VHS vs. Betamax

July 3, 2007

I love the VHS vs. Betamax story. Both technologies are effectively dead but the fact that Betamax died much sooner is the interesting part. Actually, the interesting part of this story is that it is a wonderful case study of how the mind works (or perhaps doesn’t work).

One reoccurring meme that comes up in various articles I have read goes like this: “VHS won the video tape war despite Betamax being a superior technology”.

WHAT IS BEST  – Our minds have a funny way of determining what is best when multiple variables are involved. In the video tape wars, some of the competing variables were 1) video quality, 2) tape length, 3) vendor choice, and 4) cost. But here we are years later and a large number of commentators on the “video tape war” can’t get beyond Video Quality. Ultimately, tape length proved to be a more important factor because of an unforseen emergent property; movie rentals. A Hollywood movie can fit on a single 120 minute VHS tape but not a 60 minute Betamax tape.

WHAT WE WANT –  the funny thing about the VHS/Betamax machines is that they were designed first and foremost as “recorders”. When people imagined using the technology they always thought about recording. Recording TV shows, TV movies, and football games. Its what we THINK WE WANT. We never figured out that it didn’t work all that well. So all VHS/Betamax machines included a TV Tuner and write heads and a clock and a really bad interface to start recording at a certain time.

LESSONS LEARNED – VHS won because of its 120 minute tape length and Blockbuster Video (maybe porn). We paid for and lived with extra recording technology junk because that is how we saw ourselves using it.

NOTE: I know the proprietary nature of Betamax was a big part too but that aspect says more about how the minds at Sony work rather than how our minds work.

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2 Responses to “VHS vs. Betamax”

  1. das L Says:

    so, what’s the main factor going to be that wins the hd dvd vs. bLue-ray battLe?
    apparentLy bLockbuster is going to be supporting bLue-ray:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6762621.stm


  2. […] vs. Blu-Ray In the comments on the VHS vs. Betamax post, DasL asks: so, what’s the main factor going to be that wins the hd dvd vs. bLue-ray battLe? […]


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