Beta Reborn—Sony's Betacam Professional Video Standard

After Sony’s Betamax home video standard pretty much lost the format war to VHS (Beta was first to market in 1975, but VHS, introduced in 1976, had captured 75% of the video cassette recorder [VCR] market by 1981, and in 1987, VHS had 90% of the U.S. market), Sony repurposed the Beta cassette design for an entirely new and incompatible format intended for professional video recording called Betacam.

While Betamax recorded in the “fuzz-o-vision” people accepted for home video in the 1970s and 1980s, Betacam used a tape speed more than five times faster (10.15 cm/sec as opposed to 1.87 cm/sec) and a two head system which recorded separate component video providing full broadcast resolution. This quickly became popular among television stations for news gathering in the field, which could use the lighter video cameras coming on the market and battery-powered Betacam recorders without compromising quality. The faster tape speed originally limited recording time to 30 minutes per Beta tape, but this wasn’t a problem for the news application. In 1987, Betacam SP was launched, which accepted, in addition to standard Beta cassettes, much larger cassettes allowing up to 90 minutes of recording.

Betacam became widely used in broadcasting and professional video production. Equipment remained on the market from 1982 through 2016, and Sony technical support for the gear will end only this year, 2023.