back to article So. Farewell then Betamax. We always liked you better than VHS anyway

Sony has finally set a date for the death of Betamax – some 40 years after it first released the ill-fated home video tech. As of March next year, the company will cease production of the last few tapes still available for the system; the EL-500B, 2L-500MHGB and 2L-750MHGB, as well as the L-25CLP cleaning tape. The …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    Wow

    If I was asked to guess, I would have thought they discontinued making any Betamax products around 2000. Say what you want about Sony, at least no one can argue they orphaned the format prematurely.

    1. Chika

      Re: Wow

      I would have said the same had it not for encounters with them when I worked for a short time behind the scenes at Sky TV in the early naughties. Actually it was amazing to see what TV folk used behind the scenes to produce shows back then.

      1. captain veg

        Re: Wow

        > amazing to see what TV folk used behind the scenes to produce shows

        More likely to have been Sony U-matic than Betamax in broadcast. I was once shown a U-matic "jukebox" that could be loaded up with an entire evening's programming and left unattended.

        -A.

        1. ClammyLammy

          Re: Wow

          Chika might've been thinking of Betcam. Better quality than U-Matic IIRC.

      2. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Wow

        Well Sky probably used something called BetaCAM, which uses the same tape format (at least in the small version) but a completely different tape and electronics.

        http://betacam.palsite.com/

        There's been a succession of formats with the Betacam label, they are digital and HD now of course:

        http://www.videocation.com/Sony_HDCAM_Recorder_HDW-M2000_HDW-M2100_HDW-D2000_ofr.html

        1. Peter Christy

          Re: Wow

          Actually, there were two versions of Betacam: Betacam and BetacamSP. BetacamSP used chrome tapes that were difficult to erase without professional gear, but ordinary Betacam used the same oxide tape and cassettes as Betamax, though the recorded format was completely different. The company I worked for at the time used to junk Betacam tapes as soon as they'd been archived, and I used to salvage them as they worked perfectly in my C7 Betamax (and still do, come to that!).

          There is also a "DigiBeta" format, again using the same cassette, but with different tape inside. This is still widely used in broadcasting as a high end mastering and distribution format. Servers are all very well for transmission and editing, but not so good for archiving and distribution, where tape still serves a useful purpose.......

          (I'm a former broadcast video editor......)

          1. Slx

            Re: Wow

            BetaCam is the professional and very successful cousin of BetaMax. It was/is a very robust system and it also hung on in there for much longer than you expect. It only disappeared from edit suites when HD became widespread and when laptops became powerful enough to easily handle edits cheaply. FinalCut Pro (as maligned as it is now by some) was revolutionary in the mid 00s because it was cheap, easy and highly portable. It made big inroads into news in particular in a lot of stations.

            There are still probably a few linear edit suites using Sony BetaCam systems in use in libraries and archives and even analogue systems!

            It was certainly still in widespread use in the late mid 2000s and it's absolutely still in use for library / archive purposes as many wouldn't have been converted to anything else.

            You have to remember that massive disk storage capacity was expensive not all that long ago and digital tapes are still better for long term archiving purposes in many cases as they're reliable, cheap and you don't need fast access from a server.

            Robust, high capacity storage in cameras has really only relatively recently moved from tape to solid state. Miniaturised versions of digiBeta were commonly used in professional cameras. Spinning HDDs were always too fragile and also noisy. If you shook or banged a camera (very possible in the field) you could wreck a HDD.

            So it's really only since high capacity solid state stuff arrived that's changed. It used to be fairly normal to have someone "ingesting" material from cameras and other sources into a newsroom / studio server so it could be made available for editing. There were even analogue formats in use in the mid and even late 00s in some cases, especially before channels made the switch to HD. You'd never get away with analogue now as it would look horrible jarring.

            As storage gets cheaper and cheaper a lot of this stuff is moving into data centre type setups.

            Amazing how dramatically storage media has changed though.

            I recently spoke to someone in a radio station who had never seen a minidisc and looked at me like I was talking about wax cylinders. They were still in widespread use by radio journalists the 2000s!!!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Wow

              +1 to Minidisc

              I was still using it extensively in the early 00's for not only personal but band use too.

    2. TheVogon Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      This will surely be the year of Betamax on the desktop....

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I remember some family friends around 1990, getting their son to bring some BetaMax cassettes back from the nearest big city - even then they were less widely available than VHS. I was a young'un, and it was their BetaMax deck that I first saw Dune, Aliens, The Terminator and Woody Allen's The Sleeper.

