Sony announced today that it would stop the manufacture of Betamax cassettes to a presumable chorus of “They still make those?” from people who remember them.
Betamax – Sony’s superior(?) technology, replaced by an inferior(?) one
That expression, “Betamaxed,” still makes the rounds and generally refers to the overtaking of a superior technology by that of an inferior. Something that happened to Beta when JVC introduced the VHS tape. The war between the two formats was one a long time ago, but Sony has continued to make tapes for the machine. That will stop in March of 2016.
“This will make the final shipment of all our memory media for Betamax,” Sony said in a Japanese-language statement today.
While most reading this likely thought it well dead already, Beta was spoken of highly of in 2014 buy Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai at a tech conference when he said, “Watch whatever, whenever. This idea still resonates and defines everything people desire and expect even today.”
Sony stopped making machines that could play Betamax tapes in 2002, while the last camera to support the format was produced by the electronics giant in 2005.
Let’s go back to 1975, when the format war began in earnest
Sony began its work on the Betamax in the early 1970s with the first Betamax machine finding its way into homes in 1975 when Sony bundled the Betamax in the cabinet of a 19″ television it produced.
All was going swimmingly until rival JVC opted not to accept Sony’s offer of an open format and instead developed its own technology the VHS tape.
There is little question that the Beta tape offered superior video quality. However, it’s biggest problem during the war was the fact that it was limited to an hour of recording time. The VHS offered up to six hours at low quality and two hours at its best quality setting. That meant that a full movie couldn’t fit on a single tape.
The Japanese ministry of international trade and industry got involved in 1974 urging the companies to agree on a standard. However, Matsushita was the largest electronics manufacturer back then and also a major stakeholder in JVC. With Matsushita behind them, JVC launched its first VHS player in 1976 with makers Hitachi, Mitsubish, Sharp and others soon joining them.
The porn industry ends the war
Given the economy of scale that came with the adoption of VHS, those producing VHS format tapes were able to undercut Betamax when it came to pricing and this was really realized by the porn industry jumping into bed with JVC and VHS.
However, the VHS was soon to fall with the birth of Phillips 1995 invention, the DVD. While it took time to get prices down and the film industry on board, VHS finally succumbed.
But, unlike the Betamax cassette, VHS tapes will still be manufactured after March.