You may remember a few years back there was a battle for high definition video.

There were two competing formats, HD-DVD and Blu-ray. In North America and Europe, Blu-ray won out, and the less expensive HD-DVD is the most widely used format in China.

But before the disk wars, there were the video cassette wars.

Betamax was the first successful consumer video format, and at one time,  held close to 100% of the home video market. But over the next 10 years, Sony’s Betamax format and JVC’s VHS format would wrestle for market share.

There has always been speculation as to how VHS beat out the clearly superior Betamax video format. Betamax cassette tape was wider than VHS tape, allowing for better video and sound quality, yet they still lost out to VHS.

According to technophiles, the main reason VHS conquered all, was the recording time. If you wanted to record a movie, you needed two hours – and that meant VHS, as Betamax tapes could only record 60 minutes. And while Betamax eventually allowed for more recording time, the damage had been done, and the market share had been lost.

There was also the hardware issue. Sony VCRs were very high quality, and Sony was sluggish to license proprietary technology to other companies.  Sony wanted any cassette recorder based on Betamax technology to live up to the high-standards of the actual Sony-produced units.  NEC, Sanyo, and Toshiba were able to do this, but the majority of companies were not.

At the same time, VCRs based on the VHS format were cheaper to produce, and JVC readily shared their technology and licensing, allowing companies like Panasonic, Sharp, and Hitachi to flood the markets with well-made equipment at very low prices.

However, people who watched the economy in the 1980s suggest a third reason that VHS won the war – pornography. The porn industry standardized their distribution on the VHS format. Rentals and purchases of pornographic tapes skyrocketed in the early 80s and are considered by some to be the main reason for the huge expansion of the home video market.

So when you’re cleaning out the garage and find that old box of VHS tapes, remember, if it wasn’t for Nasty Nurses Go To Town, you’d probably be tossing a box full of Betamax cassettes.

Written by stevemargolis

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