Pioneers are not always the ones who make it to the top of the mountain, often they are the ones who simply made the first steps. Such is the story of Betamax, the video cassette player and recording device which was released by Sony in 1975 and which predates VHS by a full year. Sadly Betamax, though many agreed it was the superior product lost out to VHS and was long thought relegated to history.
Until now. Yesterday Sony reminded us about the Betamax platform by announcing that it will ship its final batch of Betamax tapes in Japan next year. The Japanese electronics company has long since stopped selling Betamax players and recorders and this latest announcement will only really affect its native Japan which is the only country where you can still get Betamax tapes. Still, while this is the final nail in the coffin for the system it right to remember it and for the foundations it laid in today’s tech driven world.
You snooze you lose
As mobile app developers (and users) we are finely attuned to the goings on in the industry. This is a fast paced one with little sentiment for supposed ‘giants’ or resting on ones laurels. From Sega to Nokia, AOL to MySpace the industry is riddled with tales of once were’s and could have been’s. When there is so much moving forward there are bound to be casualties left behind. Let’s not forget that for a long time Apple itself was in the doldrums, languishing behind its marketplace rivals and was saved by a music player not a computer.
This brings us back to Betamax and how it has ironically outlasted VHS though both platforms have truthfully ceased to be relevant some time ago.
We are a London digital agency and so use video recording ourselves for clients so we owe a debt of gratitude to Betamax. In the wider industry also the trail Betamax laid is still relevant for instance would current platforms like YouTube and Vine even exist without Betamax having led the way? Who knows? But the fact was that it did lead the way and should be rightly remembered for this.
It may have lost its battle to VHS but perhaps this taught Sony a lesson when it came to the PlayStation just a few years later? Just considering these ifs and buts makes you realise the platform’s significance.
Having its day in court
Perhaps Betamax’s biggest triumph was not in its battle with VHS but it its right to exist at all and our right to be able to record live TV. In 1985 Sony and Betamax won a court ruling which stated that recording video – films or TV programmes was legal if it was for personal usage. This was, quite literally ground-breaking; on demand TV anyone?
And so it comes to the somewhat protracted end for Betamax. Perhaps Sony were just waiting for the world of Netflix and Vine, of Mobile Video recording and Sky conference calls, of YouTube celebrities and of never missing your favourite TV shows again before announcing the end of Betamax in a world where it is no longer relevance but where its foundations are keenly felt if not remembered.
Perhaps yes and perhaps no. Whatever the answer we wish Betamax goodbye with fondness and a nod to the future and to other pioneers to keep on going. You will always be remembered.