Bye Bye Betamax!

Shoppers browse DVD software at Yamano Music Company main store, Ginza shopping district, Tokyo, Japan, 10-4-00
What does a Betamax videotape machine have in common with the 8-track audiotape player of 1970s fame?

Both lost the life-or-death contest to be the technology of choice in the marketplace.

The 8-track hit the scrap heap a long time ago - except for in a few aficionados' homes and cars (one New York cabbie still boasts of a large and functional 8-track collection) - and Sony now says it plans to stop making the Betamax machine by the end of this year.

The announcement Tuesday in Tokyo marked the final chapter of Sony's legendary battle with Victor Co. of Japan to dominate the home video machine market.

Sony said it will refocus its efforts on DVD and other technologies now dominating the market.

During Betamax's 27-year run, the fabled brand sold 18 million units worldwide in a race against VHS technology from its archrival Victor, which is also known as JVC, to set the video format standard.

Betamax was first to market, arriving in stores in 1975. Its sales peaked at 2.3 million units in 1984.

But the decision not to share its technology with rival companies proved to be Sony's fatal mistake.

In a classic case of the underdog winning the race, VHS - short for "video home system" - had clearly won the battle by the mid-1980s. The technology used now in millions of video recorders around the world is JVC's.

While the war between competing standards is ensconced in business lore - with many die-hard fans still debating the pros and cons of the two technologies - Sony spokesman Shoko Yanagizawa blames the decision to halt production on the new era of DVDs and other advanced digital technologies that are making the videocassette obsolete.

Even for JVC, videocassette technology is losing its luster. The company lost money two of the last three fiscal years and is forecasting losses for the year that ended March 31.

In the United States, some national retailers, including Circuit City and Borders, have started phasing out sales of VHS movies in a nod to the growing popularity of DVDs.

Overseas production of the Betamax ground to a halt in 1998. In Japan, Sony produced just 2,800 units in 2001.