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Movies before VHS and BetaMax

By Dillon Wallace

Today, most of us grab the Apple TV remote,  flip on Hulu or Netflix – even cast shows and movies from our phone to our TV – without a second thought. It’s how we binge watch our favorite shows and movies and for some of us, it’s all we’ve ever known. But, with so many streaming options, we’ve lost sight of just how far the average home theater watching experience has come over the years.

So let’s “be kind and rewind” to a time before streaming services.

Before DVDs even. Let’s take it all the way back to the time of the first great format war that was waged to capture the first home video entertainment crown. The year was 1975, and a small, relatively unknown company named Sony had just released the Betamax video player for the home theater.

Early bird gets the worm, if the worm was the home theater market

The Betamax was truly a marvel in technology when it was first released. And the sky-high price tag reflected that notion with top end players retailing for as much as $2,295. Can you imagine paying that price for Netflix today? Yep, the Betamax was here and there were plenty of technology connoisseurs that just had to have it. And did. And for about a year or two, the Betamax was THE home entertainment hardware.

The bigger, better bird steals the worm

Then 1977 rolled around and everything changed. With the new year, came a new home theater console – the VHS player. And while the VHS player wasn’t as powerful or cutting-edge as the Betamax, it was a helluva lot cheaper, nearly half the price of Beta at around $1000 – $1,400 retail. Although that price still seems crazy high by today’s standards, it was considered a steal at the time.

You see, Sony was so certain that customers would value picture quality above all else that they didn’t keep into consideration the idea of significantly cheaper tech with mainly indiscernible differences in actual picture overtaking them. Coupled with the fact that Betamax recording and playback time only consisted of an hour, versus 90 minutes for VHS, it basically put an end to Betamax before it ever really began.

As a result, people everywhere started foregoing the Beta player for the cheaper and more versatile VHS player. And by 1980, just three short years after its release, the VHS owned more than 60% of the market. By 1981, Betamax’s sales had sunk to an abysmal 25% of the VCR market, especially when the popular brand loyalty companies like RCA, Zenith, Panasonic and Magnavox pledged their allegiance and licensing to VHS.

Luckily for Sony, the Betamax snafu didn’t cause the company to crumble. In fact, quite the opposite, as Sony has since become one of the biggest brands in home entertainment tech on the market. And has been for decades.

All reigns come to an end

As for the VHS player … it owned the home theater landscape for longer than any other format. From about 1980 until 2000, VHS was the go-to format for your movie-watching and home video-recording needs, ultimately dethroned by the emergence of the DVD in the late 90s. The DVD would go on to enjoy a nice reign as format king for about 10 years, until Bluray became the new kid on the block in the mid to late 2000s. And now, streaming services have all but wiped out the format war altogether, because what’s more convenient than watching a movie without actually having to have a physical copy of said movie? Nothing, that’s what.



Over the past 40 years, there has been a handful of format wars with several casualties lost along the way. But if you’ve got a few VHS or even Betamax survivors laying around, collecting dust in your attic or basement, it’s not too late to rescue them. Send them to us and our expert team can digitize them, so they’ll know what it’s like to taste viewing victory once again.

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