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The Betamax Format

Betamax Tape

Betamax was developed by Sony and launched in 1975. It was the first commercially successful home video standard. In the famous format war which followed, Betamax lost to JVC's VHS system.

Betamax began the home video revolution. For the first time people were able to do three things:

Technical Specifications

Tape Width: 12.70 mm (½ inch)
Tape speed: 1.873 cm/s
Cassette Size: 156 X 96 X 25 mm
Record Time: Up to 215 minutes. Most standard Betamax tapes are 60 minutes.
Video bandwidth: Approx 3.2 MHz
Horizontal resolution: Approx 250 lines
Vertical resolution: lines for NTSC, lines in PAL


Betamax has an audio-only mode which allows the entire bandwidth to be used for sound. Because the video tape machine uses a helical scanning recording head, this means higher fidelity recordings are possible compared to stationary-head audio tape recorders.


Betamax had lost the format war to VHS by the late 1980s, but a staunch niche market of supporters meant that Betamax machines were still manufactured in America until 1993. Production continued in other parts of the world until 1998, then only in Japan until ceasing altogether in 2002. These days Betamax equipment is a rarity found mainly in the care of collectors.