    I like that family and the their toys: Star Wars models, Sinclair Spectrum, Atari ST, Roland GM module and Casio MIDI Guitar, and later, AMD PCs, games of networked Doom, a home-built observatory... and many more technological doh-dads and concepts. That said, with them I also climbed trees, made go-karts, built dams and rope-swings across streams - so we also saw plenty of sunlight too!

  3. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    Can we finally settle this?

    Was it actually better than VHS or not?

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      It was if you wanted to avoid pre-recorded porn.

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        Years ago I had a student on several course who worked for a company that made the pre-recorded tapes for lots of the big studios, he described the setup as having a Betamax master unit in the top of each rack connected to a farm of VHS recorders. I commented that I was surprised they didn't use U-matic or V2000 for the master, but he said that the Betamax tapes were sufficiently better than VHS that you couldn't tell the difference, which was all the matter for the manufacturing process.

      2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @Mike 16 Re: Can we finally settle this?

        It was if you wanted to avoid pre-recorded porn.

        It's an urban myth that pre-recorded porn wasn't available for Betamax. e.g.

        skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3089/vhs-vs-betamax-how-influential-was-the-pornography-industry-in-the-format-war

        1. Dazed and Confused

          Re: @Mike 16 Can we finally settle this?

          Didn't the porn industry favour video/laser disk, the porn industry always knew that with a "recordable" format there would be a massive piracy problem and that in the case of porn the quality of the rip offs wouldn't deter the punters.

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Technically - yes

      Financially - no

      Basically VHS have multiple suppliers and soon was the only one that rental stores (remember them?) bothered keeping much range in. The rest is obvious history...sadly for Sony, they didn't learn and tried with Minidisk and memory sticks that no other used, both were business failures really.

      1. Vic

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        sadly for Sony, they didn't learn and tried with Minidisk and memory sticks that no other used

        I was once given the task of finding a use for MemoryStick (the TM version, not what we currently call "memory sticks"). My management were quite clear that this was MemoryStick's last gasp.

        I failed...

        Vic.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Betamax was very significantly, and very visibly, better quality than VHS, not just in terms of some "obscure" tech specs sheets. In fact i was astonished that VHS took off, but apparently the porn industry then the rest of Hollycrap went for the cheap and cheerful standard....in contrast to today when everyone seems to push for higher quality standards.

      But there was a standard which was even better quality for home use than Betamax, that was the V2000 format from Philips. One quality feature I recall vividly was that if you paused the tape on playback there was no jitter unlike the other two; VHS was by far the worst for this "feature". I think Philips used something called a "floating head" which essentially kept spinning and somehow kept the frozen image static....the tech details are way beyond me though.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        IIRC the major problem with Betamax, at least in the early stages of "the war" is that a tape wasn't long enough for an entire film.

        1. SteveK

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          I always thought it was the strange tape numbering system where it was the length of tape in feet (so an L750 was 3 hours 15 - thanks Wikipedia) rather than VHS's simpler 'minutes'...

        2. PaulyV

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          Betamax not long enough? You're only thinking of the John Holmes films...

          1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

            Re: Can we finally settle this?

            Early Betamax had shorter record/play times than VHS. VHS was first with multi-hour tapes which made playing any movie fairly trivial. Also, recording several hours of TV was easier with VHS.

        3. lee harvey osmond

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          Yes -- the supply of prerecorded material to buy or rent may have been a factor for some, but for many, the choice was between a Betamax tape that could record 60min or 120min, and a VHS tape that could record 180min.

          Although neither showed one of V2000's other tricks -- like an audio compact cassette, you could flip a cassette over and record on the other side.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Can we finally settle this?

            L750 in PAL land 195 minutes

          2. John Tserkezis

            Re: Can we finally settle this?

            "Although neither showed one of V2000's other tricks -- like an audio compact cassette, you could flip a cassette over and record on the other side."

            You can't compare them. Video is recorded in an angular manner, that is, there are spinning heads set at a fixed angle, along with the moving tape.

            Regular audio was recorded in a linear fashion (similar to the compact cassette, right over the video data, but later "HiFi" used additional audio heads on the spining video assembly to get the increased bandwidth needed for the wider frequency response. In case of Hi-Fi recordings, both old and new techniques were recorded to make the tape backward compatible with players that were non HiFi.

        4. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: IIRC the major problem with Betamax

          at least in the early stages of "the war" is that a tape wasn't long enough for an entire film.

          You remember incorrectly.

          My first experience with Betamax was recording The Revenge of the Pink Panther on Christmas Day, then watching it over on Boxing Day with the family.

