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Looking Back Fondly At The First Video Format War

Beta

Humankind never learns from the past. Take the modern battle between HD DVD and the competing Blu-Ray high-definition disc format -- it all happened once before in the late 1970s, except back then it was captured on videotape...

The battle between Betamax & VHS was intense. The Sony system was widely regarded as technically superior and Sony held the initial lead in sales. There were several problems with Sony’s technology, though. The video rental industry was in its infancy in the late 1970s, so most VCRs were purchased by people who wanted to record off-air shows. VHS had a distinct edge here, since early Betamax tapes could record only one hour of high-quality video, versus two hours on each VHS tape. Betamax tapes also took noticeably longer to rewind because the tape head could not be disengaged. VHS recorders were much faster because they automatically disengage the head before rewinding.

The unfortunate result of the tape differences was that consumers and retailers perceived VHS to be a better format, even though this was certainly not the case technically. The final nail in Sony’s coffin was that JVC made it easier for manufacturers to adopt their technology, resulting in far more companies adopting the format. This doesn’t seem like a significant stumbling block until you realize that consumers are more likely to buy a format that offers a choice of 100 models over a ‘lesser’ type with only a few dozen. Sales of Betamax recorders and tapes began to nosedive around 1984, and Sony threw in the towel and introduced their first VHS VCR in 1989.

Sony didn’t completely lose the fight, however –  a high-quality version of the Beta format went on to dominate the professional market.

Why VHS was better than Betamax (The Guardian Unlimited)

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