I receive many emails from folks wanting to know which Beta VCR they should purchase. Their concern is understandable. The last one rolled off the Sony assembly line over twenty-five years ago, that's a long time ago (especially when it comes to electronics). During the fifteen year run of Beta lots of improvements and features were added. No wonder a refresher course in Betamax is in order. In the information that follows there are tips to help new or old shoppers make the right choice. To keep it short and simple I am going to cover only three subjects, motive, features and price. These three things can help you choose the Beta VCR that's right for you. I am also going to list which models are too old or problematic and why you should steer clear of them. All the words highlighted in blue are active links to other pages or to independent panels. If you would like to open a listing of which Betas currently CAN be repaired or purchased then click here. If you would like to jump forward to the information about which models CANNOT be repaired then you can go directly to that segment by clicking here. (Note: I only buy, sell and repair Betas made to operate using the NTSC broadcast standard.)
WHAT DO YOU WANT THE BETAMAX FOR?
What is your motivation? Are you wanting to convert your Beta tapes over to DVDs? Do you have a box of recorded Beta tapes you want to watch but no recorder to play them on? Are you interested in the Beta format and want a machine that is the best of what Beta had to offer? These are the more common reasons given in my emails so I will concentrate mostly on these. Converting your tapes over to DVDs is something that can be done for you by a either a local service, or one found through an internet search. Its easy and using a professional service eliminates the need for a having a Betamax altogether. But, there is a worrisome downside to this option. You must surrender your tapes to a third party and they might be miles or weeks away. If you consider your memories to be irreplaceable then turning them over to a third party might make you a little more than uncomfortable. You can to do your own transfers. For this you need a minimum of a Beta machine, a computer and a DVD burner. Dubbing, as it is called in the recording industry, isn't rocket science but it does require a little set up time and some attention. For information on how to do this little trick click here. (This page will change but you can always click on the "Shopping for Beta" button to bring it back.) If you don't own or want to buy a Beta VCR you can rent one from me by the day (seven day minimum). I have several rentals available and they will play almost any BETA tape regardless of the speed it was recorded (BI, BII or BIII) or whether they are regular Beta, SuperBeta or SuperBetahi-fi stereo. (If you are unfamiliar with these terms then simply open my floating dictionary panel by clicking here.) There are obvious drawbacks to renting. The biggest is the time factor. Renting doesn't give you the freedom to work at your own pace. Your on the clock, so to speak. Also, the VCR it is not your property and you are responsible should it break or it is returned dirty and needs servicing. But what if you still have your original working Betamax? You can use it after you have it serviced by me. What if it isn't working? Getting it repaired is a great option, especially if your tapes were made on that very machine (better for tape compatibility). Having your own Beta available releases you from the time restraint and it rewards you with convenience. Another great plus for this option is that when you get done you still have your original tapes and your machine as back up. Who knows? You might want to add some finishing touches later or maybe make a few do-overs. To explore getting your Beta serviced or repaired go to: "Repairing Your Beta" in this Website (a new page will replace this one but you can always click on the "Shopping for Beta" button to bring this page back). Unfortunately not all machines can be repaired. They are either too old or can't be serviced for one reason or another. See the list included in this discussion to find out if yours is a good candidate or not. Having your own Beta is good whether you are wanting to transfer tapes, watch tapes or just want to explore the format. So let's examine how to purchase a Beta VCR, and do it wisely.
