The age of the Betamax is over – a retrospective

November 11th, 2015

Appliance Talk TV, Audio & Electronics TVs

The age of the Betamax is over

Sony Japan has announced that as of March 2016, it will cease production of cassette tapes for the Betamax.


If your reaction to reading that was “wait, is Betamax still a thing?”, apparently it was, but won’t be for much longer.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, read on:

A brief history of the Format Wars

Know, o reader, that before the age of the Smart TV and the streaming movie service, and even before the rise of the Blu-ray and the DVD, there was an age undreamed of, lacking in convenient home entertainment.


In these dark times, the only way to watch a movie was to go to a theatre. And once a TV show had finished airing, it would be gone forever, as if in a dream.

Unto this age came not one, but two personal media players and recording formats – the Betamax from Sony and the VHS from JVC.


Bitter rivals, these two video formats would compete fiercely for the hearts, minds and dollars of the viewing public, who were desperate for convenient home entertainment.

Betamax players offered excellent picture quality and reliable technology, and soon attracted a devoted fanbase of home video enthusiasts. But the advantages of the VHS format soon became apparent to consumers around the world.

betamax moviessource: Luke David O’Rourke on Flickr

Early Betamax tapes could only hold one hour of recorded material, whereas VHS tapes were able to show longer movies, without having to swap tapes over. Sony was also the only manufacturer of both Betamax machines and tapes, while JVC licensed its technology out to other manufactutrers, which led to higher numbers of cheaper VHS equipment hitting the market. There’s also a persistent rumour that the “failure” of the Betamax was in part due to Sony refusing to license Betamax technology to the adult film industry, though the exact facts around this theory are unclear.

The end result of all this was that VHS soon became the default home entertainment choice for households. Betamax’s popularity dwindled, though it retained a cult following of devoted fans.

save betamax teesource: Cory Doctorow on Flickr

Sony ceased production of Betamax recorders in 2002, but kept producing a small number of Betamax tapes right up to the present.

The future

Similar stories to this epic rivalry have played out over the years between DVDs, Blu-rays, HD-DVDs, Laserdiscs, audio cassettes, 8-tracks, minidiscs and CDs. Today, digital media and streaming services have made many physical format issues a thing of the past, though compatibility issues between different file types and media formats is still very much a Thing.

But with the approaching discontinuation of Betamax tape production, a chapter of audio-visual history is coming to a close. If you still have a Betamax gathering dust in the back of a storeroom, now may be your last chance to pick up fresh tapes before it’s too late.

And if you’re finally ready to upgrade, Sony still has plenty of great home entertainment options available, including Smart TVs and players & recorders

Mark joined Appliances Online in November 2011 and has since learned more than he ever expected to know about appliances. He enjoys looking for new and unusual ways for to solve everyday problems using typical household appliances. When he’s not toiling at the desks of Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he tries to find time to write the next big bestseller and draw satirical cartoons, but is too easily distracted by TV, music and video games. Mark’s favourite appliance is the Dyson Groom Tool, as he loves the concept of vacuuming your dog. Google+

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