videotape format war
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The videotape format war was a period of competition or "
format war A format war describes competition between similar but mutually incompatible technical standards that compete for the same market, such as for data storage device File:Reel-to-reel recorder tc-630.jpg, On a reel-to-reel tape recorder (Sony TC-6 ...
" of incompatible models of consumer-level
analog video Video is an electronic medium for the recording, copyingCopying is the duplication of information or an artifact based on an instance of that information or artifact, and not using the process that originally generated it. With Analog device ...
videocassette Videotape is magnetic tape Magnetic tape is a medium for magnetic recording, made of a thin, magnetizable coating on a long, narrow strip of plastic film Plastic film is a thin continuous polymeric material. Thicker plastic material ...
and video cassette recorders (VCR) in the late 1970s and the 1980s, mainly involving the
Betamax Betamax (also known as Beta, as in its logo) is a consumer-level analog-recording and Videocassette#Cassette formats, cassette format of magnetic tape for video, commonly known as a video cassette recorder. It was developed by Sony and was relea ...
and
Video Home System VHS (short for Video Home System) is a technical standard, standard for consumer-level analog recording, analog video recording on tape Videocassette, cassettes. Developed by JVC, Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the early 1970s, it was releas ...

Video Home System
(VHS) formats. VHS ultimately emerged as the preeminent format.


Overview

The first video cassette recorder (VCR) to become available was the
U-matic#REDIRECT U-matic U-matic is an analogue recording videocassette format first shown by Sony is a Japanese Multinational corporation, multinational conglomerate (company), conglomerate corporation headquartered in Kōnan, Minato, To ...

U-matic
system, released in September 1971. U-matic was designed for commercial or professional
television production Image:MDR Kripo live.jpg, upright=1.35, A live television show set and cameras A television show – or simply TV show – is any content produced for viewing on a television set which can be broadcast via Terrestrial television, over-the-air, sat ...
use, and was not affordable or user-friendly for
home video Home video is prerecorded video media sold or rented for home viewing. The term originates from the VHS/Betamax Betamax (also known as Beta, as in its logo) is a consumer-level analog-recording and Videocassette#Cassette formats, cassette fo ...
s or
home movies A home movie is a short amateur film or video typically made just to preserve a visual record of family activities, a vacation, or a special event, and intended for viewing at home by family and friends. Originally, home movies were made on phot ...
. The first consumer-grade VCR to be released was the
Philips Koninklijke Philips N.V. (literally ''Royal Philips'', commonly shortened to Philips, stylized in its logo as PHILIPS) is a Dutch multinational conglomerate corporation that was founded in Eindhoven. Since 1997, it has been mostly headquarte ...

Philips
N1500
N1500
VCR format in 1972, followed in 1975 by
Sony is a Japanese Multinational corporation, multinational conglomerate (company), conglomerate corporation headquartered in Kōnan, Minato, Tokyo. The company operates as one of the world's largest manufacturers of consumer and professional ...

Sony
's Betamax. This was quickly followed by the competing VHS format from
JVC The , usually referred to as JVC or the Japan Victor Company, is a Japanese brand owned by JVCKenwood corporation. Founded in 1927, the company is best known for introducing Japan's first televisions and for developing the Video Home System (VH ...

