March 5th 2021 - The Worst Enemy of the Best

in LeoFinance9 months ago

Betamax and VHS video cassette (source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you watched debates in cryptosphere for a long time, you probably noticed many claims about projects and products failing or not gaining traction despite of being obviously superior in quality to their counterparts and competitors. So many competitors are proclaimed to provide better security and privacy to users, faster and cheaper transactions, yet they forever remain under the shadow of Bitcoin and Ethereum. There are many reasons for that, and most often it is explained by the lack of proper marketing. But reasons can be different, and it could be found in example briefly mentioned in one of the Taskmaster's recent posts.

This example is known as Videotape Format War and it began roughly half a century ago, with the advent of video cassette recorder (VCR), a device that was affordable and practical enough to allow average citizens watching videotape recordings in their own homes. Number of electronics companies in the world started a race to produce their own models, with each having their own format of A/V recordings used in the cassettes and hoping that they could become general standards. The best known were Betamax, developed by Sony, and VHS, developed by JVC in mid 1970s.

Soon, the fierce rivalry developed between two format. According to many experts, Betamax was, at least initially, superior to VHS because it provided better quality of sound and images. Yet, VHS gained an upper hand relatively fast and in a matter of years Betamax all but disappeared. By mid 1980s, when video stores began to appear in my country, everyone used VHS.

This is usually explained with JVC having better marketing, but it is only part of the answer. The real reason why VHS won is in JVC sacrificing quality for the sake of quantity. Betamax cassettes provided superior image and sound, but it could run for only 60 minutes. VHS, on the other hand, provided inferior image, but its cassettes could be played for 120 minutes. The latter became important due to VCRs providing an essential services to viewers in their homes – recording television programmes for later (and more convenient) watching. A feature film, or at least an episode of favourite TV show could fit into VHS cassette, but not in Betamax.

So, the average user, when choosing between VHS and Betamax, chose quantity over quality. The images and sounds might have been poor, but they were good enough to enjoying favourite TV shows. And then, just as it is now, Good Enough was the worst enemy of The Best.

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I seem to recall reading that Sony's refusal to allow Betamax to be licensed for the adult movie industry was also a factor in the demise of that format?

With the inferior VHS format having no qualms about being used for blue movies, they won.

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