JUST THE BASICS
What features do you need? All Beta VCRs are not all the same. There are some important basics you need to know when selecting a Betamax. Like any other electronic appliance they improved and were modified over the years. The first models recorded only one speed, called Beta one or just BI. But the public's thirst for more recording time soon demanded slower speeds so BII and BIII was introduced, and BI became kind of an orphan. But no fear, Sony conveniently made all their machines that came after (BII and BIII) so that they would still play the first speed. Almost all the tapes out there were recorded in either the BII or BIII speed. Also, later on the audio was improved and Betahi-fi stereo was added to the original monaural. This boosted the sound to an unsurpassed level of quality. But for compatibility the mono track was still being recorded along with the Betahi-fi. This means that any Beta VCR will play either audio type, but only Betahi-fi recorders will play stereo*. Most tapes out there were recorded in regular mono. The next change was to the video quality. About halfway through the life of Beta came the SuperBeta picture. It added about 20% more clarity to the video, when compared to the regular or standard Beta picture. Soon after it was introduced all Beta units were manufactured as SuperBetas. All SuperBeta VCRs will play the original standard Beta picture just fine. But playing SuperBeta tapes in standard Beta machines can result in over modulation which can produce sparkles, black spots or color bursts in the picture. Something to be aware of when it comes to selecting the right Beta VCR for your tapes. Most tapes out there were recorded using regular Beta. For more information on the technical side of Beta go to: "Beta Technical Info" (new page will open). Many upscale Beta models sported lots of nice extras like picture search, scan, freeze-frame, editing, digital effects and more, but these were icing on the cake. If you are interested in one of these higher-end units it will require some research on your part to decide which of these bonus features are important to you. For the purposes of this discussion we are just going to concentrate on which models have the right speed, sound and picture quality for your needs. These three basic things are the most important when it comes to shopping for the right VCR for you. Additional information on choosing a Betamax for transferring Beta tapes to DVD is available in the "ASK: MisterBetamax" section of this Site or you can click here (a new page will open).
*There were a few linear stereo machines made.
OWNERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES
Wanting to purchase? Where to buy, how much to invest and which model is the one? The best place to buy a Beta VCR is from me. My Betas require a little more investment but they are refurbished. They all are rebuilt and adjusted to meet or exceed the manufacture's high standards and they are fully operational. I can't stress how important this is when it comes to a device that is a minimum of twenty-five years old. All my Betas come with a 90 warranty. But the most important thing to consider is that a properly operating Betamax will not destroy your precious tapes. How much is that worth to you? There is plenty of information in my Website about how I refurbish the Betas I offer for sale. If you want to investigate what makes them the best then go to: "Beta Refurbishing" (new page will open). Other places for buying Betas are from newspaper ads, ebay, Craigslist, Goodwill, Salvation Army, electronic fairs and flea markets. Getting a Beta this way will be a gamble. There is a 100% chance they will either will be non-operational, in need of service or have been repaired on by someone you don't know or trust. Many of my repair customers still like to gamble and purchased from one of these sources. The low prices are a great temptation. I don't see these buyers in a negative way because it did keep one more Beta from going to the junk pile and I get to recondition or repair it after the fact. Unless it can't be repaired, in which case they just wasted their money. A word of warning here, buying a non-working Beta can end up costing you a lot in the long run.
SO WHICH BETA IS THE BEST FOR YOU?
Decision time. Unless you want your recorder to have awesome stereo you are not going to need Betahi-fi. (Although Betahi-hi is so perfect it is almost like recording to a mirror.) All Beta machines will play hi-fi and it doesn't alter the picture quality in any way. Eliminating it means you only need to choose between whether you want or need the standard or SuperBeta picture. If your tapes aren't recorded using SuperBeta or you don't want it, then you can strike it off the list. SuperBeta machines will play standard Beta tapes just fine and even offer some improvement in the picture quality due to the added circuits and updated electronics. But if your tapes were all recorded in standard Beta then almost any Betamax will do, hay all play non-SuperBeta picture. The last concern is only important if you fall into the category of a late adopter and don't want one of the early machines or you are someone that prefers the highest quality of recordings. This category concerns exotic picture performance. If only the best will do then you will want to consider a Hi-Band Beta VCR that records in the BIs speed or an Extended Definition Beta (ED Beta) VCR. This narrows the selection considerably but if this is for you then you are a Betaphile with very exclusive taste. These high end units will cost you more but the rewards can be outstanding. Picture quality at it's best, using ultra-high quality tape with unmatched sound quality. Editing if you want it and operational controls that allow you to manage every recording your way. This is a good as it gets.
