Beta v. VHS

Why is it that everyone went to VHS and left
BETA out in the cold? Was there really any difference? (People born after '75 ask your parents).

A school teacher of mine (who knew a lot about technical stuff but who may not be a reliable source of scientific information) used to say that Beta was technically superior - being based on the same principle as the big studio machines of the time - but failed due to the restrictive licensing policy of its inventors (Sony, I believe).

BTW, a similar fate fell upon Video 2000. Is that system known anywhere outside Germany? It was invented by Grundig around the same time the other two came out and, as far as I know, produced only by them. Of course, it also vanished from the market, probably because the recorders were more expensive than VHS. But I still have one, and it works nicely, considering its age of some 16 years. But a new cassette nowadays costs DEM 40, about $25, and don’t get me started about having it repaired… it’s a shame.


(I was born in '54.)

As I recall, Beta was indeed better from a technical point of view. But Beta was more expensive and most people didn’t think the extra quality was worth the extra money.

This led the video stores to have a better selection of VHS stuff than Beta stuff. Soon, even people who were willing to pay the premium for Beta were buying VHS simply because of the better selection.

Eventually, the stores stopped bothering to carry the Beta stuff, and the manufacturers stopped making them.

Much of the above logic explains why Microsoft is so dominant over Apple. Many feel that the Mac is technically better, but Windows is so popular that it is difficult to buck the tide.

Well, my understanding is that when VHS came out, Beta had yet to release a 2-hour tape. In other words, you have to change the tape halfway through for a 2 hour movie. LAME! Their failure to bring a 2-hour tape to market led to the rise of VHS. That’s what I hear, anyway.

But yes, I have also heard that it was superior technically, just as PAL is superior to NTSC (Never The Same Color twice? ::grin: ;). My uncle had a BetaMax…


My family were die-hard Betaphiles through most of the eighties, and I still believe Beta had much better picture, but like rmariamp said, the short tapes killed it. Sony tried to license it, but no one else was interested. I hear Sony actually still manufactors a couple hundred Beta machines a year, mostly for the Japanese market. Here in L.A. I still see blank Beta tapes for sale at Circuit City, so I guess some people refuse to give up the ghost.

What’s all this talk about short Beta tapes? Not only do I remember 2 hour tapes but the machine we had (Sony, I think) had speed adjustment just like VHS. You could record 2, 4, or 6 hours.

The short Beta tapes are a myth. I had a Beta unit and it was better than my newer, more expensive, Sony VHS unit. Beta had a better head system and a much less convoluted tape path. It went from play to stop to rewind to play much faster and was a much more quiet machine. If you want to see Beta in action, go to your local TV station.

Has anyone seen my keys?

To add a little more, Beta was killed by the $199 VHS units available at Wal-Mart that most of the country was willing to buy. There was also a laserdisc format available in the 80’s that failed to gain much market.

I remember the laserdisc thing in the 80’s but I only saw one of them. It wasn’t anything to compare with the newest one’s but it was there.

Indeed Betamax was (and still is probably) a superior product over VHS. VHS was developed because Sony refused to allow anyone else to use the tech they patented. The cheaper VHS systems soon flooded the market. So what if the quality wasn’t as good; who cares about quality when your taping 6 hours of Three’s Company reruns. More importantly the fledgling video rental business could purchase VHS movies cheaper–follow the buck.
Sony steadfastly refused to see the writing on the wall. They probably thought quality would win out in the end. I guess they didn’t learn the lessons U.S. manufacturers did about cheap Japanese imports.

A nice parallel can be drawn with Apple computers as well. Macs have been and probably are still superior; but, so what?
If you price your way out of the majority of the market, your not going to have much of a market left.

For a detailed look at the reasons (and myths – some of which have been mentioned here) behind the ultimate success of VHS over Beta, see the “AFU White Paper: The Decline and Fall of Betamax”

(Added url codes - Nickrz)

[Note: This message has been edited by Nickrz]

Beta is still very much alive on the broadcast market.

The Beta we use in broadcasting is not the same as the Betamax in your home (assuming anyone still has Beta at home). Broadcast quality Beta is known as Betacam (or it’s successor, BetaSP). And although Betamax and Betacam are related (i.e., based on the same technology, utilizing similarly designed tape packages, etc.) they are NOT compatible. One tape will not play in the machine of the other.

