Betamax Launched

LV-1801 TV/VCR combination unit incorporating the first Betamax VCR

Today in 1975, Sony announced the launch of the Betamax videocassette format in Japan. Sony’s corproate history explains the origins of the name: “‘Beta’ is the Japanese word used to describe the way signals were recorded onto the tape. From this sprung the idea of using the word ‘beta.’ [In addition,] the tape path in the new loading system closely resembled the Greek letter beta, when seen from above. This symbol is associated with good luck and can be construed as a drawn out pronunciation of the English word ‘better.’ ‘Max,’ an abbreviation of the word ‘maximum’ was intended to impart a meaning of grandness, and was then added to the end. The name ‘Betamax’ was born.” Sony’s offical history continues: “While Sony believed it had a revolutionary product on its hands, it still had to convince consumers throughout the world how to benefit from a Betamax VCR in their homes. [Sony’s President] Morita thought the best way to achieve this was through a short, catchy slogan, and the slogan “time-shift” was created. This encapsulated the core concept behind the Betamax; to build a machine that frees consumers from the constraints of watching television programs on the day they are broadcast. With the time-shift function, consumers could record their favorite programs and watch them whenever they liked.”

Betamx ended up losing to another videocassette format, VHS, mostly because VHS had longer playing time and much less complex tape transport mechanism.

Or, as Marc Wielage and Rod Woodcock put it:

“Oh, somewhere there’s a VCR
  that’s been a huge success,
That format now is thriving
        and is known as VHS;
And somewhere tapes are playing
        and films are rented out.
But there’s no joy at Sony…
        Mighty Beta has struck out.

Of course, both (analog) formats gave way to (digital) DVDs which soon will be taken over by (virtual) online video streaming.

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