape stock to reap the benefits of HDCAM SR. That being said - the HDCAM SR deck (SRW-5500) does have the ability to record and playback in HDCAM and has the option to playback in Digital Betacam format.

Sony BCT-124HDL tape is 124 minutes recording at 60i. What's the record time for the same tape on a PAL system?

124HDL will give you 124 minutes in 60i, 148 minutes in 50i, 155 minutes in 24i... Here is a complete chart of HDCAM and HDCAM SR record times at various frame rates. (PDF)

Can you tell me which tape labels to purchase for Sony BCT-40SR tapes?

You can use the 70500-C Betacam Face Labels  for the BCT-40SR . These face labels are for laser and inkjet printers and fit both large and small HDCAM SR tapes.

Can the Sony HDCAM BCT-HD12CL cleaning tape be used in a PAL system?

Yes, the Sony HDCAM BCT-HD12CL cleaning tape may be used in any HDCAM machine, regardless of the format you are recording.

Can HDCAM SR Tape Be Degaussed or Erased?

Yes, but not with the traditional degaussers you've probably seen. Magnetically erasing a modern tape format from a distance, particularly HDCAM SR, is nearly impossible.
The only way to erase the tapes is with a device called an "evaluator". Essentially, it's an HDCAM deck that runs at high speed and blanks the tape. Sensors scan the tape for errors. Usually about 90% pass the tests and can be reliably reused.

Can I record an HDCAM signal to an HDCAM SR tape?

No, this is not recommended. HDCAM and HDCAM SR, despite the name similarity, are two very different formats and are two very different tapes. The key difference: SR tape takes a much greater amount of energy to be recorded. While it might be possible to persuade an HDCAM deck to accept an SR tape, it simply won't have the power to make a proper recording, resulting in drop-outs and other errors.

Some SR decks can record in HDCAM mode. But, the same problem will exist should you attempt this with an SR tape. The record heads will be scaled back to HDCAM level and won't send enough energy to record the SR tape sufficiently.