Sony says goodbye to Betamax tapes

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Kazao Hira with a Betamax recorderImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai reminisced about Betamax at a speech in 2014

Sony has announced that it will stop selling Betamax video cassettes in March 2016.

The firm revealed on its website that it will also stop shipping the Micro MV cassette, used in video cameras.

It has not produced a compatible camera for the Micro MV since 2005.

Sony launched the format in 1975, a year before JVC's rival the VHS cassette - which eventually became the market leader after a long battle between the two brands and their fans.

Although many felt Betamax was the superior format, some cite the longer recording length of VHS tapes and the cheaper manufacturing costs for VHS machines among factors as to why VHS eventually won out.

But there were also other issues at play.

"The reason VHS won out in the UK was that most people chose to rent their video machines in the early days and most of the rental chains were owned by Thorn EMI which made VHS machines under various names," commented Tony Miles, who used to work in a Sony store.

"Some independent chains rented both, but many people went for 'the same type as my friends' - so VHS triumphed."

Image caption,
Bye bye, Betamax

The BBC still has Betacam tapes in some of its archives - a format that Sony created building on Betamax's foundations - but most broadcasters have stopped using even them.

"It's sad when the consumables of a format dies because then you can never go back to it," said BBC video editor Pete Doherty.

"I remember watching Michael Jackson's Thriller on Betamax. It represents the time when we were just beginning to watch things on demand.

"If you missed a programme on TV before that, you just had to wait for the repeat.

"Having said that, I don't think many people will miss Betamax. I can't imagine there are many machines left to play them on."

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