By ze2000
5 years ago

The end of Betamax

Sony is finally killing Betamax videotapes, the loser in the VCR wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

The company announced Tuesday it will end sales of the product in Japan, the last redoubt, next year. Sony Canada spokesperson Ved Khan confirmed in an email shipments will end in March 2016.

Sony hasn’t made a camera compatible with the MicroMV — a mini-cassette format used in video cameras — in 10 years. Betamax video players have been out of production since 2002.

Betamax tapes are also no longer on assembly lines, though new cassettes — for both VCRs and camcorders — are available on Amazon and eBay in Japan.

Tossed out as punch lines or cautionary tales since the 1990s, Betamax products were launched in 1975. Sony sold 30,000 Betamax VCRs in the U.S. as it enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the budding home video market, according to a 1989 Consumers’ Research article. The cutting-edge devices allowed consumers to record analogue television shows on a magnetic video format.

In 1976, JVC launched its own format, setting off a drawn-out battle of the brands and prefiguring the more recent struggle between Blu-ray and HD DVD. By the mid-1980s, Betamax VCRs were significantly cheaper than their VHS counterparts. Sony has sold more than 18 million devices since its launch, the company has stated.

Nonetheless, Rolling Stone declared in 1987 that “the battle is over.” Sony conceded with plans for a VHS line of VCRs the following year.

Explanations for why Betamax failed to become the household video standard — and instead became a byword for brand defeat — are varied.

The common narrative holds that the Betamax format cost more to manufacture than the VHS and, crucially, had a recording time of one hour versus VHS’ three. While Betamax may have had a superior picture quality, JVC also showed a willingness to share their technology and licensing, allowing electronics companies like Panasonic, Hitachi and Sharp to churn out affordable products compatible with VHS — itself a retro format since DVDs and digital recording recorders (DVR).

Revisionist histories include the theory that the Betamax demise was due to Sony shunning the adult film industry and choosing not to mass produce pornographic movies.

Sony doesn’t always come out the loser in a format war. Its Blu-ray technology bested HD DVDs — though for how long it can stay on top remains to be seen.