Betamax RIP?
August 27, 2002 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Betamax RIP? And I barely even knew you.
posted by Rattmouth (27 comments total)
Share your fondest Betamax memory. Personally, I have only one experience (from just a few years ago), and that was watching a recording of Shaft that was on Betamax. It seemed like the right thing to do while in college.
posted by Rattmouth at 2:03 PM on August 27, 2002

Wow, they're still making them, at least until year's end. I thought we heard the last of Betamax in the late 80s, but I was mistaken.

I heard someone say Betamax's picture quality is better than VHS. So maybe the units they still make go to TV stations and the like? (I wouldn't buy one for my house...) Does anyone know?
posted by Triplanetary at 2:04 PM on August 27, 2002

TV news shows still tape on Betamax, or at least they did very recently. That's what the term "broadcast quality video" refers to -- VHS doesn't really make the cut.
posted by blueshammer at 2:10 PM on August 27, 2002

Blueshammer, I think you might be referring to the higher end Betacam / Umatic formats. I guess that some people in Japan or the US must have still been using Betamax- it certainly died a death here in the UK many years ago.
posted by viama at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2002

One of the primary benefits of Beta is that it's much easier to edit frame by frame, whereas VHS is kinda sloppy in this regard. i believe that most television cameras are actually digital Beta which provides an even cleaner and more stable image to work with.

i'll be interested to see how the TV stations deal with this.
posted by quin at 2:31 PM on August 27, 2002

I didn't even know they still made Betamax. I hadn't heard anything about it since the 80s.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:32 PM on August 27, 2002

While all of our local TV stations are going full-digital, previously they - like most, I imagine - used Beta exclusively when working with tape. In addition to 'consumer grade' Beta (tapes that were smaller than VHS), there's also 'broadcast grade' or commercial Beta, and those tapes were huge.

I still use my Beta machines, and watch tapes made more than a decade ago. The picture quality was sharper then, and the format definitely preserves better over time than VHS.

I never understood why, but the clarity you got just hitting "pause" was considerably better. VHS always seemed to be more like a moving smudge than a frame-by-frame film-like thingie. (I apologize for all the technical terms.)

Also, I only had to take my Sony Beta machine in once to be fixed, and that was when I was in high school (1990?). The thing is all metal and reminds me of a Volvo. Meanwhile, my household has been through four VHS machines. We used to spring for the high-end ones, but we've found the $79 Sharp from WalMart we're using now to be just as reliable as the rest.

Sad news, I suppose, but I tell ya, second- and third-hand machines will serve you well. Heck, I haven't bought a new tape in ages... I just recycle my brother's old "Star Trek: TNG" collection.

I better stop comparing Beta vs. VHS to Mac vs. PC, now, though...
posted by pzarquon at 2:53 PM on August 27, 2002

I still have a top-loading silver-and-fake wood grain Betasaurus in my parent's garage. It was used to edit school video projects (bouncing VHS to Beta to VHS). I didn't notice a difference in quality, but then the heads probably hadn't been cleaned in a decade or so . . .
posted by mikrophon at 2:57 PM on August 27, 2002

Just watched something on my Beta deck last night. I *heart* that little machine. (*sniff* No more Beta.)

It seems to be a constant source of amusement for people who come over to my house, especially since it sits directly below the DVD player.
posted by aine42 at 3:05 PM on August 27, 2002

My favorite beta memory was back in 1982, when I was 8 years old.

I was sitting in a floor-to-ceiling brown and tan early 80’s decor living room with my two younger brothers, complete with macramé plant hangers. We were watching the movie “Rocky” broadcast on television while recording it simultaneously on our newly acquired Beta machine. At the same time, my little baby brother was being born in my parents’ room, being delivered by my father – my parents being wholly into natural childbirth.

At the end of the movie, I was charged with pressing the big silver tab-button that read “stop”. I think the whole exercise was something along the lines of the “boiling towels” distraction for nervous fathers – something that would give me something to do, to be “responsible” for while all the action was going on in the back room. When you pushed the tab-buttons, they made a loud clunk where all the heads would either spring in to action or screech to a semi-instant halt. Clunk went the machine as I pushed the button, looking up to see my father emerge from the backroom with a little red alien in his arms.

