Everyone of a certain age (why do I get the feeling that soon all of these posts are going to begin with that phrase?) will be familiar with the epic sales and popularity battle that dominated the home entertainment explosion of the 1980s. It was either trusty VHS, with its superior recording time that eventually trounced the, frankly, inferior Betamax system.
Even though the tapes themselves were smaller and sleeker (manufacturers apparently were given the size of a paperback book as a guideline), the Betamax couldn’t compete with the might of VHS for a number of reasons. Sony’s pre-cursor to the Betamax format was the Umatic – a format that allowed 1 hour of recording time. “Wow,” consumers must have enthused, “that’s two whole episodes of ‘Only Fools & Horses on one cassette!”, while Sony failed to realise that one of the major pitfalls of such a small capacity was that it wouldn’t allow room for a Hollywood movie.
JVC, the main manufacturers of VHS, succeeded in realising and quite cleverly kick-started the video rental business. No longer were forgotten classics only viewable on wet Sunday afternoons at the Odeon – you could get hold of them and watch them from your sofa. It strikes a resemblance to one of our own most important entertainment movements of the last five years or so, the notion of catch-up TV. Even though it was possible to record TV broadcasts via VHS, it has never been so easy to actually view them as it is now.
So VHS royally tanned the hide of its home entertainment rivals. Well done, VHS! But what about the Betamax? Bizarrely, since its demise, its place in public consciousness has recently become one of affectionate nostalgia. Wall-E watches his copy of ‘Hello Dolly’ on Betamax, the Mighty Boosh memorably created a monster out of spools of Betamax tape, and even Dr. Who is in on the act, happily destroying Maureen Lipman by erasing her off one. So even if it didn’t take off, the Betamax format obviously still has a place in the hearts of those who admit to being of that certain age.
It’s progressed to the point whereby people are actively trying to save and revive the format as it is threatened with total obsolescence. The slightly unhinged very sane folk at savebetamax.org need your support!