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Contributor(s): Vern Piantanida

Betamax is a videocassette recording ( VCR ) technology that uses magnetic tape 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) in width. It was originally developed in Japan by Sony. Betamax is rarely used by consumers, but is still used to some extent in professional television (TV) production. Nearly all home VCR machines are designed for Video Home System ( VHS ), another technology for video tape recording.

A Betamax cassette is physically smaller than a VHS cassette. The Betamax tape takes a more direct path through the recording and playback apparatus, so the recording and playback operations are faster and more convenient. Some engineers believe that Betamax offers better image quality than VHS technology. However, greater wear occurs on a Betamax tape as compared with VHS, shortening the life of the cassette. Also, Betamax cassettes have less capacity (in terms of recording time) than VHS cassettes.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the VHS and Betamax formats became competitive, and ultimately, for complex legal reasons, VHS captured the home video recording and reproduction market. By 1993, Betamax was essentially obsolete among consumers in the United States. The last Betamax machine for the Japanese consumer market was manufactured in 2002. In recent years, the use of cassette tapes for video recording and reproduction has become less common because of the widespread availability and popularity of DVD technology.

This was last updated in September 2005

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