          Best feature? Being able to bookmark the good bits so if you were in the mood to see a bit of Clouseau vs Kato action you could cut to the chase with the touch of a button.

          1. mjflory

            Re: IIRC the major problem with Betamax

            Here in the States it's widely believed (OK, I can see Wikipedia inserting "by whom?") that the reason Betamax failed was that it couldn't record a full American football game, which rarely finishes in 90 minutes. But those 90 minutes did look better, and I used to use my Betamax for audio recording at CD quality in the days when VHS sound was awful.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: IIRC the major problem with Betamax

            "You remember incorrectly."

            Well, a little Googling tells me that PAL recordings were likely long enough for most films on introduction but NTSC, the standard used in the prime markets of Japan and the USA, indicates that at normal speed the tapes were only long enough for 60 minutes. I don't recall, nor have searched deeply enough, to find out if Betamax recorders had the ability to run at 1/2 or 1/3rd speed at introduction or, if a later feature, how much later that was introduced.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: V2000 Philips

        It was REALLY late to market. It eliminated guard bands by using piezo mounted heads that could dynamically wiggle. So could use a flippable tape as well no noise bars for still or slow and speeded play (which changes angle of slanted track hence noise bar on Betamax and VHS)

        Problem was they couldn't mass produce it for about 2 years after prototype demo!

        Early VHS had to completely delace from drum to F-FWD / F-REW, Betamax didn't need to. Later VHS had the "Jet Drive".

        Shame Minidisk never made it as alternate to Floppy, though a larger MO sony format was used in special 3.5" drives in 1990s (ZIP drives in comparison were rubbish). There was a Vaio with mini-disk but like net-MD player you could only transfer digital audio TO it and play, Even your own analogue recordings were not digitally readable on Net-MD or Viao due to Sony's BRAIN DEAD Entertainment division obsessing about DRM and copying. That's what destroyed MD. Artificial restrictions. Other people did make MD players.

        1. asphytxtc

          Re: V2000 Philips

          "Even your own analogue recordings were not digitally readable on Net-MD or Viao due to Sony's BRAIN DEAD Entertainment division obsessing about DRM and copying. That's what destroyed MD. Artificial restrictions. Other people did make MD players."

          This, and a million times this! I actually brought a Hi-MD NetMD enabled recorder for the sole purpose of the fact I thought I could record a whole 8 hour rave event onto 1 Hi-MD (on a single battery too) and then copy off the recording digitally straight to my PC (this was a good ten years ago mind you, before the days of cheap affordable usb recorders). The bonus of being able to add track marks between each set was just the icing on the cake.

          You can only imagine my anger at having sony's godawful software tell me I wasn't allowed to do that due to DRM restrictions! Oooohh, my blood boiled - for all of the eight sodding hours it took me to play the entire recording back over analogue and record it back onto the pc as a wav.

          Braindead? You got it in one...

          1. LesC
            Thumb Up

            Re: V2000 Philips

            I had a V2000 system from years back that used to pick up stray VHF RF from the Newcastle Metro CCTV at South Gosforth - far more entertaining than Knight Rider 2000 which was the only tape I had. The electronics in this beast were fiendishly complex.

            Betamax = Umatic this is probably why it's lived so long.

            LC

            1. Maldax

              Re: V2000 Philips

              All the schools in the UK seemed to have V2000...I think one theory was no little scrote would steal the tapes for recording The Word

              1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

                Re: V2000 Philips

                All the schools in the UK seemed to have V2000.

                After my time. I remember the Philips N1500 in my school that were occasionally used to play some BBC "schools" programmes recorded by the teacher.

              2. davidp231

                Re: V2000 Philips

                Really? The best my old school had was a Ferguson Videostar....

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Ferguson Videostar

                  Ah yes! The suitcase-sized video player / recorder, built like a tank.

                  I had two (one badged Baird) and they were built like tanks. I ran them for years, had them serviced numerous times (until the service guy retired, in fact). Those units will be unearthed in aeons to come, to cause wonder for our successors on earth

          2. John Tserkezis

            Re: V2000 Philips

            "The bonus of being able to add track marks between each set was just the icing on the cake."

            I considered using a pc-connected MD drive, but gave up when i read about the restrictions. The stupid pricing didn't help either.

            I constructed a simple custom interface that plugs into the printer port, and then into the player headphone/remote interface, and wrote software that simulates button presses. The most work I had to do ia get the player into track name edit mode, and typed in what I wanted into the software. It sequencially pressed the buttons needed to do it, and you saved at the end. It wasn't an entirely automated solution (it was impossible with the players), but saved my sanity with taking care of the worst part of it.

