Fun Fact Friday: Betamax

Did you know that Sony still manufactures Betamax video tapes? It’s true!

Sony recently made an announcement that in March of 2016, they’re finally discontinuing the format. This came as a great surprise to those of us who thought that it had been discontinued 20 or 30 years ago!

For those of you who are too young to remember video tapes, they are what we oldsters used to watch before the invention of the DVD, and what we used to record our shows on before the invention of the DVR. They are small plastic boxes with 2 plastic reels inside, with a spool of magnetic oxide coated tape. This video cassette (commonly referred to as a “video tape” or just “tape”) was placed into a video cassette recorder and played back, which allowed the magnetic tape to pass across the playback head, which was a sensor that read the patterns in the magnetic oxide, not unlike how a laser in a DVD player reads a DVD as it spins.

There were 2 major video cassette formats, VHS and Betamax, created by rival competitors JVC and Sony. These 2 companies battled for supremacy on the consumer market, much like the later rivalries between Toshiba (creators of the HD-DVD) and Sony (creators of the Blu-ray disc) or between Microsoft’s Xbox line of video game consoles vs Sony’s Playstation line of consoles.

In the case of the Betamax, Sony lost its struggle against JVC’s rival videocassette format, known as VHS. While Beta (as it was commonly referred to) had a slightly higher picture quality, it was more expensive. Because of this, the lucrative videotape rental market, as well as consumers, quickly latched on to the cheaper VHS format, declaring a victor in the consumer market.

While Beta was down, it was not entirely out, as Betamax (in various different tape formats, both large and small) continued to be used by television stations and other professional video producers for many years after its commercial failure on the consumer market.

Naturally, videotapes eventually gave way to the DVD, due to DVD’s much higher video quality and durability. You see, each time you watched a video tape, the magnetic oxide was worn slightly, as well as the physical mechanism inside the tape. This caused the tape to decrease greatly in video and sound quality after many repeated viewings, and eventually to wear out completely.

As you can see, progress is a good thing….especially when it means that you can watch your copy of Star Wars hundreds of times, and it will still look just as good as the day you brought it home!

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