Today is VCR Day. It commemorates the date in 1975 when Sony Corporation supposedly released the Betamax videocassette recorder (VCR) made specifically for home use. Some histories place the release in November 1975. In any case, it beat JVC’s Video Home System (VHS) to market by a year.
A VCR records the analog audio and video of a television broadcast or other signal source onto a removable, magnetic tape videocassette for subsequent playback. A programmable timer allows the user to schedule the recording to initiate, run and conclude while unattended. It can also play back prerecorded tapes.
The history of the VCR reaches back to the Ampex VRX-1000, released in 1956. Due to its substantial size and prohibitive cost of $50,000, it was affordable only to television networks and largest individual stations. Toshiba, Philips, and RCA joined the fray; Sony partnered with Ampex for a while to share technology.
In 1965, Sony introduced the reel-to-reel type CV-2000—CV stands for Consumer Video—as its first home-use model. (One ad shows the price as $695.) In spite of Sony’s marketing, it was mainly used for medical and industrial applications. Companies jockeyed for position for another decade.
There are many theories about why Sony won the battle to beat JVC to market in 1975 only to lose the war. One irrefutable fact is that each videocassette format was compatible only with its own VCR, ensuring that VHS and Betamax would never be able to play nice.
Sony may have gambled on their customers’ desire for quality over quantity, making higher definition tapes that could record up to one hour of programming. While we value that today, it was much less of a selling point in 1975, when simply being able to record a show and watch it was more of a priority than being able to parse every speck of dust on M*A*S*H in hallucinatory detail.
When JVC released its VCR a year later, it used VHS tapes that held two hours. By the time Sony caught up, it was too late. VHS had become the standard. In 1981, Betamax had only a 25% market share. By 1986, it had dropped to 7.5% and continued to decline. Although it began to sell VHS recorders in 1988, Sony continued to make Betamax recorders until 2002 and only stopped making Betamax tapes as of March 2016.
Of course, VHS didn’t stay on top forever. JVC stopped manufacturing standalone VCRs in 2008, long after DVD and Blu-Ray players had supplanted them. Streaming services hope to put them out of business, too.
Can a direct neural interface be far behind? As long as it doesn’t require the skull drilling we see in science fiction movies and the monthly fee is good, we say bring it on!