            Best of all, it worked with my relatively cheap player.

        2. D@v3

          @ Mage

          I had that Vaio with the mini disc drive. you could swap it out for a "sub woofer", 3.5" floppy drive or a weight saver. Was pretty cool.

          Real shame MD never took off as a data format, before SD cards came along it was a convenient size, and had a pretty good (audio) capacity.

        3. Dazed and Confused

          Re: Sony's BRAIN DEAD Entertainment division

          All these technologies were developed by Sony before they bought the entertainments business. They'd also developed a CD writer. But to avoid the Betamax problem happening again they bought themselves into the content market, that way the could ensure that their format was used. But all these great technologies they'd developed then became an embarrassment. The planned price of the blank CDs went from about £1 each to more the cost of any CBS pre-recorded CD, so that is wasn't sensible to pirate your CDs.

          In the end it didn't help. The next format they were trying to protect was HDTV, Sony's proposed standard was 1920x1200, but instead the crappy 1920x1080 format won out. I used their HDTV monitors on a Unix workstation in around 1990, 1920x1200 and 40" :-) gorgeous.

      3. Stevie Silver badge

        "floating head"

        The issue had to do with the helical nature of the recorded track.

        The best way to get around it would have been to keep the last track scanned in a frame buffer and use that for your paused still. Expensive feature though.

        1. cambsukguy

          Re: "floating head"

          I replaced my first beloved, mechanical Betamax machine with a very expensive (£650) JVC VHS machine.

          It coincided with the ending of Betamax rentals from my local rental outfit although I kept it to play movies and recordings I still had of course.

          The JVC had almost perfect freeze frame and almost invisible speed bars when FF/RW was used with video.

          Along with impressive remote control and weekly timer stuff it was very high quality for VHS.

          Of course, Betamax had the useful feature that FF/RW did not need to remove the tape from the heads prior to moving the tape, which made it faster to operate. This was mitigated for quick moves through ads etc because the VHS machine had very fast visible FF.

          All rubbish compared to TiVo when it arrived of course - those were the days!

        2. MJI Silver badge

          Re: "floating head"

          Frame buffers

          First appeared on some Panasonics and added £100 minimum to the price

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        "[...] V2000 format from Philips. "

        Our local TV shop liked that format. Somewhere in the 1990s they told me that all their old tapes had shed their oxide when they dug them out of storage to see how they played.

      5. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        "...in contrast to today when everyone seems to push for higher quality standards."

        Yes, but back when Betamax and VHS were fighting each other the final visual output, at least in the domestic market, was crap. It was even more crap for NTSC (Never Twice the Same Colour). No matter how much Betamax was technically superior the result was much the same on a plain old domestic, built down to a price, CRT TV (usually very badly set up to boot).

      6. strum Silver badge

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        Yes, Philips had better systems than VHS (usually left out of the business school versions of the 'Video Wars'). Unfortunately, their machines were forever breaking down.

        The essence of the Video Wars had nothing to do with content - that merely confirmed the winner. What made VHS the winner was that it was simple enough to license out to other manufacturers. This meant that Rumbelows could have a choice of VHS machines, plus one (expensive) Betamax and a Philips that didn't work.

    4. lee harvey osmond

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Once upon a time, a long long time ago, when you needed a delivery format to send your album studio masters off to the CD manufacturing plant, Betamax could well have been what you chose.

    5. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Much better

      I own a SL-HF950 and a SL-F1

    6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Sure.

      The best was Video 2000

      *runs away*

    7. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      For image quality - absolutely. Betamax was comparable broadcast quality on a 19" TV while VHS looked smeared and had almost no color resolution.

      The opposite may true of mechanical quality. The Betamax tape path wraps almost completely around the drum head from one side, snaking through many polished pins and rollers. It would damage tapes with even the slightest misalignment and getting all those parts cleaned and calibrated for a good picture was pure magic. Players had slack sensors and multiple drive systems to regulate tension. Tracking was always fussy. Fast-forward and rewind were slow because the tape either had to unwrap and rewrap or it had to travel slowly enough to not fly off the path.

      VHS pulled the tape straight out and pushed it against part of the drum head. The reduced contact path gave VHS a lousy picture but simplified mechanics.

      Both systems needed fancy computers to convert encoded video signals that were at different resolutions between tape and TV. Early models literally had stacks of analog computer circuit boards filling those bulky boxes.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        Both systems needed fancy computers to convert encoded video signals that were at different resolutions between tape and TV.