BETA OVER THE YEARS
All those models! You should have a pretty good idea of what to shop for when factoring in your budget, taste, tape requirements and unit expectations. Here it is again in order of importance: standard or SuperBeta, Betahi-fi or not, Super Hi-Band BIs or even ED Beta. As for price they increase as the features and benefits are added and the quality goes up. Early low-end models will cost less and later high-end models will be more. So how do you tell which machine has what features or plays which speeds, etc.? Unfortunately the model numbers don't help much. Almost all the Sony Betas start with the "SL-" prefix (examples: SL-20, SL-2400, SL-9090, etc.). In general the higher the number following the prefix the more sophisticated and more expensive the machine. If an "HF" come after the "SL-" prefix then the unit is a hi-fi stereo machine (examples: SL-HF500, SL-HF1000, SL-HF2100, etc.). In general the higher the numbers after the "HF" the more upscale the machine. To confuse matters the first Sony Betahi-fi stereo machines had no "HF" in their numbers (examples: SL-5200, SL-2700, SL-2710, etc.). All "SL-HF" units are Betahi-fi. There are also some high end models with low numbers, yikes! The other Beta manufacturers provided even less info as to what they were up to. But this is how it has always been in the world of electronics. To know what is available you will have to do a little research, plow through what is available and decide what is best for you. You start doing this by going to the "Betas For Purchase" section and browse through the various models. Everything you need about the models I offer for purchase can be found there. I can't tell you what to buy but I do make enough information available in my Website so that you can almost certainly find a Betamax that will do what you want. But there is still another important question that need answering. How not to get burned? I won't do it to you but if you shop around unaware of what is out there you might just end up with a pretty boat anchor. Don't miss the last few paragraphs coming up because they are whoppers.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
The backstory. The last Betamax rolled off the Sony assembly line in October of 1993. This makes them ancient in electronics years. Luckily most were built well and can be returned to full service simply by reconditioning (which includes a good cleaning). Also, almost all of the later models that are broken can be repaired or refurbished. But there are problems ahead. Age is catching up with Beta. Parts are getting rare and some electronic components don't take aging very well. Some of the Betas can't be repaired are would just be too cost prohibitive to tackle. I have put together a short discussion to help you decide which Betas have the best change of repair, rejuvenation and future survival, and which ones to don't.
The prognosis. As you probably suspect all Betas were not created equal. Some have become especially troublesome to the point that they should be avoided altogether. They have become simply too old, cranky or just too costly to bring back to life. Age is tough on some electronic parts. Capacitors deteriorate and leak electrolyte, plus they lose their integrity. Some fair up worse than others and to replace them all would be a cost prohibitive nightmare. Most specialty ICs are no longer available. Mechanical parts can be a problem too because they are quickly becoming scarce. I have good used for most but it is still limited to the number of parts units I have. So what is up next is a list of the models that should be approached with caution. This applies to whether it is being considered for purchase, repair or for servicing, and why. Scroll down.
THE LIST OF SUSPECTS
Now for the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Be suspect or don't consider any Beta machine that loads cassettes in the front on the right side or into the top (portables are the exception). These Betas are simply too old to be reliable, even when refurbished or reconditioned. Unless you want to take on a total rejuvenation project, are into restoration of vintage electronics or just want to have one around for show, avoid these units. They are all going to have useless leaking capacitors and other electronic components that have died. The rubber will have degraded and replacements are getting very hard to find. Plus, some of the mechanical parts will be worn, broken, bent or seized up and most are irreplaceable. I will no longer repair or recondition these Betas, period. I have supplied a list of these demon models below so you will know who they are.
- Be suspect of any Beta from anywhere that can't be tested. Assume that to mean it doesn't work. Saying it lights up only shows it gets power. It has nothing to do with the operation of the machine. If it is a newer model that helps a little, but a lot the time has passed since their manufacture. But some very late models have their unique problems that are now surfacing and avoiding these units requires a little detective work. Here are some clues. If the cassette loads but comes right back out then the loading or threading function isn't working and will need repair. If the tape stays in but doesn't move once it is inside or tape spills out when it's ejected, then the reel motor or capstan motor might not be able to turn. Most of these kind of problems can be repaired. It depends on the Beta.
