VHS vs Betamax

The 1970’s saw the birth of the VCR. And the battle of VHS vs Betamax.

In the beginning

In 1971 Sony launch the U-matic with backing from Matsushita (now Panasonic); the first closed case video format for commercial and professional use.

By 1974 Sony are working on a prototype VCR for the home market and subsequently present it to rival electronic manufacturers, including JVC and Matsushita in the hope of a collaboration to back a single format, unaware that JVC are already working on a format of their own. Without the backing of their rivals, Sony goes on to launch the Betamax in May 1975. A high quality system, capable of recording up to 1 hour of footage.

October 1976 and JVC follow with their own Video Home System (VHS). A smaller tape, with up to 2 hours of recording time (an extra hour to Sony’s Betamax) and at a cheaper cost to buy it wasn’t long before the VHS became a popular choice for the home market.

Sony v Universal

In 1976 Universal City Studios and Walt Disney launched a lawsuit against Sony Corporation. Their argument being that recording TV for the purpose of timeshifting infringed Copyright Laws. Sony’s defence was to argue that they should not be held responsible for what users did with the tapes. Sony eventually (2 years later) came out on top, with the court ruling them OK for non-commercial home use. By this time JVC had gained popularity and Betamax had some catching up to do.

The demise of Betamax

Sony knew how to market the VHS and formed partnerships with video rental shops and TV studios to produce blockbuster videos for home viewing. Something Betamax didn’t offer at that time. Further helping to boost sales.

By 1977 JVC had bought out a long play format with up to two hours of recording time to compete with VHS.

With VHS now having backing from Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Sharp as well as the Radio Corporation of America sales of VHS where soaring.

While there is no doubt that Betamax had the superior format, by the 1980’s Betamax were in decline. Eventually admitting defeat, Sony had little choice but to get on the VHS bandwagon and production of Sony VHS began.

A timeline review:

  • 1971 – Sony launch the U-matic; the first closed case video format. Designed for commercial and professional television production. At this stage the VCR was not affordable or available for home use.
  • 1974 – Sony show their ‘Beta’ prototype to a number of Japanese manufacturers including JVC.
  • 1974 – Sony appeal to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry, sighting  JVC’s VHS format as being too similar to Betamax.
  • 1974 – Sony release the Betamax. The first video recorder and player for the home market. With up to 1 hrs worth of recording time.
  • 1976 – JVC launch their rival Video Home System (VHS). With up to 2 hours of recording time.
  • 1977 – JVC get backing from Matsushita, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Sharp.
  • 1977 – Sony produce a 2 hour Betamax tape to compete with VHS.
  • 1979 – Lawsuit filed by Universal and Disney against Sony’s Betamax, citing breach of copyright.
  • 1981 – VHS are leading the way with 70% of US market sales, compared to 25% of Betamax sales.
  • 1988 – Sony admit defeat and announce they are to start producing VHS.