        I don't remember the resolutions being different, both recorded the visible part of the 625-line picture, one strip per field, with the head switching done in the frame sync interval. The horizontal resolution was bandwidth-limited down to the equivalent of (for PAL VHS) about 240 lines, but there was no need for standards-conversion type of analogue circuitry.

        1. cambsukguy

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          Yes, it was an analogue transfer of the scan lines to tape, with a very high head to tape speed and vertical flyback done as the head left one side of the tape edge and the other head started at the other edge (the angle was pretty small).

          A friend once told me that the most powerful computer in the world was actually in a satellite and performed standards conversion of US to UK TV, which are different frame rates, different line counts and different encodings etc. I assumed it had dedicated hardware that made it more powerful, it wasn't a MIPS thing.

          They didn't have them in VCRs although I recall boxes for sale years later that did partial or complete conversion depending on the money paid.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: Can we finally settle this?

            "A friend once told me that the most powerful computer in the world was actually in a satellite and performed standards conversion of US to UK TV, which are different frame rates, different line counts and different encodings etc."

            !

            You might like to look at this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_(supercomputer). No matter when your friend said it, the "most powerful computer in the world" fills entire rooms and draws from a couple of hundred kilowatts (Cray-2) to the ~8MW of the Titan. There's no way that such a thing could sensibly reside in a satellite.

            Furthermore, why put the computer in the satellite when you can do the standards conversion on the ground, either before uplink (America) or after downlink (Europe)?

            Even more, the hard part of standards conversion is in spatial correction. It is dead easy to convert 30fps NTSC to 25fps PAL; simply remap to the higher resolution by doubling every 6th screen line and correct frame rate by completely discarding every sixth frame. This leads to serious motion jitter on panning shots, but it is good enough that even a €15 DVD player can playback NTSC discs on PAL equipment. Proper conversion takes a lot more grunt, but wouldn't need something like a supercomputer.

          2. KenJ

            Re: Can we finally settle this?

            I'm thinking that's more of a good story than fact. There's really no reason to do format conversion on the satellite. IIRC the payloads are kept as simple as possible to keep the reliability up. Not like you can call Radio Rentals when it goes bad.

        2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          Lightness, chroma, and sync are encoded with different frequencies, response curves, and emphasis. There is noise and dropout masking because the tape signal is quite dirty. Later models encode a stereo signal into the drum head too. I'm not sure why, but there are always pots for tuning the horizontal and vertical alignment between even and odd frames.

          I just took apart a Betamax to help digitize some tapes. It has one large control board, two large analog processing boards, an RF daughter card, some small servo boards, and a speaker driver board. Most of the boards have all wires exiting on the same side so that you can put the player on its side and fan out the boards like an open book. I honestly don't know why it drives speakers. That was a mystery even when it was "state of the art."

      2. John Tserkezis

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        "Both systems needed fancy computers to convert encoded video signals that were at different resolutions between tape and TV."

        Not from what I remember. All it did was record the raw original PAL or NTSC signal, and that's what came out the back. Differing video signals were up to the TV to worry about. There was no conversion done at all.

      3. Chz

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        Utter nonsense. Standard 2nd generation Beta II video quality was essentially identical to the equivalent VHS. Even before Sony dropped the tape speed to fit more on a cassette, it would've been difficult to tell the difference (given identical environments, of course) on anything short of a studio monitor. Sound was much, much better though. Super VHS was actually quite a lot better than SuperBeta.

        There's no question that BetaCam and especially BetaCamSP were excellent technologies, but that has next to nothing to do with the home market.

    8. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Yes.

      I have a crappy two head Sanyo Betamax player with no fancy electronics inside and about a dozen boards and a maze of wires.

      The playback is arguably a better quality than a much more modern VHS deck with multiple heads and an array of digital processing tricks.

      Both players can do frame step. The VHS does it digitally (I can use a finger to slow the head and the screen doesn't change), the Beta only has a ripple at the bottom of the screen because it's just better.

      The only think VHS offers above beta is HiFi sound. But had it been a current technology back then, I reckon beta would have had it too.

      1. aui
        Thumb Up

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        BetaHiFi did exist and I still have my (cost an absolute fortune at the time) SL-HF100 to prove it, along with the demo tape featuring the opening scene from the Roger Moore Bond film Octopussy.

        It did go through a period of tape chewing afters years of non-use, but taking all the rollers and guide pins out for a good clean or polish enabled me to transfer over a lot of 80's video stuff and music to DVD and MP3.

        I also have a number of new, sealed Betamax tapes,,, so hanging on to those as there'll be worth money at some point :-)

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Can we finally settle this?

          I had the industrial one and sold it as surplus to requirements.

