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Sony Betamax

Sony announces plan to stop making Betamax video tapes

12 November 2015 Latest News News Quirky News World News

The 40-year-old video cassette tapes are about to die. Sony broke the news on its website Tuesday, saying it would stop making the tapes as of March 2016.

Sony discontinued the players back in 2002, but its cassette tapes lived on.

Sony debuted Betamax magnetic tapes in 1975. A year later, the electronics company Victor Company of Japan ~ now known as JVC Kenwood Holdings introduced VHS, or Video Home System, a competing format that famously triumphed among consumers during the home entertainment boom of the ’80s.

Panasonic, then  known as the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company ~ also backed both JVC and VHS at the time.

Sales of Betamax videocassettes reached their peak in 1984, when Sony shipped 50 million units, according to the company. Soon after they became obsolete, living fossils.

Having lost market share to JVC’s VHS format throughout the ’90s, Sony pulled the plug on its Betamax video tape recorder devices in 2002, having sold more than 18 million of them globally, the company said. Now Sony is finishing the job by ending Betamax cassette tape production.

Betamax now joins a cemetery of obsolete physical media formats that were once seen as the next step in technology.

The 8-track tape was set to use magnetic tape to overtake the popularity of vinyl records for home and professional use. The format was popular from the mid-1960s into the 1970s because of its presence in automobiles as well as homes.

The format lost its staying power given that cassettes used similar technology and were more portable – with higher sound fidelity. Car companies phased 8-track players out of vehicles built in the late 1970s because cassettes became the preferred consumer format.

The 8-track survived in radio stations until the 1990s to play commercials and jingles before giving way to computers.

Like the Betamax, DAT was a format developed by the Japanese corporation as the evolution of the cassette. The tapes used were half the size of cassettes and recorded audio digitally rather than through an analog format.

Consumers found DATs to be too costly, and Sony faced controversy in the U.S. as the Recording Industry Association of America lobbied to restrict the sales of DAT machines. Music companies were scared by the ability of listeners to record high-quality digital recordings of music that would stifle the demand for the growing media format, CDs.

Sony can claim a victory in the format battle to succeed DVDs.

In 2006, HD DVD was developed and supported by Toshiba and had the backing of major film studios like Universal and Warner Bros. At the same time, Sony launched their own format, Blu-Ray, to seize the market for high definition physical media, with the support of movie companies, MGM and Sony’s film division.

One of the key factors in Blu-Ray’s eventual victory was the Playstation 3. The console used a Blu-Ray disc drive that supported both games and films. HD DVD tried to counter by having Microsoft sell an add-on to the XBOX 360, which could play HD DVDs.

The final nail in HD DVDs coffin came in 2008 when its initial supporter, Warner Bros. announced that they would exclusively release their films on Blu-Ray because of consumer preferences. It was later reported that Sony paid upwards of $400 million for the defection.

Another competitor to Betmax and VHS was the LaserDisc. What separated it from its chief competitors was that LaserDisc was the first mass produced optical disc storage unit.

The format offered better picture and audio quality than its tape rivals, but like Betamax, LaserDisc players as well as the physical discs were seen as too expensive.

Beyond the price point, the discs were known for being overly large and weighty – comparable to vinyl records. Another issue consumers had with the product was that it was unable to record anything on television like its counterparts.

and the lack of mass consumer demand for DATs, Sony decided to create the MiniDisc in 1992. This was a response to the rise of digital compact cassettes created by Phillips.

The existence of the two formats in the short time frame before the rise of CD-Rs and MP3 players created market confusion and apathy to upgrade to another format. Another thing working against the format was that it had little support from the music industry, so consumers were left to buy expensive MiniDiscs and record audio on their own.

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