Betamax (1978 – 1988)

Betamax was an analogue video tape format aimed at the consumer market, and introduced by Sony to the US market in 1975 (and the UK in 1978). The cassettes used ½-inch tape, with an initial capacity of 1 hour recording time.

Betamax and VHS – introduced in 1977 in the UK – competed in a format war eventually won by VHS despite Betamax having almost 100% of the market prior to the introduction of VHS and being the first commercially successful consumer video format.

Betamax was introduced to the UK in 1978 and held a 25% market share in 1981, but by 1986, it was down to just 7.5%. One of the reasons for its failure was the longer recording times of VHS, which already offered 2-hours when introduced, and although Betamax recording times were extended, they never caught up with VHS. Another reason was the easier availability of VHS machines to rent in the UK.

Although Betamax could potentially offer better picture quality, on domestic television sets of the time, the difference was negligible.

By 1988, Sony themselves began producing VHS video recorders and the format war was effectively lost. However, Betamax still had it supporters and Sony continued to produce Betamax recorders in the US until 1993, and in Japan until 2002. In late 2015, Sony announced that it would cease production of tapes in 2016.

In the professional market, Betacam (derived from Betamax) had more success.

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