JVC
, and later by
Video 2000 Video 2000 (also known as V2000, with the tape standard Video Compact Cassette, or VCC) is a consumer A consumer is a person or a group who intends to order, orders, or uses purchased goods, products, or Service (economics), services primarily ...
from Philips. Subsequently, the Betamax–VHS format war began in earnest. Other competitors, such as the Avco
Cartrivision Cartrivision is an analog videocassette Videotape is magnetic tape Magnetic tape is a medium for magnetic recording, made of a thin, magnetizable coating on a long, narrow strip of plastic film Plastic film is a thin continuous poly ...
, Sanyo's V-Cord and Matsushita's " Great Time Machine" quickly disappeared. Sony had demonstrated a prototype videotape recording system it called "Beta" to the other electronics manufacturers in 1974, and expected that they would back a single format for the good of all. But JVC in particular decided to go with its own format, despite Sony's appeal to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry, thus beginning the format war. Manufacturers also introduced other systems such as needle-based, record-style discs (RCA's
Capacitance Electronic Disc The Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) is an analog video disc playback system developed by RCA, in which video and audio could be played back on a TV set A Sony Wega CRT television set A television set or television receiver, more common ...
, JVC's
Video High Density Video High Density (VHD) is an analog videodisc format which was marketed predominantly in Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_co ...
disc) and optical discs (Philips'
LaserDisc
LaserDisc
). None of these disc formats gained much ground as none was capable of home recording; however, they did hold small niche markets. CED's inexpensive record-like format (using a fine keel-shaped stylus to read an electronic signal rather than mechanical vibrations) made it attractive to low-income families during the 1980s, and LaserDisc's 5 megahertz/420 line resolution made it popular with discerning videophiles until circa 1997 (when
DVD-Video DVD-Video is a consumer video format used to store digital video on DVD discs. DVD-Video was the dominant consumer home video format in Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemispher ...

DVD-Video
became the new standard for high-quality). Some sources say that VHS won over Betamax due to the greater availability of
pornographic movie Pornographic films (pornos), erotic films, or sex films are films that present Human sexual activity, sexually WIKT:explicit, explicit subject matter in order to sexual arousal, arouse and orgasm, satisfy the viewer. Pornography, Pornographic ...
s on the format. In the 1980s, the founder of
Vivid Entertainment Vivid Entertainment Group is an American pornographic film Pornographic films (pornos), erotic films, or sex films are films that present sexually explicit subject matter in order to arouse and satisfy the viewer. Pornographic films p ...
said "we pushed VHS harder, and in that sense we did have something to do with VHS winning out". Steve Duplessie, the founder of research firm Enterprise Strategy Group, disagreed, saying that VHS won over Betamax due to its more open format.


Competing technologies

Sony had met with
MatsushitaMatsushita (written: lit. "below the pine tree") is a Japanese surname. Notable people with the surname include: *Daisuke Matsushita (born 1981), a former Japanese football player *Hiroyuki Matsushita, Hiro Matsushita (born 1961), former Japanese C ...
executives in late 1974/ early 1975 to discuss the forthcoming home video market. Both had previously cooperated in the development and marketing of the U-Matic video cassette format. Sony brought along a Betamax prototype for Matsushita's engineers to evaluate. Sony at the time was unaware of JVC's work. At a later meeting, Matsushita, with JVC management in attendance, showed Sony a VHS prototype, and advised them it was not too late to embrace VHS "for the good of the industry" but Sony management felt it was too close to Betamax production to compromise.


U.S. market

While VHS machines' lower retail price was a major factor, the principal battleground proved to be recording time. The original Sony Betamax video recorder for the
NTSC The National Television System Committee (NTSC)National Television System Committee (1951–1953), Report and Reports of Panel No. 11, 11-A, 12-19, with Some supplementary references cited in the Reports, and the Petition for adoption of transmi ...
television system could record for only 60 minutes, identical to the previous U-matic format, which had been sufficient for use in television studios. JVC's VHS could manage 120 minutes, followed by
RCA The RCA Corporation was a major American electronics company, which was founded as the Radio Corporation of America in 1919. It was initially a patent trust owned by General Electric General Electric Company (GE) is an American Multination ...
's entrance into the market with a 240-minute recorder using VHS. These challenges sparked a mini-war to see who could achieve the longest recording time. RCA had initially planned a home video format around 1974, to be called "SelectaVision MagTape", but canceled it after rumors had come about discussing Sony's Betamax format, and was considering Sony as an
OEM An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is generally perceived as a company that produces parts and equipment that may be marketed by another manufacturer. However, the term is also used in several other ways, which causes ambiguity Ambig ...
for an RCA-branded VCR. RCA had discussions with Sony, but RCA felt the recording time was too short, insisting that they needed at least a 4-hour recording time (reportedly because that was the length of an average televised
American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular American football field, field with goalposts at each end. The offense ...