          Was a good deck but a bit flaky by the time I had it.

          Used to to digitise linear stereo tapes as it had linear stereo as well

    9. Herby Silver badge

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Was it better than VHS?

      Is wasn't in ONE important feature: Time per tape.

      VHS could record 2 hours on a single tape (at SP speed) when it first came out. BetaMax could only do a little over an hour at first. This was an important thing as movies were closer to two hours than one. Everyone wanted to have a SINGLE tape for a movie, not two. Given that feature, it was better, even though Beta was arguably better in other respects. The only VHS movie that I remember being on more than one tape was "The Right Stuff" (I suspect there are others).

    10. John Tserkezis

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      "Was it actually better than VHS or not?"

      Technically, it had the *potential* to be better than VHS.

      But with time, and all that development being poured into VHS, it became better than Beta.

      Hypothetically, if both were developed in paralell, Beta would be better, however, it had a tape length issue that VHS almost ran circles around. You could use a thinner tape (as in 4 hour VHS tapes), but wear becomes an issue, so longer films would have killed beta in the rental market.

      Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, it became a case of who cares, but today, you really can't tell the future, regardless of the marketing people claim.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Can we finally settle this?

        Nope, I have a late Beta, and it was still better than VHS until I fried a control board when I had a trapped loom rip and my soldering iron had a voltage leak.

        Still have two working and they are better than the Vhs deck I was gifted, the oldest Beta deck 10 years older at least (1982) but still excellent working order.

        As mentioned elsewhere I head to headed my 950 against a S-VHS deck and the 950 won.

        BTW does anyone have a broken 950 for spares, I need one of the control boards.

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Re: Can we finally settle this?

    They all use a spinning head to write in diagonal stripes aross the tape, it was the only way to get the high head-to-tape speed needed for video without the monstrous Ampex-type systems of the early pioneers.

    Betamax writes at 6.6m/s, and VHS at 4.8m/s, one reason for the better Betamax quality. V2000 is somewhere in-between.

    You're quite correct, though, that the heads on the V2000 drum were mounted on a piezoelectric plate, and some clever signal processing allowed that plate to' 'tilt' the heads slightly to one side or another, so that they still scanned the striped tracks correctly even when the tape was running fast, slow, or stopped for freeze-frame.

    I'm not sure if that was the cause, but they did have a reputation for wearing heads out more quickly than the other systems, so there are very few left in working order. The only one I ever had a chance to play with had badly worn heads, and wasn't at its best

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can we finally settle this?

      Actually it's as easy as the Sky V BSB situation in UK

      There's a reason Amstrad stuff sold, it was cheap and produced a decent noise for kids and background music'

      Audiophiles want pure sound and will pay

      Videophiles want quality pictures and will pay

      TV watchers want a picture, we put up with 425 line cos it showed a picture

      Sky was cheaper than BSB and the same picture quality as VHS

      VHS was cheaper than Beta and showed a decent picture

      Amstrad stereo's were cheap and produced noise

      Same reason Rolls and Aston aren't mainstream car manufacturers, working class with families with kids don't need luxury, just watchable, listenable and driveable

  5. MJI Silver badge

    Still in use

    What do you think I was using until Freeview PVRs took off.

    Sanyos were pretty tough as well

  6. Stevie Silver badge

    Was it actually better than VHS or not?

    Yes.

    PAL recordings I made in the early 80s still played with broadcast quality years later, something I never saw once in VHS, which had difficulty even getting close to the original picture quality on the first playing.

    Why? You only had to pick up the recorders to find out. A VHS machine was easily lifted and ported about with one hand. A Betamax was sometimes a two-person job. The chassis and electronics were streets ahead of the cheap and cheerful VHS (which was the essence of the difference, not the shape of the tape cartridges).

    But just as IBM and Apple were to find out a few years later, the public will go for cheap over quality every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Was it actually better than VHS or not?

      "But just as IBM and Apple were to find out a few years later, the public will go for cheap over quality every day of the week and twice on Sunday."

      They certainly don't bother too much about picture quality.

      It was not unusual in the early days of colour TV to find the colour controls turned up to produce glaring saturation and strange flesh tones. More subtle natural tones were not what they wanted.

      The USA NTSC system is lower definition than the European PAL. While similar technology - there was a technical difference in the PAL 625 lines system for colour stability.(something to do with phase and alternate lines?). It corrected the problem that gave NTSC the name "Never Twice Same Colour". The Mullard people explained it when they toured a superb demonstration round the UK to show what a "coming soon" colour TV channel could achieve. Have there been technical improvements to NTSC since then - or was that subject to the inertia problem of a deeply entrenched product standard?