Beta, Rocky and my baby brother will forever be entwined.
posted by nyoki at 3:07 PM on August 27, 2002

My parents still have a Betamax that is in mint condition, owing to the fact that they barely ever used it. They are actually moving now, and are looking to unload it.... anyone interested? They bought Beta because at the time, Beta were far and away much better, both in audio and visual respects. My brother had bootleg Beta tapes of Dead shows that were audio only- I guess the sound quality was that good.
All of my childhood memories of watching movies at home involve Beta-we didn't watch a whole lot as movie rental costs were a huge frivolity in my family of nine, and I have never owned a VCR, VHS or otherwise in my life. Incidentally, pzarquon, my parents are diehard Volvo/Benz people.... I'd like to see how far this can go- what kind of watch do you have? ;)
posted by oflinkey at 3:08 PM on August 27, 2002

I wonder if Sony is doing this to focus on their next technology battle.
posted by aaronscool at 3:12 PM on August 27, 2002

Beta was convincingly better picture quality than VHS, but during the early days of home video, Sony made two foolish mistakes that allowed JVC and VHS to take over:

+ they wouldnt allow any 3rd parties to liscense the technology and sell a beta machine - thus the only units you could get were the traditionally expensive Sony models.

+ they wouldnt let the adult film companies distribute X-rated films on Beta.

Joe Sixpack had the desicion of buying a more expensive Sony vcr with no porn titles to buy or rent, or a cheaper VHS machine (which he'd ignorantly call a Betamax anyway).

strangely, he went for the cheap porn.

beta was soon relegated to the tv stations and other professional, commercial outlets.
posted by tsarfan at 3:13 PM on August 27, 2002

+ VHS got the first 2 hour tapes out, so you had a choice of a 1 tape VHS movie or a 2 tape Beta one.
posted by Lame_Dave at 3:22 PM on August 27, 2002

Let us all not forget Mr. Rogers saved our butts during the 1984 Supreme Court decision that Sony (i.e. Betamax) did not violate copyright infringement....and I'll just be the first person to cite the Urban Legends Betamax entry. At one point I had to teach this book to university freshmen, and it went on. And on. About VHS vs. Betamax. In a weighty pseudo-philosophical manner.

//OT// I have a laserdisc-related memory of my best friend in 7th grade forcing me to watch Firestarter as she freeze-framed it on the scene where the guy tears out his own eyes. The "pause" clarity was indeed something. //OT//
posted by redshoes3 at 3:22 PM on August 27, 2002

When I worked in tv, about ten years ago, beta was on it's way out then. Our station, an NBC affliate, used 3/4 inch vhs, 1 inch vhs, standard vhs and svhs. (measurements referring to the width of the tape) Svhs was just barely broadcast quality. We didn't use beta at all. A lot of stations still did, but they used 3/4 inch or 1 inch beta.

We didn't even have a beta player in house. When people looking for jobs sent out resume tapes they usually did it on some type of vhs. But some would use beta. So we would take those out in the back parking lot and whack them with camera tripods.

Needless to say they didn't get the job if they used beta.
posted by nyxxxx at 3:26 PM on August 27, 2002 [1 favorite]

BetaMax (the consumer Beta format) is different from BetaCam SP (the broadcast format still used by most news organizations). I don't think BetaCam is being discontinued, just BetaMax (which I thought was discontinued long ago). There is also BetaCam Digital, which uses Beta-sized tapes, but is essentially a different format under the hood (digital as opposed to analog).

Beta is overwhelmingly considered the better format over VHS, since it is component video, which means that it records color information and luminance information as independent, separate channels, rather than squishing it all down into a "composite" like VHS does. The picture recorded by Beta machines is recorded as a "C" signal (this is the chrominance information, or the RGB information, called the "U" and "V" signals) and a "Y" signal (which is the luminance information, or black and white, or brightness). The advantage of this is that, since the signals are separate, they have a far greater loss of information between generations than VHS does. It also makes for sharp stills, since each "frame" has its own set of signals, unlike the smear of fields that make up the VHS (or other composite formats, like Umatic) image.

