TheMobRules wrote on 2022-09-11, 17:57:
Beta is said to have better picture/audio quality than VHS, however I was never able to notice any real differences with the consumer-level equipment I had access to back in the day. As far as reliability goes, VHS was already pretty reliable to start with, but again not sure how much it would matter to general consumers.
I think the deal breaker was the length of the recordable tapes, that seemed to prevail over any technical advantages the Beta format may have had at the time.
to provide clarity to this mild debate, beta I provided significantly better video quality than VHS SP did at the same playback speed. the problem with beta was that while it did provide higher quality, it also had much shorter tape length in the cassette. the most common consumer tape was 500 feet, whereas a VHS tape is 1400 feet. so originally, a beta cassette could record only one hour of video, whereas a stock VHS in SP mode could record two.
to address this, sony introduced a 2 hour mode in beta II which halved the tape speed, but dropped the video quality to be approximately identical to VHS SP.
however, consumer VHS decks were coming out slowing THEIR tape speeds to provide LP / EP modes for 4 and 6 hour recording. consumers were mostly using console or small television sets at the time which only provided 240 lines of horizontal resolution, so higher resolution of video offered in beta was lost upon them. sony trinitron TVs were higher quality (maybe with the exception of some toshiba blackstripe sets), but considerably more expensive. consumers greatly enjoyed the utility of being able to record far more OTA programming to cassette for later viewing that VHS provided, and this combined with sony being the only manufacturer of beta decks, caused prices of VHS to plummet while beta remained higher alongside dropping demand. sony started to lose money.
the US economy in the early 1980s was in a period of extreme inflation and high interest rates, and this equipment was all very expensive compared to today, so consumers were reluctant to finance expensive sony TVs and VCRs. keep in mind that at the time, purchasing a new TV set was a very, very big commitment. sets were $800-2000, a VCR was $400-1000, and a "good job" at that time paid maybe $12,000-15,000 a year. televisions and VCRs were a purchase you made expecting to use them for a decade or more, and were something you had repaired if they broke. very much different than today where a new 55" LED TV costs $499 and lasts 3-4 years and is disposed of if anything goes wrong. that new TV today costs the equivalent of $150 in 1981 dollars.
by the time interest rates settled down and the economy recovered, VHS had become the dominant player in the consumer space, and sony caved and started making VHS decks in the late 80s.
beta's higher quality and added features of course did keep it in use in broadcasting and professional uses where tape length was far less of a concern, as movies for OTA broadcast could be split across several tapes which were swapped during commercial breaks, thus the progression of beta / super beta / betacam.