Sony is finally killing Betamax videotapes, the loser in the VCR wars of the 1970s and 1980s.
Despite its superior quality, Betamax was doomed as a mass sales product almost as soon as it was launched, losing a marketing war with JVC’s video cassette, which went on to dominate the home-video market. That Betamax could record only an hour’s worth of TV programmes – compared with three on VHS – helped to consign it to professional use.
Sony said the last Betamax cassette will roll off the production line in March 2016 in Japan, the last country where the tapes are available.
Betamax was first released in 1975, embedded in a 19-inch television. Costing about £5,500 in today’s money, a promotional video said it would “expand your enjoyment of television viewing to something that was a short time ago nothing more than an ambitious dream”.
Although Sony offered to licence the tapes to its rival JVC, the offer was declined and the latter developed its own open format, releasing VHS video tapes in 1976.
Two years earlier the Japanese government had attempted to force the country’s electronics manufacturers to standardise tape formats. Sony initially won that battle; but JVC convinced its major stakeholder, Japan’s largest electronics manufacturer Matsushita, to back VHS.
By 1987 VHS had captured around 90 percent of the US sales market; the following year, Sony produced its first video cassette recorder.
Sony’s last Betamax recorder was produced in 2002, but the company continued to produce tapes. Both Betamax and VHS were superseded by DVDs.