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The Fate of the Betamax Tape

By Dillon Wallace

War Was On the Horizon

In the mid to late 1970s, the epic format war started heating up. With technology growing at a rapid rate, video tapes and video tape records were finally affordable for public consumption.


First off the starting line to the front line was Sony’s Betamax, an innovative VCR format. For nearly a year, the Betamax was flying off store shelves and onto TV entertainment centers. Life was good for the Betamax, but then … a challenger approached.


Betamax vs VHS

The VHS was released in 1976 by JVC, and even though the Betamax had a full year to gain traction, it wasn’t enough to beat out the more affordable VHS. Despite possessing better audio and video quality, consumers opted for the cheaper and longer recording time VHS format. Family home videos were booming in popularity in the late 70s and 80s, and the VHS offered twice as much record time (two hours compared to just one) than Betamax and at a significantly lower price tag.


The Turning Point

At some point, every war has a pivotal battle – one that shapes the outcome of the war. For Betamax, it was its lack of relationships with motion picture companies that finally did the format in. It was the Betamax’s Gettysburg. Despite losing in popularity and sales to the VHS, Betamax held strong in its endeavors, but it was after JVC has landed some serious relationships with motion picture companies that the end was finally in sight for Betamax.


By the 1987, Betamax had seen its shares decrease so much that it was time to concede defeat and wave the white flag to VHS. The more than $5 billion dollar VCR market in the U.S. had solely centered its allegiance behind the VHS, where it would remain dominant until the second great format war began nearly a decade later in 1997, when a new challenger approached … the DVD.


So if you’ve got a stash of retired Betamax and VHS veterans lying around in an old Reebok shoe box, now is the time to digitize and preserve this historical format war and the memories that it helped shape and create.

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