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What Came Before VHS?

By Dillon Wallace

The 80s and 90s were synonymous with the VHS tape. Families flocked to the local Blockbuster to rent the newest releases or shot their own home movies on the family camcorder.

But what came before the VHS?

After all, videotape was around before the VHS just in different formats. So, what reigned supreme in home theaters before the VHS tape was crowned king?


Film reels

Before videotape became the preferred video format, film, particularly 16mm and 8mm/Super 8 were the reels of choice by consumers. Sure, movie houses still played a lot of their movies on film (35mm for example) even after the release of videotape, but for home theater purposes, consumers switched to videotape once the format became a viable option. Why? It was easier to shoot, easier to playback and easier to port around.


Reel-to-reel videotape recorders

The earliest form of videotape can be found in reel-to-reel or open-reel players. But these wanna-be Mickey Mouse ear players were often too bulky and expensive for general consumption. As a result, they were often widely used commercially in schools and other institutions. Oh, and let’s not forget about the cost. Reel-to-reel video players like their reel-to-reel audio counterparts weren’t exactly a cheap option for watching videos or listening to recordings.



Back in 1969, the moon landing wasn’t the only technological breakthrough. Forget about the space race. We’re talking about the format race, and the U-Matic videocassette was introduced to the world at the end of the 60s by Sony (perhaps you’ve heard of them). What made U-Matic so special at the time was it became the first videotape inside a cassette case. Prior to its release, videotape was “confined” to reel-to-reel or open-reel formats which were typically too large and expensive for general public consumption. This paved way for the first VCRs and the videotape formats that would soon follow.


Betamax vs VHS: the format war

By the mid-1970s, it was clear that videotape was the future of home theater movies. And in 1975, Sony released the Betamax as the latest videotape format. A better (and smaller) tape alternative to U-Matic, Betamax was a technological marvel of the time. But with all that new tech, came a hefty price tag. Betamax retailed for upwards of $2300 for the top-end Betamax players. Yikes!


Well, this may come as a shock, but it turns out, people didn’t want to pay that much for video players. So, when the VHS tape and player came out a couple of years later in 1977, the tide began to shift … quickly. Betamax was the first to the party, but VHS was throwing the more affordable soiree. Plus, the record time was longer on the VHS, just to name a couple of perks. Sure, the $1000 price tag still seemed like a ridiculously high price point, but when compared to the Betamax, it cost less than half. Which is one major reason why Beta machines sunk to a lowly 25% of the VCR market share by 1981.


In 50 years, we’ve come a long way from the analog days of VHS and its predecessors. But that doesn’t mean your videotapes have to be forgotten. If you’ve got a pile of Betamax and VHS tapes (and tapes that came after) lying around collecting dust in your attic, send them to us and we’ll digitize them so you can relive the glory days. You know, all those memories without having to “Be Kind, Rewind.”.
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