      The French SECAM colour TV had over 800 lines - but was eventually phased out when the rest of Europe adopted PAL.

      When Kodak developed the Tri-X black and white film they organised some research to determine the ASA speed rating to assign to it. They invited members of the public in from the street - and asked their opinion of sample pictures using different ASA ratings. They then used their responses to market it at 200 ASA.

      It annoyed professional photographers who had to derate the film speed substantially. It was determined that the general public was used to the prints they received from their local pharmacy. These had insipid tones that were various shades of grey. Professionals wanted crisp blacks and whites as well as the greys in between.

      In other words the general public like what they know - whether it is technically better or not. Generation Y seems to be quite content with jerky, noisy streaming on tiny screens - which they half watch while tweeting their comments.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: SECAM

        SECAM was 625 lines like PAL (about 576 visible). NTSC 525 (about 480 visible)

        There were various incompatible Secam systems eventually, surviving till Analogue switch off.

        The post WWII French MONO system was 819 lines

        UK Mono system was the 1936 405 lines (about 377 visible)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: SECAM

          "SECAM was 625 lines like PAL [...]"

          The French had every intention of introducing 819 line colour TV. The Mullard touring lecture about the forthcoming UK PAL system was accompanied by a data sheet - which might still be in a drawer. It described in technical detail how various colour TV systems worked and their problems compared to PAL. IIRC the technical descriptions included the mechanical "banana tube", NTSC, PAL, and SECAM using 819 lines.

          From the Wikipedia article on the history of SECAM:

          "Work on SECAM began in 1956. The technology was ready by the end of the 1950s, but this was too soon for a wide introduction. A version of SECAM for the French 819-line television standard was devised and tested, but not introduced."

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SECAM

          The banana tube was really an anachronism - yet was the subject of an IEEE paper in 1961.

          http://www.researchgate.net/publication/224590819_Appraisal_of_the_Banana-Tube_colour-television_display_system

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Banana tube colour TV

            This reminiscence from an old BBC engineer is quite revealing about the way money was wasted on the Banana Tube system - and then "quietly dropped".

            http://www.bbceng.info/Designs/designs_reminiscences/David_Birt/SNAYSF.htm

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: SECAM

          SECAM was 625 lines like PAL (about 576 visible). NTSC 525 (about 480 visible)

          There were various incompatible Secam systems eventually, surviving till Analogue switch off.

          There isn't any necessary connection between NTSC/PAL/SECAM and resolution, the UK experimented with 405-line NTSC, and some S. American countries use 525-line PAL (PAL-M). NTSC just suffered from being first, and by the time other countries moved to colour, the minor shortcomings of NTSC had been noticed and PAL/SECAM invented to fix them. That coincided with 625-lines being the norm.

          I don't think the broadcast SECAM signals were ever incompatible at a video level (the French system L used different values for sound/video, but SECAM is SECAM), but there was a strange hybrid for VCR recording called MESECAM (Middle East SECAM). It only ever showed up on VHS systems, AFAIK.

          The simpler nature of a SECAM colour signal meant that SECAM-only VCRs could use simple circuitry, PAL was more complex to process. The Middle East was a mix of PAL and SECAM (depended on who the ex-colonial masters were!) so for simplicity they just used PAL-type VCR circuitry everywhere, which was cheaper than a true dual-standard machine. The result was an MESECAM recording that wouldn't play back on a true SECAM VCR.

          I remember using an old PAL VCR to record French SECAM TV, it played back fine on a SECAM TV set.

      2. Vic

        Re: Was it actually better than VHS or not?

        there was a technical difference in the PAL 625 lines system for colour stability.(something to do with phase and alternate lines?)

        NTSC simply modulates the two colour components onto the carrier 90o out of phase; any phase errors in the demodulation means you have errors on the chroma.

        PAL inverts the phase every alternate line - so as long as your phase errors are consistent between adjacent lines, the error is trivially corrected.

        Vic.

      3. aui
        Happy

        Re: Was it actually better than VHS or not?

        "It was not unusual in the early days of colour TV to find the colour controls turned up to produce glaring saturation and strange flesh tones"

        So, for nostalgic viewers, Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex bringthe 70's colour TV experience back to your screen!

  7. Anonymous John

    Wow!

    So if the boffins ever find a way of recording video on a CD sized disk, I can see VHS becoming obsolete too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow!

      I'm waiting for the holographic storage cube.

  8. Fihart

    Mechanical birds nest.