- Finally, be suspect of any Beta that loads but won't play. It could indicate something is seized up or that the capstan will not turn. Sony's latest model Betas have capstans motors with surface mounted capacitors (known as SMDs) soldered to their printed circuit boards. Over time these will all fail and when they do they will leak liquid electrolyte. This stuff crawls around the surface below it and eats away at the circuit traces on the boards, eventually destroy them. If caught early enough, before it gets too extensive, the traces can be joined and repaired. If it's too late the capstan will need replacing. Some very high profile Betas suffer from this sickness and as far as I know I am the only one repairing or replacing these capstans. Be sure to see the listings below for identifying the Betas that are subject to this malady. I do want to make you aware of something here. For the purposes of repairing machines for customers and refurbishing the units I sell I keep on hand a large supply of new and used parts. I work hard to find these. I forage through electronics houses, supplier sell offs, rubber suppliers, parts people, flea markets, yard sales and finally Sony parts wholesalers. I probably have more Beta parts than anyone other than Sony. This is how I am able to restore the units I sell and how I am able continue my repair service. Please note, I do not sell parts.
These Beta machines are too old and can no longer be repaired:
(Click on the model number to open a page showing the VCR.)
- NEC - Too old are the
All of their Betamovies the
- Sanyo - Too old are the VTC 5000,
VTC 9100A or
All of their Betamovies
- Sears - Almost all their Betas are too old to be repaired but some later models are an EXCEPTION. Listed here are their models numbers that can STILL BE REPAIRED:
564.53410450. Sears didn't offer any Betamovies.
- Sony - Too old are the LV1901A,
SLP-305. All the Betamovies are too old to repair, these are the
- Toshiba - V-5210,
Their Betamovies are too old to repair V-BM37 and
- Zenith - JR 9000,
VR 9760J. Zenith didn't offer any Betamovies.
(Note: I no longer accept any of the Betas in the group above for repair, reconditioning, trade or for parts. Any of the units from this group that I offer for purchase have been refurbished, improved and upgraded where possible. Once these refurbished units are sold out of my inventory they will not be restocked.)
These Beta machines can have issues that render them non-operational:
(Click on the model number to open a page showing the VCR.)
- Aiwa - Both models, the AV-50M and
AV-70M have mechanical problems that can be repaired. They make excellent Betas.
- NEC - models
VC-P1000E have some parts that are no longer available but I can repair these too.
- Sony - The EDV-7300,
These models are notorious for having capstans that fail due corrosion from leaking capacitors and replacement parts are no longer available from Sony. If corrected early, before the damage has become too severe, these capstans can be repaired and the units returned to service. I also have a limited supply of new and rebuilt capstans.
- Sony - The SL-HF1000,
Use caution with these because their video heads are no longer supplied by Sony. I currently have a limited supply of these heads in inventory.
- Sony - The SL-2500 and
SL-2700 because the NiCad power failure battery leaks acid and eventually destroys the printed circuits boards around it. If discovered early these units can be repaired and make excellent Betas.
- ZENITH - The VR 9775PT Similar design to the Sony SL-2500, the power failure battery leaks and corrodes the printed circuits boards. If discovered early enough it can be repaired and makes an excellent Beta.
(Note: I will accept any of the Betas in the group above for repair, reconditioning, trade, purchase or for parts. These models are found in my ongoing inventory and are restocked as needed. All of these models that I offer for purchase in my Website have been refurbished, improved and upgraded where possible.)
These Beta machines have issues that can currently be repaired:
(Click on the model number to open a page showing the VCR.)
- Sony - The big one is Sony. They made a lot of machines and they used the same parts in a lot of different models. The list is sorted by the symptom and then a generalized description of the cure.
- The symptom is the tracking control has no effect on the play back picture. This mostly applies to the
SL-2408C. The tracking control potentiometer falls apart inside and no replacements are available. (A potentiometer is the same as a volume control.) To make a repair it has to be removed, taken apart and rebuilt. I perform this repair and after it is done these make great machines and they give great service.
- Symptom is the "cassette inside" door gets out of align and blocks the opening. Applies only to the SL-2500 and
SL-2700. The cassette door runs on rollers mounted on each side and it falls off the tracks. The repair is removal, relocation and adjustment.
