As 21st century consumers, we are all too acquainted with commercial battles to impose one technology over the rest on the market. We are currently witnessing battles between Android and iOS, between Windows and Mac, among videogame console manufacturers (PlayStation, Wii, Xbox, etc.), among types of car engines (gas, diesel, electric, hybrid), and so many more.
Times were different
It is the 70s. TV is the queen of home entertainment. There are no video consoles, PCs are extremely rare and there is no internet. TV audiences are colossal and a handful of channels share the profits from advertising by broadcasting contents in return: news, entertainment programs and movies.
At this time, it was the film industry the one heavily endangered by the success of TV. However, it was a manageable threat. Film production companies waited long before giving authorization to broadcast a movie on TV, in order to protect their business in the box office. The balance seemed stable.
The emergence of the home videorecorder
Sony wanted to revolutionize the entertainment market with a home videorecorder and player, similar to the audiocassette that was commonly used at the time. And they wanted to do it their way: with a quality product, their own proprietary standard and at a high price.
In 1975, Sony launches its format, Betamax. This system inherited characteristics from two previous formats: the Sony video camera format (videocorder) and the U‑Matic (professional format.) It worked really well, both at a mechanical level (tape system) and at a quality level. In order to overcome technical difficulties, the engineers at Sony developed a “dense” recording system (thus its name, Betamax, from the Japanese word ‘beta’, meaning thick, dense.)
A year later, JVC launches its alternative video format, the VHS (Video Home System.) JVC’s approach was more pragmatic: a simple inexpensive video system. And thus began the war between video formats.