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Who Invented the VHS Tape?

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By Christian Roemer

Let’s take a trip back in time. We’re going to the 1970s where pants were flared, music was disco, and mustaches were money. Shortly after the Vietnam War ended, another battle was just beginning.

In this case, it was one of the more famous format wars of the 20th century, and the winner would reign supreme over home video consumption for the next 30 or so years.
I’m talking about VHS vs. Betamax.

 

Released in 1975, the VHS--which stands for Video Home System--was developed by some really smart folks in the JVC company. A Japanese company, JVC was battling against a titan of home video technology, Sony, for home video format supremacy. At the time, Sony went all-in on its Betamax technology, and they controlled basically everything about it.

 

That’s where JVC and VHS comes in. JVC had a pretty radical idea: they were going to invent a home video format but allow anyone to license it for free. Whereas Sony was going to charge other companies to manufacture Betamax, JVC would let any company manufacture VHS tapes for free. When JVC decided that the VHS tape would have open licensing, it was basically a death sentence for Betamax.

 

As the 70s went on, Betamax and VHS continued to vie for market share in Japan, with Betamax surprisingly in pole position to win. Sony was a big brand in Japan, and people had lots of brand loyalty. But JVC wasn’t about to let that stop them, so they looked overseas for market share. That’s when they released their technology in America. With the VHS being easier to use, faster to rewind, and generally more inexpensive because of the lack of licensing fees, America basically single-handedly decided the format war between Betamax and VHS.


The rest is history, so to speak. By the time the 90s rolled around, practically every home in the world had a VCR, a library of VHS tapes, and a camera that could record directly onto VHS tapes. From the early 1980s to the late 1990s, if you wanted to watch a movie, you watched a VHS tape. The phrase, “Be kind, rewind,” was injected into the English lexicon, and VHS tapes became a cultural force.


Unfortunately for VHS, their time on top would come to an unceremonious end with the invention of a little thing called the DVD. Smaller, sleeker, no need to rewind, and better picture quality were just a few of the reasons that DVDs kicked VHS tapes to the curb. Now, VHS tapes sit dormant in basements and closets everywhere, rueing the day that they were defeated by frickin’ laser beams.


Sadly, the shelf life for VHS tapes is quickly nearing their end too. The magnetized tape that makes VHSs function only lasts about 35 years or so. That means if you have old home movies on VHS tapes that you don’t want to lose for forever, you should probably get them digitized ASAP.

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