- The symptom is a grinding sound when you insert a cassette or one is trying to be ejected, but nothing moves. Something has broken and in most cases it's considered fatal. This failure applies to any machine that used the cogged tooth belt driven loader (which also includes some of the ones listed above). This type loader is driven by a motor assembly that not only sends power to the loader but also to the two slides that thread the tape. To do this there is a gear reduction assembly and a transmission, which is shifted by the pinch solenoid. Located in the transmission is a shaft with a drive gear molded on it. It is made of fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) and it cracks. There are no replacements. I cast (mold) a new gear onto the shaft and these machines then give excellent, reliable service.
- The symptom is the cassette gets crooked and caught or a jamb occurs when loading and unloading. This applies to many models and is caused by either a broken gear in the swing arm (that drives the loading tray in its trackways) or a sheared off driven guide pin. The gears are still obtainable, so that is an easy fix, but the guide pins are molded onto the tray assembly and trays are on longer available. To make this repair requires removing the broken and replacing it with a strong pin. This is done by grinding away the remaining pin stump and pressing on a replacement. Once this is done the tray no longer presents a problem and the loader operates normally.
- The symptom is the cassette goes in but won't go all the way down or it is in will not come all the way out. A motor noise is heard but the cassette fails to move. This time the cassette is not cocked or crooked. This problem applies to later models that have the motor driven style loader (rather than the cogged belt). In this instance the loader drive gear on the motor shaft cracks and is allowed to spin free. Once this happens it can't correctly drive the loading mechanism. Replacement gears are no longer available. The correction for this is to re-enforce the gear with a sleeve and press it back onto the shaft. This corrects the issue and returns the Beta to service.
- The symptom is the cassette goes in but no threading takes place. A motor noise is heard and after a short time the cassette is ejected. Applies to later model units with the motor driven loader. The cause is similar to the previous failure. The same motor gear arrangement used to drive the loader is used for the threading motor. These gears also crack, allows the shaft to slip. The correction for this is to re-enforce the gear with a sleeve and press it back onto the shaft. This corrects the issue and returns the Beta to service.
- The symptom is tape spills out of the cassette after it is ejected. This happens because the take-up reel isn't turning on not turning enough to wind the tape back into the cassette before ejection. This can also be caused by an obstruction or a faulty cassette, but most of the time it is a weak reel motor. Repair requires rebuilding the pancake reel motor assembly. Once this is performed these make excellent Betas
- The symptom is the VCR shuts down and only the on/off and eject switches will work. Also sometimes, similar to above, upon ejection tape will be left hanging out of the cassette. This occurs because the reel motor isn't pulling the tape forward with sufficient force to wind the tape onto the take-up reel. The machine is designed to detect this and this is why it shuts down. This failure can also be repaired.
- Specific to the SLO-1800 - The symptom is difficult to impossible cassette loading. This happens because it has a metal cassette loader with guide tracks of molded plastic. They are cracking and coming loose due to age which makes the loader struggle and fail. The deformed plastic trackways won't let the cassette receiver travel in the guides properly. These loaders can be repaired and the VCR returned to service.
- Specific to the SL-HF750 - Symptom is the linear skating assembly doesn't shut off when the ejection cycle is complete. Sometimes the assembly doesn't position itself properly. This is because the tally switch that controls the operation and positioning of the sliding tray comes apart inside. The switch can be repaired.
- Aiwa - A minor player with hybrid designs incorporating some Sony parts. Both of their models exhibit this failure:
- The symptom is they will not rewind, fast forward or play. The drive gear on the reel motor cracks, parts are no longer available. To correct the problem requires that a replacement gear be machined and pressed onto the motor shaft. Once repaired these make excellent Betas.
- NEC - Not a huge player and for the most part their later machines only require regular maintenance to operate trouble free. The exception is listed below:
- The symptom is the tracking control has no effect on the picture ( only applies to the last models made by NEC). Same as with the Sony models mention earlier the control pot falls apart inside and no replacement or substitute is available. The potentiometer can be repaired and these make great machines and give great service after this is done.
