Sony Ends Production of Betamax: The Era Of Video Cassette Comes To An End – Will It Be Missed?

Sony has confirmed it is ending the production of Betamax video cassettes, and the company will stop selling the competitor to VHS next year.

Sony is finally killing Betamax, a rather unsuccessful competitor to VHS cassettes. Incidentally, the format, though considered by many to be technologically superior to VHS format, was never a commercial success. VHS ousted Betamax quite a while ago, but for some reason, Sony had held onto the defunct platform until now.

“Sony will stop the shipment of Betamax video cassettes and micro MV cassettes in March 2016. With this step, all of our firm’s shipment will end for recording media using the Betamax format and the micro MV cassette format.”

Sony first launched its Betamax products in 1975 and had a year to make a mark before Video Home System or VHS entered the scene. Betamax was heavily marketed as a user-friendly, household, magnetic video format for consumers to record analogue television shows. Sony’s efforts did manage to increase the popularity and adoption of Betamax. At its peak in 1984, Sony had managed to ship 50 million cassettes, reported Yahoo.

However, JVC’s VHS video cassette was gaining popularity, primarily due to its storage capacity. While Betamax could store only an hour worth of audio-video content, the VHS could hold three hours’ worth. Coupled with relatively lower manufacturing costs of the VHS cassettes, Betamax was fighting a losing battle. The ‘format wars’ between Betamax and VHS, which took place in the 1970s and 80s, ended with the VHS winning consumers.

According to the Daily Mail, way back in the 80s, the Betamax LV-1901 cost $2,495. If launched today, it would have cost $8,300, a very costly proposition. The complete video recording and playback system was neatly packaged and came inside a wooden console with a 19-inch colour TV. The system was essentially meant to offer a complete home recording and media playback system.

The Betamax could be considered the true pioneer of on-demand television, and it was marketed as such. Its promotional video specifically highlights that its buyers “will be free from restrictions of time” and vowed that viewers would “never be deprived of watching whatever program you desire at your convenience.”

A single Betamax would set back the customer by $35 or $117 in today’s money. Considering the fact that the cassette could hold a single hour’s worth of content, building a content library would have been a costly affair. In comparison, the VHS system was priced at $1,280, or about $4,600 in today’s money. Its video cassettes were half-priced at $20, or $72 in today’s money. Though still expensive considering the options available today, the video cassettes were affordable because they could hold three hours’ worth of content.

Within its maiden year of launch, the VHS stole 40 percent of Betamax’s sales, and by 1987, the video cassette controlled 90 percent of the market. Sony ceased the production of Betamax recorder in 2002, but still catered to diehard fans by making Betamax tapes. Along with Betamax, Sony is also discontinuing the MicroMV cassettes, which were used in camcorders.

Sony Ends Production of Betamax
(Photo by Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images)

Both the VHS as well as MicroMV have been replaced by miniature storage devices like the MicroSD cards. However, the content distribution platform has seen its fair share of evolving technology. After the VHS came the DVD, which was quickly surpassed by Blue-Ray, only to be rendered almost obsolete by online streaming.

Though Sony has confirmed that it will cease shipment of Betamax tape in March next year, the company may stop earlier too, “depending on the demand conditions.”

Do you have any memories still stored on Betamax?

[Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images, Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images]