just two days we will see a significant chapter in the technology world closed.
Less than two months shy of the fortieth anniversary of the introduction of VHS
video recorders, Sanyo has announced that the last VHS unit in the world will
roll off their production line at the end of this month.

simple concept of recording video that we all use so commonly today was a
revolution back in the seventies and changed the world of home entertainment.
Although Philips introduced the first mass-market Video Cassette Recorder (VCR)
in 1972, at $20,000 in current dollars, it was too expensive to be adopted by
the masses. The first real impact on the consumer market occurred in November
1975 when Sony introduced the Betamax VCR quickly followed by JVC introducing
the Video Home System (VHS) VCR on 9 September 1976.

format war that then developed was almost as intense as a Ford V Holden or a
Mac V PC rivalry. The Betamax supporters would gather in the smaller section of
the video rental store with a smug smile knowing that their technology was
superior to the VHS format while the VHS followers chuckled away in the same
store about their greater choice of movies.

any person who lived through the format war and they will immediately tell you
that Betamax was a better product but VHS was marketed better. This is one of
those urban myths with a smattering of truth. If you want to get down to the
details, Betamax offered 250 lines of horizontal resolution compared to VHS
which offered 240 lines so you could say that Betamax was technically superior
– just – but I would defy any average consumer to pick the difference when
played back on the small CRT televisions available at the time.

my opinion, the winning of the format war by VHS came down to two main items.
Firstly, VHS introduced tapes from the outset with a two hour recording time.
Betamax only had one hour. People wanted to record a movie or a sports event on
one tape or rent a movie on one tape and the one hour format just wasn’t quite
enough. This is a classic in the consumer world where consumer desire should be
the number one priority rather than delivering on what the company wants. I am
sure Sony had some dedicated technicians who truly believed in the superiority
of their product but at JVC they looked at what the consumer wanted. The longer
recording of VHS gave it a decided advantage but the killer blow was a decision
by JVC that Apple should have learned from in later years. JVC decided to
license out their technology to any manufacturer who wanted it. Sony wanted to
produce all the hardware themselves to maintain the high quality that they had
created in the Betamax format. It wasn’t so much that superior marketing won
the day for VHS but the weight of marketing. If you imagine a variety of
manufacturers producing VHS machines and all marketing their individual product
the weight of marketing would have drowned out whatever the might of Sony –
just one company – could produce. As an added bonus, VHS was an acronym and the
world loves acronyms!

though Sony was first to market, it didn’t take long for VHS to win the numbers
game. By 1981, Sony’s market share in major markets such as the US and the UK
had fallen to 25 per cent and by 1986 it was down to 7.5 per cent. From there
it was a spiralling decline. VHS was more popular so electronics goods stores
stocked more VHS related equipment and video stores had more movies on VHS.
With more choice in VHS, more people chose VHS and the decline continued.

finally adopted the attitude that if you can’t beat ‘em them you may as well
join ‘em and produced their own VHS device in 1988 and by 2002 the last Betamax
device was manufactured.

world still owes Betamax a huge thank you. The home entertainment we enjoy
today was started by Betamax. The formats continued to develop and saw the
introduction of LaserDisc and Video CD and DVD and Blu-ray until we reach today
where we have streaming services and hard drive recording. Each new technology
is a step above the previous standard and delivers more of what consumers want.
The technologies that don’t make an improvement and deliver on consumer needs
quickly fall by the wayside. LaserDisc was one such format that never gained
mass adoption. It was introduced in 1978 and delivered exceptional quality but
with an inability to record, a short play time (60 minutes) and a large size
(30cm diameter) it really didn’t deliver on what consumers wanted and gained
little traction. After losing the original format war, Sony backed the Blu-ray
standard which eventually won out over DVD but the victory was short-lived as
video stores are now closing in greater numbers with the progression of

is one thing in technology that is guaranteed. No organisation can afford to
stand still. The top floor of a skyscraper cannot standalone but instead is
built upon all previous floors and so it is with technology. Each new
development is created with the combined knowledge of all previous
advancements. The United States Commissioner of Patents has been reported as
saying that the US Patents office should be closed down as “Everything that can
be invented has been invented.” This might seem reasonable with all the
incredible products we see on the market today but when you consider this quote
was not from today but from 1899, you start to contemplate how much invention
is a building process rather than a lightbulb moment.

mankind will never be satisfied and will always strive to improve. In the same
way our grandparents could not have imagined the way we consume our home
entertainment today, I can’t begin to imagine how our grandchildren will
consume their home entertainment. VHS is dead. Long live home entertainment.

Mathew Dickerson

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