Remember video tapes? Those things with the spools that used to hold copies of home videos and, even more popularly, our favorite movies for home viewing. The little black rectangles we used to leave the house just to go get and then pay a lot of money when we returned them late? Yeah, you got it. Those things. Well, VHS was the most used and, therefore, best remembered of that format, and now we know what has finally become of its competitor, Betamax.
According to Fact, Sony just announced that they will stop producing Betamax tapes in March 2016. Let me run that by you again. Sony is going to stop making Betamax format video tapes. I know, you need to hear it again, don’t you? Because, you know, no one uses that format anymore. The catch here, of course, is that no one has used (or even thought of) Betamax for about, oh, 30 years.
Sony’s Betamax format was pitted against JVC’s VHS format in the 1970s and 1980s as watching and recording video tapes became economical enough for home use. Betamax tapes, which somehow had one spool instead of two, actually featured the higher quality video experience, with better horizontal resolution and lower video noise than VHS. But, that increase in quality over VHS also led to higher prices for the tapes and video players. And that higher price must have been too much for people to consider, since they overwhelmingly chose VHS time and again.
Betamax has been essentially dead since its share of the video tape format market went down to twenty-five percent in 1981. Video stores, home buyers and movie studios continued to step away from it, and it died what everyone thought was a pretty speedy death. Except, Sony kept making the damn things. And, for that matter, the recorders that went along with them. Sony only stopped making those in 2002.
OK, guys, its time to be blunt. What in the holiest of hells happened here? Why on Earth would a company, which I can only presume likes to make money, keep making something no one in the world was still buying or using? I know Sony makes hundreds of products that could easily keep their dying Betamax farms on life support, but why? Why continue to spend any money at all on this project?
I can only think of one good answer: stubbornness. That’s right, the leaders at Sony knew they had a better product and were determined no to let the public’s poor reaction to it spoil their Betamax fun. I can just imagine the ire that rose from those corporate walls when they realized they’d lost The Great Video War. And from that ire came a fierce determination to try to lure people back to Betamax or die trying. Sony wanted us to pry Betamax tapes out of their cold dead hands for the next few decades once we saw what a grand mistake we’d made.
Instead, what happened was that VHS lost its Second Great War, this time against DVDs. And now that the market is filled with Blu-Ray disks and digital video recorders, no one needs any kind of tape that isn’t of the sticky variety. So, goodbye Betamax. You fought a good fight, my friend. Now, rest in peace.