After 40 years, Sony retires Betamax

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In the late 80s or early 90s somebody broke into my parents house and decided to make off with their VCR. That is until they got it outside on to the porch and realized that it was Beta rather than VHS…I can picture them saying “Beta? F* that shit, I’m not carrying it.” so they simply left it on the porch.


At some point in its early history the Vanderbilt Television News Archive started using Betamax, thinking, with good reason, that it was superior to VHS and was the better choice for long-term storage.

I understand that ended up costing them a pretty penny. I didn’t realize they could have kept using Betamax lo these forty years but sharing their archives was the problem.


Many or most professional situations used beta rather than VHS.


Wasn’t this an actual gag on The Simpsons?


A few years back I was visiting my folks in Florida. One of their big activities is cruising a circuit of thrift shops. At one my father scored something he’d been looking for for years: A tape of “The Sons of the Desert,” a Laurel & Hardy film.

Which he had trouble getting into his VHS player.

Yeah, you can guess why.

I got him a DVD copy for Christmas that year.


i cant read japanese. Are we perhaps talking about digibeta? (are the tapes the same, just with digital info written on magnetic tape?) I know, for instance that as of about 5 years ago, HBO had tons of content on digital beta and were only then slowly converting to a hard drive storage based system…


Yeah, digital betacam is the only descendant of betamax still around…until now anyway.


I was amazed when I worked at a production house and found that betacam/betamax was still the lingua franca of professional film production. We dumped everything to beta from the Avid.

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Back in the salad days of my youth, my Dad made the terrible choice of picking Beta over VHS. However, a few years later, and as I entered puberty, my buddy found/stole a box of Italian porn that was, for reasons I still don’t understand, all recorded on Beta, and who had the only Beta machine among my pals? I was a porn king for a very short while.


They used BetaSP which was a slightly different format.

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I would assume that if its not about the consumer grade Betamax (which was purportedly still widley used in Asia) then it would be BetaCamSP the current pro grade analog version of the tech. That was still plenty used as of a few years ago in broadcast and especially industrial/corporate/institutional video production models. DigiBeta I think still gets used quite often as does its HD variant, though not as a storage/archive format. The digital tapes are still cheaper than professional proprietary memory cards, and there’s a whole backwards compatibility thing going on. So I doubt any of the more recent digital variations of the thing would be discontinued.

They used BetaCam which was the pro grade variation. BetaCam went out years ago, BetaCamSP was the more recent higher res SD format that’s still hanging around. Its mostly disused at this point, though it hangs around in certain ends of the business. The current dealy is variations of DigiBeta, fully digital higher res version of the same format, which is fading in the face of HDCam the HD version of, again, the same technology. There were/are other tape formats, like DVCAM and its derivatives. But you seem to see those less often these days. Almost everything seems to be moving on towards high density flash memory, often on proprietary cards or drives (though less often these days).


Beta was the king of physical media, IMO! Those things can take abuse and will still work probably decades (centuries?) after every cheap plastic disc has become beyond useless.

What struck me as funny is that both Digibeta and HDCam use essentially the same chassis as the old home Betamax format, at least for Sony’s sub-40-minute tapes. (The larger-capacity tapes are encased in larger chassis, but the decks play and record on both sizes.) There are subtle differences in the chassis so you don’t accidentally stick a tape into the wrong deck, but a 32-minute Digibeta and a 32-minute BetacamSP and a 32-minute HDCam all look pretty much alike physically, except the Digibetas are blue, the BetaSPs are black with a gray clamshell case, and the HDCams are gray with an orange stripe and a black clamshell case. And the HDCamSR is black with a blue stripe.

Here’s my progression with these things: From 1998 until 2002, we mastered Will & Grace on Digibeta, 4x3 only for the first two seasons, then 16x9 starting with Season Three. In 2002 we started mastering the show in Hi-Def, so our filmed dailies were transferred to HDCam, and our finished episodes were mastered on D-5 tape for a couple years, and eventually on HDCamSR (which has 12 tracks of audio, so we could include a full 5.1 surround mix without having to encode it as a 2-channel Dolby E stream, which was kinda fiddly and a pain in the butt on D-5).

On The Mentalist we started with the same kind of workflow, shooting on film, transferring to HDCam dailies reels, and mastering on HDCamSR. Starting in Season Five we switched to shooting on the Arri Alexa digital camera, and became file-based rather than film- or tape-based, though we still mastered on HDCamSR. (We delivered the show to CBS in both tape and file formats, but the HDCamSR broadcast master tape was really just a backup to the file.)

And now on Fuller House we’re entirely file-based. We shoot on files, we master on files, we deliver on files. Eventually we’ll make some tape backups. Eventually.


Everyone wants restore, no one wants backup :wink:


I tellya, one well-placed EMP and this show’s gone forever. But Will & Grace endures on film, down in the salt mines, preserved for the ages.

That comforts me.


I seem to recollect that Beta format held sway in Europe long after VHS prevailed in the Great Format War here in the US. When scratch tapes for our ancient machine began to run low, friends told me you could still easily order from across the pond.

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Betacam and derivatives not Betamax. Betacam was a pro format that used half inch tape so as to not reinvent the wheel, the small tapes for camcorders were the same physically as a Betamax cassette but what was put on a tape was entirely different. The L500 tape that ran 1, 2, or 3 hours on the consumer machine (Beta I, II, or III speeds) ran only 20 minutes on the pro machine.

I wonder if those tapes are still made. Betacam was succeeded by Beta SP, Digi-beta, and now with HDCam and HDCam SR. These tapes used the same shells but holes in the shell told the machine what it was (different tape formulations).

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Same chassis between some of the pro decks like Digibeta and HDCam yes. But nothing like a home Betamax deck. That is ridiculous.

Does boingboing know they illustrated this story with a joke image designed to poke fun at PlayStation?