American football
game). Sony engineers knew that the technology available to manufacture video heads was not up to the task yet, but halving the tape speed and track width was a possibility. However, the picture quality would be degraded severely, and at that time Sony engineers felt the compromise was not worthwhile. Soon after, RCA met with executives at the Victor Corporation of Japan (JVC), who had created their own video format called "VHS" (which stood for "Video Home System"). But JVC also refused to compromise the picture quality of their format by allowing a four-hour mode. JVC's parent corporation, Matsushita, later met with RCA and agreed to manufacture a four-hour-capable VHS machine for RCA. RCA would go on to market "four hours, $999", forcing a price war and also a "tape length" war. Betamax eventually achieved 5 hours at Beta-III speed on an ultra-thin L-830 cassette, and VHS ultimately squeezed 10-and-a-half hours with SLP/EP speed on a T-210 cassette (or 12 hours on DVHS's T-240s). Lower tape speeds meant a degradation in picture quality, as adjacent video bands created "crosstalk" and noise in the decoded picture.


Picture quality

When Betamax was introduced in Japan and the United States in 1975, its Beta I speed of 1.57 inches per second (ips) offered a slightly higher horizontal resolution (250 lines vs 240 lines horizontal NTSC), lower video noise, and less luma/chroma
crosstalk In electronics Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. It uses active devices to control electron flow by amplifier, amplific ...
than VHS, and was later marketed as providing pictures superior to VHS's playback. However, the introduction of Beta II speed, 0.79 ips (two-hour mode), to compete with VHS's two-hour Standard Play mode (1.31 ips) reduced Betamax's horizontal resolution to 240 lines. The extension of VHS to VHS HQ increased the apparent resolution to 250 lines, so that overall a Betamax/VHS user could expect virtually identical luma resolution and chroma resolution (≈30 lines), wherein the actual picture performance depended on other factors, including the condition and quality of the videotape and the specific video recorder machine model. For most consumers the difference as seen on the average television of the time was negligible. Another improvement would be SuperBeta (sometimes called High Band Beta) in 1985. SuperBeta offered a gain of 20% to 290 lines in horizontal resolution and some mechanical changes to reduce video noise, but by then Betamax's American and European share had already dropped to less than 10% of the market.


Europe

For
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versions, time was less of an issue. Betamax's longest tape (L-830) could record for 3 hours and 35 minutes, compared to VHS's 4 hours. For the European markets the issue was one of cost, since VHS had already gained dominance in the United States (70% of the market), and the large
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allowed VHS units to be sold at a far lower cost than the rarer Betamax units. In the mid-to-late 1980s, both formats were extended to Super Betamax and Super VHS. Super Betamax offered a slight improvement from 250 to 290 lines horizontally. Super VHS offered up to 420 lines horizontal (in modern digital terms, 560 pixels edge-to-edge), which surpassed broadcast-quality and matched the quality of laserdiscs in this one parameter. However, the "super" standards remained expensive niche products for a small minority of videophiles and camcorder hobbyists. When home VCRs started to become popular in the , the main issue was one of availability and price. VHS machines were available through the
high street High Street is a common street name for the primary business Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling Product (business), products (such as goods and services). Simply put, it is "a ...

