VHS vs. Betamax

The Formatting War: VHS vs. Betamax

In the early 1980s, the world was engaged in a heated debate over which video tape format was superior: Betamax or VHS.  This battle continued through much of the 1980s until VHS eventually made a technological breakthrough enabling them to beat out Beta and ultimately dominate the VCR formatting standard.[1] But how did VHS, a standard that was known to be less than Betamax, defeat Betamax?

When Sony introduced the Betamax format in 1975 it was basically the same U-Matic system they had introduced in 1971, but cut down to ½ inch tape from the original ¾.  Highly priced at $2,300 Betamax VCR standard immediately fell into the luxury bracket.

Despite being introduced a year after Betamax, VHS VCR standard had two very important advantages over Betamax.  The first was that the VHS standard was a third of the price of Betamax.  As a result it was more easily affordable for the masses and people began to sacrifice quality for affordability.  The second major advantage of VHS was its recording time.  Where Betamax cassettes could record for only an hour, VHS tape could record for two.  In 1976, a one hour Betamax cassette was a piece of high end technology that would cost $15 if bought in bulk, while some retail prices could go as high as $30.[2] While attempts were made, by Sony, to create a two hour cassette in response to its competitor, VHS took things one step further by introducing a recorder that allowed up to four hours of taping.[3] By 1988 Sony and the Betamax format had conceded defeat.

[2] Joshua M. Greenburg, From Betamax to Blockbuster (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2008), 44.

[3] Ibid, pg 3-4

[1] Alan R. Dennis and Bryan A. Reinicke, “Beta Versus Vhs and the Acceptance of Electronic Brainstorming Technology,” MIS Quarterly 28, no. 1 (March 2004): 1-3, http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/stable/25148622?seq=2&Search=yes&searchText=VHS&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dthe%2BVHS%26acc%3Don%26wc%3Don&prevSearch=&item=1&ttl=3232&returnArticleService=showFullText&resultsServiceNa (accessed March 30, 2011).

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