    Don't know about Betamax as machines were rare outside the media professions, but a peek inside a VHS machine guaranteed that I would avoid. Affordable DVD player/recorder well worth waiting for.

  9. Greenalien

    Despite the technical advantage, Betamax was later to market than VHS, and by the time it arrived, the video rental industry had been born, and all the movies available for rent were on VHS tapes. Although the rental houses started adding Betamax copies to their shelves, by then it was already too late. The only thing that kept Betamax alive in the UK domestic market was the Sanyo Betamax VTC-5000 VCR, which was cheaper than any VHS machines, and a bargain for those of us who valued the time-shifting of broadcast TV as being more important than watching rented movies.

    One area where Betamax reigned supreme was in Audio Mastering in recording studios - Sony made a stereo PCM encoder that connected to a Betamax deck, which was widely used for around 20 years to make the digital masters for transferring to CDs.

    Although Betamax was generally a failure in the domestic market, Sony miniaturised the technology, called it Video-8, and conquered the camcorder market with it a few years later.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Video 8

      Hmm not so sure, it had a few issues, returned to optical tape end sensors rather than magnetic, resolution lower than Beta (but better than Vhs).

      Was OK, but I found when editing material off my F1 was better looking.

  10. MJI Silver badge

    OK here goes some more details

    With the iron oxide video formats the writing speed is all. There has been many formats but only 2 lasted the first round of the war <---

    N1500

    N1700 (LP version of N1500)

    VHS <---

    Beta <---

    CVC

    V2000

    For picture CVC was worst, but Vhs was next worse.

    I never saw and compared a working VCR format to anythiung else but saw them at school.

    V2000 did have good trick play but overal picture quality was between Beta and Vhs.

    Beta HiFi in the UK did exist with the Sony SL-HF100UB and SL-HF950, also Sanyo had the VTC-M40 a great big everlasting hunk of VCR, mine has a newish motor and the penultimate set of heads in the country. Duplicators had the SL-HF100P.

    Super Beta was very good, excellent colour rendition, copies of DVDs and broadcast Digital Terrestrial looked very good, also great for editing.

    Editing how about a Beta final copy looks better than a Vhs edit master, extra generation and still looks better, well an edit master looked better than a Vhs tape straight from the camera. This was a direct comparison using a Sony F1 portable against a JVC or Panasonic VHS-C portable.

    Super Beta vs Super VHS

    I did the trial and it was interesting, all S-VHS recordings I have seen had washed out watercoloury colours, like a line drawing with broad brush colours. Super Beta colours were so much better than the slight drop in horizontal resolution was not noticed, so in general the Super Beta picture was better to watch than S-VHS.

    Normal Vhs was around 240 line, Beta 260 line, I reckon Super Beta was getting near 300, S-VHS around 400, the unreleased in the UK ED-Beta was 500 line, only the digital formats such as DV could beat it,

    Tape life, how about recordings made in 1985 still being pretty good, played back on the VCR which took them. 30 years is a pretty good life for a tape, and to be honest my SL-F1UB.

    The Pro-X tapes though are perfect.

    The loading mechanism is very siimple one loading ring with lots of pins on, very heavily influenced by U-Matic, pretty reliable and tended to just work.

    Head drums all were 1500 rpm in the 50Hz world but diameters were.

    62mm Vhs

    65mm V2000

    74.5mm Beta giving a 20% higher write speed.

    Beta was best at the time, I have owned over the years, 8 I think, 2 scrapped, 2 sold, 1 spares, 3 still have.

    Anyway

    Best picture SL-HF950

    Best sound SL-HF950, SL-HF100UB, VTC-M40

    Best trick play SL-C9UB

    Best for editing SL-HF950 followed by SL-C9UB

    Best engineered SL-C9UB, SL-F1UB

    Best portable (out of 4) SL-F1UB

    Best 1/2" VCR ever sold in the UK SL-HF950

    1. Duffy Moon

      Re: OK here goes some more details

      I still have my JVC HR-S5965 Super VHS sitting on the shelf. It did see me through the last several years of tape before I bought a DVD recorder.

      Happy days.

  11. Bigbird3141

    Digital audio Betamax

    An audio recording I made nearly 30 years ago was mastered on to a Betamax tape digitally - I've still got the tape. What was the name for that sound format?

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Digital audio Betamax

      It was at CD resolution

      http://www.thevintageknob.org/sony-PCM-F1.html

      http://audiophilereview.com/cd-dac-digital/in-praise-of-the-sony-pcm-f1.html

  12. joejack

    "Oh, no... Beta!"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeLMIrsEfFo

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