Movies shown on TV look better than VHS and usually about as good as DVD. I’m presuming that DVD isn’t what is used, so what kind of tape can be used for video of that quality? I’ve heard something about MPEG broadcasting, but isn’t that just used for digital tv? And if MPEG or some other digital source is used, what did they do before that was invented? I suppose a more general question about what broadcast TV programming is “played” from is what I am asking.
Lots of kinds, depending on the fanciness of the station and the era.
These days, the most modern stations have lots of things stored digitally on very big computers and can play them at will. Digital videotape formats have been available for quite some time, though I’m not too familiar with them. The most common analog format for less fancy stations is 3/4-inch tape (this is what a lot of syndicated shows arrive on) and sometimes even S-VHS, for the really low-end operations. I haven’t been in the TV bidness for many years, though.
As for MPEG, it can be used in a number of places, including digital transmissions to satelites (and down from satelites), transmission from cable companies to local repeaters (which may send the digital signal right to your house or convert to analog first), and of course storage on a tape or hard drive. (Digital video tape is generally uncompressed, though.)
U-Matic was a fairly dogdy and aging format 15 years ago - D1 and D2 tape were gaining ground. A little poking around at Sony Broadcast reveals that the big formats now are DVCAM and Betacam SX. And yes, there are video file servers for the high-end studios. A server with 8-hour capacity will set you back nearly $110,000. Makes the $25,000 Betacam SX deck look like an absolute bargain!