The only reason this far superior format didn't catch on as a home format is that Sony refused to license it to other companies, like JVC did with VHS, thus creating a proprietary product that was quickly overshadowed by the dozens of other companies that bought the VHS license from JVC.
posted by evanizer at 3:45 PM on August 27, 2002

a far greater loss of information between generations than VHS

Duh. That should be "far less loss of information between generations..."
posted by evanizer at 3:50 PM on August 27, 2002

Betamax was also noteworthy for its great sound, too. I vaguely recall an audiophile friend of mine in school in the mid-80s using B'max to copy audio-only recordings.
posted by alumshubby at 5:06 PM on August 27, 2002

I grew up in Manila in the '80s, where the video stores only had Beta tapes for rent. All tapes were multiple-gen pirated copies, so it really didn't matter that Beta had better quality than VHS - I have literally fuzzy memories of movies I saw back then. Example: St. Elmo's Fire (I'm sorry, it was peer pressure, really). I could barely tell Rob Lowe from Andrew McCarthy. Also watched American TV shows like Moonlighting off Beta tapes; they were recorded off satellite and smuggled out of US military bases.
posted by shortfuse at 5:20 PM on August 27, 2002

Both evanizer and lame_dave are correct. Betacam, the broadcast-quality format, is a completely different tape format from Betamax, the home format. (Betacam's descendants include Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, and Betacam SX.) The Betacam family of formats actually has cassettes in three different sizes; the smallest Betacam cassette is the same size as a Betamax cassette and is quite similar.

(To get really vidi-geeky on you, this is kind of like Panasonic's basing their MII cassette format on the VHS cassette shell.)

One of the other big reasons, aside from Sony's refusal to license Betamax to JVC and other manufacturers, was the lack of multispeed recording. VHS was introduced with three recording speeds from the very start. When Sony finally came out with Beta II/III, their multispeed feature, Betamax had lost too much market share to VHS to ever regain its market leadership.

A shame -- Betamax really was superior to VHS. My stepfather got two Betamaxes in 1978...they're huge, heavy, and still work brilliantly. He still uses them for timeshifting...I think he's the only guy around who hooks up a Betamax to his DVD burner and his DirecTV. (But what can I say? He bought the TripleCast in 1992.) Had no clue Sony hadn't discontinued it 10+ years ago.
posted by Vidiot at 5:34 PM on August 27, 2002

What I want to know is who were the 2800 people worldwide that were still buying the home version of BetaMax. C'mon.
posted by Coop at 5:49 PM on August 27, 2002

What was the last film you could get on (home) beta? I used to have some ropey old euro porn on beta. Damn, wish I hadn't admited that.
posted by ciderwoman at 6:02 PM on August 27, 2002

If Sony doesn't get their act together (and open up NetMD) Minidisc will be next.
posted by pjdoland at 10:37 PM on August 27, 2002

Hmmm. Last pre-recorded Beta tape I saw was "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Got it and "Pink Floyd The Wall" for fifty cents each.
posted by Vidiot at 10:37 PM on August 27, 2002

My family is still in proud posession of two Portable Betamax units with the separate tuner/timer. Moreover, we are also in posession of one of the Betamax Videocameras that could accompany these units. Actually, I have one of the VCRs and the camera hooked up under my bed right now, and just yesterday I used the combination to record a bit of footage of my roommate into my computer, via my brand-new ATi All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500. Gotta love recording DVD-quality digital video via the unholy matrimony of 21 year old and 0 year old hi-tech.

On a sad note: both of the original batteries for the videocamera/portablevcr combination are dead. What, aren't rechargables supposed to last 21 years? Also, a couple of years ago we noticed that one of our Betas was clicking on rewind. Not doing anything wrong, just clicking. We brought it in to a Sony repair shop, and the guy behind the counter laughed at us. $240 just to look at it, because it had to be sent to the only repair place left that did Betamaxes. We decided to live with the clicking.
posted by Ptrin at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2002

My father was (and still is, to an extent) a gadget hound. I remember getting an old Betamax machine (you know, the kind with levers and dials instead of buttons, where the tape carriage popped up the top) when I was a kid. This was when there was, I think, one place to rent movies in my whole city.

I have fond memories of getting a pirated tape of Star Wars that I watched over and over until I knew every line by heart and the tape wore out.

Ahhhh, those were the days...
posted by mkultra at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2002

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