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Retro video format Betamax finally dies

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Ethan Miller | Getty Images

It might be a surprise to many, but Sony has finally killed off its analogue video format Betamax after a thirty year tussle with rival VHS (Video Home System).

You'd be forgiven for thinking that it had already been discontinued, but Sony only officially ended shipments of the magnetic tapes in a post on its Japanese website Tuesday.

First started in 1975, the tape format fought a fierce battle with JVC's VHS to be the main consumer format used in homes across the world. This was amid an explosion of home entertainment in the 1980s that also included video games consoles.


Much to the detriment of cinemas, consumers found themselves able to record, rewind and play back their content - in what was a forerunner to the on-demand services that we have today.

VHS became the product of choice over Betamax and its success continued into the 1990s. Sony said Tuesday that Betamax recording equipment had stopped being made in 2002 and had seen cumulative sales of about 18 million units worldwide. 1984 was the peak year for Betamax video cassettes, according to the Japanese company, in which they shipped about 50 million tapes.

The final blow in the video format war may seem fairly trivial to people now, as it was effectively finished by the end of the 1990s. The digital DVD - developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995 - trumped the analogue formats and became de rigueur during the 2000s.

More recently, high definition digital Blu-Rays have become popular, as well as internet streaming services like Netflix. Vintage Betamax recording equipment can still be purchased second-hand on eBay for little more than $30 or $40.