- Sanyo - A major player in the Beta production and for the most part their machines only require regular maintenance to run trouble free. There are a few exceptions listed below:
- The symptom is the tracking control has no effect or white lines cannot be adjusted out of the playback picture. Applies to the
VCR 7150 and
VCR 7200. The tracking control potentiometer falls apart inside and no replacement or substitute is available. It can be taken apart and repaired then these make great machines giving great service after this is done.
- The symptom is the loader will not accept the cassette. This applies to the all their front loaders and the problem is a slipping belt that drives the mechanism. Replacing the belt is a difficult repair but once done these VCRs give reliable service.
- Toshiba - Another big player in Beta production and for the most part their machines only require regular maintenance to run trouble free. The exception is listed below:
- The symptom is the loader will not accept the cassette. This applies to the all their front loaders and the problem is cracked gears that drives the mechanism. Replacement parts are no longer available. After repairing these gears these VCRs give reliable service.
- Zenith - A minor player in Beta game that dropped out early. All of their models were made by Sony and they had the same issues as the Sony units they resembled. They are listed below:
- Symptom is the "cassette inside" door gets out of align, jams and blocks the opening. Applies only to the
VR 9775PT. This happens because the door runs on an outside rail using four small rollers, two on each side, and they fall off the track. Repair is removal, relocation and adjustment.
- The symptom is the tracking control has no effect on the picture. Applies to VR 8510. The control potentiometer falls apart inside and no replacement or substitute is available. To make a repair it has to be taken apart and rebuilt. After this is done these make great machines and they give great service.
- The symptom is a grinding sound when you insert a cassette or one is trying to be ejected, but nothing moves. Applies to the
VR 8510. Something has broken and in most cases it's considered fatal. This failure applies to any machine that used the cogged tooth belt driven loader (also includes the ones listed above). This type loader is driven by a motor assembly that not only sends power to the loader but also to two slides that thread the tape. To do this there is a gear reduction assembly and a transmission, which is shifted by the pinch solenoid. Located in the transmission is a shaft with a drive gear molded on it. It is made of reenforced plastic and it breaks. There are no replacements. The gear can, however, be formed back onto the shaft and the machine can be put back into service.
(Note: I will accept any of the Betas in the group above for repair, reconditioning, trade, purchase or for parts. These models are part of my ongoing inventory and are restocked as needed. All of these models that I offer for purchase in my Website have been refurbished, improved and upgraded where possible.)
- To go to Betas available for purchase using a display grid click here.
- To go to Betas available for purchase using a price index click here.
- To go to Betas for purchase using an alphanumerical index click here.
There you have it, the best and the worst of it. If you currently own a Betamax or you are thinking of buying one from someone other than me then be sure to have me reconditioned* it for you (so that it performs up to factory standards and doesn't ruin your tapes). And if you are transferring your memories to DVD consider holding on to your machine and the tapes once you're finished, rather than just throwing it all away. To find out why this can be so important go to my "ASK: MisterBetamax
" section and look at the first first entry.
Every Beta manufacturer recommended that their video cassette recorder be serviced every 500 hours or at least every year. Your Beta needs service and reconditioning now in order to restore it to its prime operational quality. Beta VCRs are finely tuned thoroughbreds and they need to run in top form so they can produce the best results. There is lots of information in my Website on why this necessary.
Please note: This list of Beta VCRs is subject to change at any time. The symptoms, failures and repairs listed are based upon a multitude of observations over an extended period of time. It should be understood that any Betamax can fail. They are electromechanical devices with moving parts. It is the repetition of troubles and failures, due to the reasons mentioned above, that form the foundation for the LIST OF SUSPECTS. There are probably some models that do not appear here because they are either not normally sold in the USA or they are unknown to me. If you are not sure about a particular model you can always e-mail me about your concern. This list is intended as only a help guide and is not a mandate. There could exist an ancient Beta out there that is "new old stock" and runs perfect. But that would be the rare exception. Please be aware that I only purchase, offer for sale, recondition and repair units made for the NTSC broadcast system. I DO NOT deal in PAL, SECAM or other foreign television formats.
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