Sony produced its last consumer Betamax in December of 2002. Since you are visiting this Site then you surely feel that, for some people at least, Beta still holds a lot of interest. Let's take a moment and examine why the latent enthusiasm and what may happen in the future with our beloved format.
Unlike most of the transitions that have occurred over the years in the entertainment industry the video recorder changed the way the world could view and transform images. If television was the window to the world, then the video recorder was the way for you to capture what you saw in that window. It seems doubtful now that Sony could have seen the transformation that was going to take place once they presented the public with the first practical machine (to tape record video images at home). They fought hard for their ideas, like an artist does for his passion to paint. They made their product better, more attractive and more innovative. They didn't fail the medium, just failed to win the public's embrace for their design. They ended up chasing after an ever decreasing specialty market. A market segment that evaluated and recognized the superiority of their passion. One where their customers were determined to stand their ground against a torrent of opposition. Being the best had worked so well in the past for Sony, why didn't it work this time?
To the masses the Betamax seemed expensive, aloof and too technical. Plus the growing video rental industry was embracing VHS. So the buying public voted with their dollars for a simple, cheaper and more universally accepted format. But in the wake of what happened over those twenty-seven years of existence, Beta left us with what can only be described as art in an electronic gallery.
When you closely examine the overall design and characteristics of the Beta format it leaves one with a deeper perspective. It reveals just how forceful it was in overall impact from, as an example, the eight-track tape. The eight-track was a transitional audio medium that lead to simpler and better performing systems. Beta was different. Developed by a manufacturer recognized as a world leader in cutting edge electronics Beta opened up a whole new genre and removed the constraints of real time video. Being Sony they were driven to perfection by a fervent desire to be better than what the competition had to offer. They viewed it as defending their sacred image in the marketplace. Beta always be remembered as one of history's great marketing mysteries. Beta machines upon close examination are formidable and nothing in the future is ever likely to repeat what took place when the world was ushered into the video revolution. The computer and the internet may surpass its impact but they will never duplicate this chapter in history known as the great format war. Losing it , so might say, cost Sony its dominance as the world leader in electronics.
To appreciate what Sony accomplished in the twenty-seven year history of Beta you have to get hands on. You have to feel the way the machines respond with an ease when you shuttle from play, to rewind, to stop, to fast forward so you can quickly view and edit the recordings you have made (something DVDs can't do even today). The high end models are especially adroit at seducing you, gaining your admiration and firing your enthusiasm with their functionality. One thing immediately comes to mind after playing around with Beta. It wasn't for amateurs, these machines were professional grade. That is where Sony earned its chops and it showed. Too much for a public that just couldn't grasp the value of performance when getting by would do. (See any comparison here between Apple and Microsoft?)
The future looks good for the continued interest in Beta. You can now collect all the models because the number of designs is now a definitive number. Sadly no more will ever be produced. Some of the best examples are still very affordable. They are praised for their superior image quality, famous for the unsurpassed