But as the tapes look alike and the name is similar, many non-broadcast types assume they are the same.

In fact, Tom Clancy, in one of the recent Jack Ryan books, has a reporter take a Betacam tape home to watch in his Betamax machine. Couldn’t happen. (Been meaning to write him a letter about that one.)


OK, OK, I wish to confess. I still have a Beta VCR, which I have used since about 1989, and we’ve spent many happy evenings together while you were out gallivanting around with those flashy VHS floozies.

It’s a Sony (natch) Hi-Fi, and has not given me a day’s problems, touch wood.

I still can find blank Beta tapes in one store, although I haven’t rented a movie in Beta for many, many years. (I broke down recently and bought a VHS player cheap for viewing rented movies). I use it mainly to tape off TV (and what would I do with the 200+ Beta tapes of all my old favourites? It would takes forever to copy to VHS!)

My standing joke is that owning a Beta allows me to check the box on Government forms to identify myself as a “visible minority”.

BTW, I asked a Sony store owner recently (about 9 months ago) if they still produced home Beta machines. He said that they still made them for the Mexican market. Ole!

“A friend will help you move house. A best friend will help you move a body.”–Alexi Sayle

I read that Beta is immune to Macrovision copy protection?

I clearly remember when both formats were viable. Beta was better but not that much better than VHS. What killed Beta was somebody got the bright idea to RENT movies. Beta -Sony never realized people would rent movies.

VHS flooded through rentals and that was it for Beta

Mac -vs- PC is similar. I love Macs they are no questions asked better than PC, easier to use, and wear better than PC (ctrl-alt-del is a lot harder on a PC than Mac).

PC’s won because
A) Mac’s kept the technology to themselves
B) Most computer users were geeks.They liked the programming aspects of computers. To click hold and drag was the mark of stupidity. They wanted the DOS commands they enjoyed the challenge.

Then came the internet and well WebTV.

Ah, technology wars…I love them! Remember 45’s vs LP’s? 8 track vs cassette?

Yeah, Betamax was a better format than VHS. Betacam is pretty close to Betamax.

I wrote a paper on the VHS/BETAMAX war. Got a B on it. Lemme try a really brief condensation.

Think back to the 4 channel stereo debacle. You had 2 different formats for LPs, each promoted by a different company. That meant different stereo receivers. The purchasers scratched their heads trying to figure out which one to get and ultimately looked in their wallets, yawned, and said 2 channel works for me.

The point is that the folks who later promoted VHS learned something that Sony didn’t. It’s the software! Doesn’t matter how good the hardware is if you don’t have the software to play on the hardware. (which explains why PC’s are more popular than Macs) So… the VHS folks went to MGM (first, later others) and got the rights to reproduce their catalog (or most of it) on Video. Both systems offered the capability of recording off broadcast, and current films were released in both formats, but VHS offered the chance for you to get those old movies that you loved. Yeah, they were really expensive first, then some genius thought of buying a bunch of videos, setting up a storefront, and RENTING them out. And it worked.

Ranger Jeff
*The Idol of American Youth *

I think we are forgetting the killer application for the VHS VCR…pornography. Home use of porn took vhs over the top

I’m old enough that I actually had to choose between VHS and Beta when I was finally overwhelmed by the desire to time-shift TV programs.

For me, the deciding factor was one I haven’t seen in this thread. Using the crummiest picture mode, I could tape 8 hours on the longest VHS tape, compared to <6 on Beta. This was important if I wanted to tape several shows over a weekend while I was on the road. Later I learned that T-160s aren’t that common, but they do exist.

At that time, the local video rental stores had both Beta and VHS, although VHS had a better selection. And VHS was a little cheaper, but I think Sony was trying to match prices around then because the difference wasn’t that great (in my fuzzy memory).

I am a person who has yet to make to the video age yet…I still play 75 records! I also:
-listen to AM radio (the kind in my car)
-have a 286 computer
-have an 8-track tape player
Now, before you all laugh-I wait long enough to see who the winner will be…so I don’t get stuck with obsolete technolgy (like BETAMAX).
Now, if I can find parts for my 1965 Chevy, my 1935 washing machine, my 1948 victrola…