high street
rental Renting, also known as hiring or letting, is an agreement where a payment is made for the temporary use of a good, service or property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to th ...
chains such as Radio Rentals and DER rental, DER (subsidiaries of Thorn-EMI, which also owned Ferguson Electronics, which marketed JVC-sourced VHS recorders), while Beta was seen as the more upmarket choice for people who wanted quality and were prepared to pay for it. By 1980, out of an estimated 100,000 homes with VCRs, 70% were rented, and the presence of three competing formats (the third being
Video 2000 Video 2000 (also known as V2000, with the tape standard Video Compact Cassette, or VCC) is a consumer A consumer is a person or a group who intends to order, orders, or uses purchased goods, products, or Service (economics), services primarily ...
) meant that renting was an even more attractive choice, since a lot of money (about £2000) could be spent on a system which might become Obsolescence, obsolete. By the time Betamax machines became easier to rent, VHS had already claimed 70% of the market. Within continental Europe there were three choices by 1980, with the arrival of the
Video 2000 Video 2000 (also known as V2000, with the tape standard Video Compact Cassette, or VCC) is a consumer A consumer is a person or a group who intends to order, orders, or uses purchased goods, products, or Service (economics), services primarily ...
format from Philips and Grundig that replaced Philips' outdated "Video Cassette Recording, VCR" format. Although it featured many capabilities formerly only available on expensive broadcast video recorders, V2000 had too long a development cycle and arrived late to the market. Apart from this, to keep costs down, many of its unique features, such as Dynamic Track Following, were only implemented on the most expensive models, meaning that mainstream models suffered from indifferent video quality. Also, many features that came standard on VHS and Betamax machines (such as direct AV in and out connectors), were only available as expensive "optional extras" on V2000. The machines were also found to be less reliable than their VHS and Beta counterparts, and for all these reasons the format never gained substantial market share. V2000 was cancelled in 1985, the first casualty of the format war.


Outcome

The main determining factor between Betamax and VHS was the cost of the recorders and recording time. Betamax is, in theory, a superior recording format over VHS due to resolution (250 lines vs. 240 lines), slightly superior sound, and a more stable image; Betamax recorders were also of higher-quality construction. However, these differences were negligible to consumers, and thus did not justify either the extra cost of a Betamax VCR (which was often significantly more expensive than a VHS equivalent) or Betamax's shorter recording time. JVC, which designed the VHS technology, licensed it to any manufacturer that was interested. The manufacturers then competed against each other for sales, resulting in lower prices to the consumer. Sony was the only manufacturer of Betamax initially, and so was not pressured to reduce prices. Only in the early 1980s did Sony decide to license Betamax to other manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Sanyo. Sony's decision in 1975 to limit Betamax's maximum recording time to one hour (for NTSC systems) handicapped its chances of winning this marketing war. VHS's recording time at first release (1976) was two hours, meaning that most feature films could be recorded without a tape change. It was not until the late 1970s that Betamax offered recording times comparable to VHS. In PAL regions, the L-750 Betamax tape lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes, while VHS was limited to a 3-hour maximum (the E-180), though later on an E-240 tape lasting four hours became available. By the time Sony made these changes to their strategy, VHS dominated the market, with Betamax relegated to a niche position. Although Betamax initially owned 100% of the market in 1975 (as VHS did not launch until the following year) the perceived value of longer recording times eventually tipped the balance in favor of VHS. By 1980, VHS had proven favorable among consumers and was successful in controlling 60% of the North American market. By 1981, sales of Beta machines in the United States had sunk to 25% of the VCR market. As movie studios, video studios, and video rental stores turned away from Betamax, the combination of lower market share and a lack of available titles further strengthened VHS's position. In the United Kingdom Beta held a 25% market share, but by 1986 it was down to 7.5% and continued to decline further. In Japan, Betamax had more success, but VHS was still the market leader. By 1987, VHS accounted for 90% of the VCR market in the United States. In 1988, Videofax magazine declared that Beta had lost the format war after Sony agreed to start adding VHS to the company's VCR lineup. Both Betamax and VHS were supplanted by higher-quality video available from laser-based technology. The last Sony Betamax unit was produced in 2002. Although VHS is still available in VHS/DVD combination units, the last dedicated JVC VHS unit was produced in 2008.


