11 Apr – May and I were having dinner with Ah Tat, Ah Ting & Siew Mei when we were discussing about VHS and Siew Mei excitedly mentioned that her dad still watches VHS back in her home town. She added that her family can still rent the latest Hong Kong serials in VHS format. While expressing wonder that VHS serials are still available, I mentioned about Betamax tapes were the original tapes for the video technology. Ah Tat, Ah Ting & Siew Mei looked at me blankly.
“You know Betamax tapes, smaller that VHS tapes?”, I exclaimed.
All three faces were totally blank.
In my mind, it was not possible not to know about Betamax. After all, they were born in the seventies. Then it dawned upon me that the difference was that I was born in the sixties. While feeling a bit older but I felt a bit wiser and experienced. I then tried to explaining about Betamax to three equally unimpressed DVD users. It was like trying to explain the Morse Code to internet users.
Thinking back, those of us who were born in the sixties had actually seen it all from Betamax through the VHS era to VCD, DVD and Blu Ray.
It all started in 1975 when Sony released the first Betamax tape for home video. Sony tried to monopolise the market with the Betamax technology but JVC refused to accept Sony’s dominance and introduced their own video format in 1976 called the VHS (Video Home System) while Philips released their Video2000 in 1980. By the early 1980s there an intense video war between Betamax and VHS.
As consumers, we will always remember Betamax (above picture top) as the more compact tape as compared with VHS (above picture bottom) and the first users of Betamax would claim rightly that pictures from Betamax was clearer which was true as Betamax ran on a higher definition as compared with VHS.
What caused Betamax to lose the market was Sony’s marketing strategy where they tried to corner the video market with a technological superior product without considering the consumers’ behaviour. When their rivals refused to accept Sony’s dominance and joined forces to market JVC’s VHS, it was literally Sony versus the rest of the world.
Finally, what killed the Betamax was the limited recording time where the producers of VHS produced a 2 hours recording tape to suit the length of standard feature movies and was an immediate hit.
By the time, Sony realised their shortcomings, VHS has taken over 75% of the market. Sony tried to match the 2 hours recording by slowdown the running speed but in doing so, compromised on the superior quality which Betamax had. That move was the final straw that broke the back. By then, VHS upped the standard further by introducing 3 hours and 4 hours tape.
By 2002, Betamax died a natural death. VHS had won the battle but not the war with the introduction of VCD and DVD. In 2007, all major manufacturers has stopped production of dedicated VHS players and concentrated their efforts in DVD players and DVD Recorders.
It is only a matter of time, Siew Mei’s family will have no choice but to switch to DVDs or perhaps some other new media as the world of technology has never been more fluid.