Betamax (or Beta as it is sometimes called) is a domestic videocassette format first released to the public in 1975. The same format was later marketed by Sanyo as Betacord which used identical technology. Many variations of Betamax were developed between 1975 and 1988 when Sony finally conceded that the format was beaten and started producing VHS. These formats included Beta HiFi, SuperBetamax (also called Super Beta or High Band Beta) and Extended Definition Betamax.
History now shows us that Beta’s rival format, VHS, which was introduced a year later in 1976, triumphed. The format war that raged through the later part of the seventies was every bit as fierce as the recent Blu-Ray vs HD battle.
Beta, a 1/2 inch format developed by Sony, was a derivative of the 3/4 inch U-Matic format which was in operation for years prior. There was much dispute over the advantages of each format and it was difficult to conclusively state one as superior to the other.
In the early days of the format war, Betamax was heavily marketed by Sony as a superior format possessing better picture quality and a more efficient and effective mechanical system. Whilst this was partly true (the early Beta l-speed delivered a superior 250 horizontal lines of picture vs NTSCs 240 lines), it also had lower crosstalk and a reduced level of video noise. As Beta embraced longer recording times, there was a resulting reduction in picture quality as compared to VHS largely due to the smaller tape size.
Sony’s original strategy was to not allow other licencee’s to brand their products with the Beta format. This meant that at the time of JVC introducing the VHS format in 1976, the only brand available as Betamax was the Sony. JVC (and its parent company Matsushita) embraced other licencee’s with the end result that the VHS format reached the point of critical mass much faster through the wider distribution.
Betamax was ahead of Sony introducing many revolutionary features including Hi-Fi sound and digital freeze frame (both of which eventually appeared on VHS technology also). The Betamax format used a full threading on loading system which meant shifting between fast forward, play and stop happened much faster than the system used in VHS decks.
When Sony’s Beta format was first introduced, it was limited to a 1 hour length (it was designed to cater only for the recording of TV shows which were not longer than 1 hour). At the time it was conceded both by the developers of VHS, JVC and by Sony that the current video head technology would significantly reduce the record quality. Sony opted to offer longer tape lengths on this basis, however JVC decided to proceed with a 2 hour tape which proved a significant advantage to consumers. Later years would see the VHS move to a 10.6 hour tape and Beta a 5 hour tape. As it turned out, consumers were not generally put off by the reduction in quality, but the tape length proved to be a significant issue.
In our opinion this was the defining factor and can probably be cited as the main reason why Betamax wasted the head start it had (in the beginning virtually 100% of domestic VCRs were Betamax) simply by limiting tape length to 1 hour. Users felt the inability to record a feature movie on Beta to be much of a deterrent and deferred to VHS in droves. Despite the many technological advantages that Sony and Beta developed over the ensuing decade, it was all too late.
Despite it’s fairly rapid decline, we still find the volume of Betamax / Betacord / Beta tapes with irreplaceable material to be enormous. Beta tapes are no different to any other magnetic tape format, they are subject to deterioration as the magnetic particles breakdown and the footage deteriorates.
DiskBank offer a high grade transfer process to your choice of format – Blu-ray, DVD or digital file. There’s never a better time to evaluate your video memories! Unfortunately, time is no friend of magnetic tape formats and your best choice is to transfer the footage to a digital format now.