End of Beta

Beta sales dwindled away and VHS emerged as the winner of the domestic / home-market format war. The video format war is now a highly scrutinized event in business and marketing history, leading to a plethora of market investigations into why Betamax failed. Sony seemed to have misjudged the home video market. Sony believed that the one-hour length of its current U-matic format would be sufficient for Betamax. However, U-matic was primarily a professional standard with constant surveillance by television technicians and which did not need more than one hour length per tape. For home usage, one hour would not be enough to record lengthy programming, such as a baseball game or a movie. What Sony did not take into account was what consumers wanted. While Betamax was ''believed'' to be the superior format in the minds of the public and press (due to excellent marketing by Sony), consumers wanted an ''affordable'' VCR (a VHS often cost hundreds of dollars less than a Betamax); Korean electronic manufacturers, such as Samsung and GoldStar (now LG Electronics), responded to Funai, Shintom, and Orion Electric for the availability of video cassette players (VCP) to movie rental stores, by offering first VHS VCR recorder prices down to under $300 by year 1986. Sony believed that having better quality recordings was the key to success, and that consumers would be willing to pay a higher retail price for this, whereas it soon became clear that consumer desire was focused more intently on recording time, lower retail price, compatibility with other machines for sharing (as VHS was becoming the format in the majority of homes), brand loyalty to companies who licensed VHS (RCA, Magnavox, Zenith, Quasar, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Hitachi, Sharp, even JVC itself, etc.), and compatibility for easy transfer of information. In addition, Sony, being the first producer to offer its technology, also thought it would establish Betamax as the leading format. This kind of lock-in and path dependence failed for Sony, but succeeded for JVC. For forty years JVC dominated the home market with its VHS, Super VHS and VHS-C formats, and collected billions in royalty payments. The video recording market was an unknown when VCRs first came on the market; as such, Sony and JVC were both developing technologies that were unproven. As a result of the desire to enter the marketplace faster, the firms both spent less time on research and development and tried to save money by picking a version of the technology they thought would do best without exploring the full gamut of options. By 1988, Beta format was officially declared dead without any more new models released. Sony began to assemble and market its first VHS machines, models SLV-50 and SLV-70HF, with VHS chassis mechanism purchased from Hitachi, initially. Production ramped up by 1990 using Sony's own VHS VCR mechanism, responding to consumer's increasing demand for first-purchase Hi-Fi stereo units and flying-erase-head editing models. Despite claims that Sony was still backing Beta, Sony also had good success with VHS by the mid-1990s. It was clear that the Beta format was dead - at least in Europe and North America. In parts of South America and in Japan Beta continued to be popular, and machines were still in production up to the end of 2002. Despite the failure of Betamax, its technological successor the Betacam tape and its successor Betacam#Digital Betacam, Digital Betacam (shortened to Digibeta) would become industry standard for professional video recording, production, broadcast and presentation market.


Similar video format wars

Following the videotape format war, VHS was dominant until the creation of DVD technology. The major electronics corporations agreed on a single standard for playback of pre-recorded material on DVDs. A minor skirmish arose over DIVX, but it died a quick death. A High-definition optical disc format war, later format war resulted from a failure to agree on a single standard for DVD's high-definition successor (HD DVD) in May 2005. This format war ended in victory for the Blu-ray Disc Association's Blu-ray Disc in February 2008.


See also

* Betacam * Comparison of high-definition optical disc formats * De facto standard * Dominant design * High-definition optical disc format war * Peep search, a picture search system pioneered with Betamax and available on most video formats since. * Videocassette recorder * Streaming war


References


External links


The Great Format War of the early 1980s
- Total Rewind

by Marc Wielage & Rod Woodcock
Why VHS was better than Betamax
- Guardian Unlimited {{DEFAULTSORT:Videotape Format War Business rivalries Videotape, Format war Mass media rivalries 1970s 1980s VHS