TV Cream

Bric-a-Brac: B is for...


Excellent choice!Of course, the picture’s better on Betamax – so claimed home hi-fi nutters in the mid-1980s unwilling to admit the entertainment system they’d spent hundreds on was minutes away from becoming obsolete. Sony’s also-ran of the video age launched in the UK in 1978, but had been plugging away in the US since 1975. A year later JVC had joined the fray with its VHS format and while Sony was slow to bring other manufacturers on board, the newcomer quickly jumped into bed with various Japanese electronic firms. Soon VHS was everywhere. Even though Beta led the way in innovations (it’s the system that brought us fast-forward and rewind!), VHS’s ubiquity and the tapes’ greater recording capacity swayed the public. By 1988, Sony threw in the towel, and got ready to launch their own VHS recorders.



  1. Adrian

    August 11, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Format wars – don’t you just love em? Apparently Betamax only stopped being made in Japan in 1990.

    The Blueray/HD DVD wars of a couple of years ago brought back a few memories, when those who’d opted for the losing format went through the denial/defiance/resignation rigmarole: with one’s chosen format going from taking up half the store’s shelves, and then consigned to a dusty corner before disappearing altogether..

  2. Mags

    August 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    If I’m right the recording time on Betamax was at the most 1hr. A decent serial was pushing it let alone a football game. Wasn’t it also true that feature films could run over three cassettes on Beta? Better picture be blowed I’m not getting up in the middle of the movie to change tapes. Something for all technology firms to remember: ease of use over quality anytime – just ask Apple.

  3. David Smith

    August 19, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    No, you could get at least 3hrs 15mins (the L-750) and I think there was one a bit longer than that.

    Seeing that pic of a Beta tape actually evoked the *smell* of a Sony Dynamicron cassette for this reader…

  4. Adrian

    August 28, 2009 at 11:30 am

    That ‘Teenwolf’ label on the cassette dates it brilliantly, 1985 I make it. Michael J Fox’s finest hour (apart from ‘Back To The Future’).

  5. Glenn Aylett

    August 28, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Anyone remember the continental European format, much promoted by Philips, called Video 2000? These videos could accept four hour tapes and the picture quality was quite good, but because only Philips seemed to promote them the format was limited and this fizzled out like Betamax.

  6. Yogi Baird

    August 28, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Philips’ V2000 cassettes had the useful (?) ability to be flipped over halfway through for further recording/playback!

    As for the playing time for Betamax cassettes, this was extended through the 1970s as tape technology improved, and further recording speeds were introduced. There was definitely a four tape on the market (the “L830”, I think) and this could be extended to eight and twelve hours with long-play and extra long-play modes. Even in standard play, the three hour Betamax tape played for a very generous 195 minutes.

    Finally, don’t forget that the first camcorder to take a full size tape was the Sony Betacam. It used some clever 1980s time compression technology to squeeze the signal onto the tape during record mode but, sadly, was unable to actually play back a recording!

    For more Beta stuff see:

  7. Richard Davies

    June 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I can remember a video shop near me boasting they had a tapes in VHS & Betamax until about 1987-8. I never went in though to find out how many Betas they had.

    I remember my gran was the first relative of mine to get a video, very large Sanyo “piano key” betamax machine.

  8. Phil

    February 2, 2016 at 11:59 am

    I remember being with my father when we made our family VCR purchase. Three systems were available then – VHS, Betamax and Philips V2000. I was convinced that Sony would be the best, but it has to be said that at that time the Philips was a far better picture quality. I won the day by pointing out that pre-recorded films might be difficult to get hold of. When I could afford it, I purchased my own Betamax (a Sony C6), which still sits in the loft today, and still works.
    I was one of those who could never work out how VHS ended up winning the day, particularly as broadcasters used Betamax tape for professional work.
    Incidentally, as I recall the standard Betamax tape lasted for 3hr.15min, with a 4hr. version being introduced at a later date. I think later Betamax machines offered long-play facilities that doubled the orignal tape recording times. Betamax was a star!

  9. Joanne Gray

    May 5, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Our school had a V2000 machine in the early 80s, which was wheeled out with the telly trolley every wet lunchtime or towards the end of term to give us a break from the tedium of lessons when the general mindset was that of counting down to the school hols. Thing is, we only had two tapes to choose from – Jason and the Argonauts or a compilation of Warner Brothers Loony Tunes cartoons that the headmaster had recorded when he had given the machine a test run at home one weekend. However, at that time in history, videos were still a novelty and the chance to watch a film that might only be on telly once a year (instead of every few weeks thanks to an over-proliferation of tv channels desperately trying to fill their schedules) was still exciting and considered a treat.

  10. Adrian

    August 11, 2022 at 2:34 pm

    What about Laserdiscs, which were sold alongside DVDs for a very short period of time.

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