Love My Beta VCR But Lived With The VHS VCR – Fifty Plus Going On Fifteen

TapeNearly forty (40) years have passed since I purchased my first VCR after much research and consideration. The VCR first hit the market during the infancy of national cable television.

We did not have hundreds of channels to watch or video streaming. The only option prior to VCRs was to watch antenna TV which gave you up to four channels (4) or cable TV which gave you twenty (20) channels.

Without the internet to research, you had to use newspapers,  magazines, limited television coverage, or visit the local appliance store to determine which VCR was best.

There were two (2) primary players in the VCR war during the late 70s and early 80s. The companies and formats were Sony Beta and RCA VHS and the technology was expensive.

  • The Beta VCR cost approximately $1,000 in 1978. In today’s dollars, the Beta VCR would cost $3,750.
    • Minimum wage in 1978 was $2.65 per hour so you would need to work 1,415 hours to purchase, nearly nine (9) months.
  • The VHS VCR cost approximately $700 in 1978. In today’s dollars, the VHS VCR would cost $2,628.
    • Minimum wage in 1978 was $2.65 per hour so you would need to work 991 hours to purchase, nearly six (6) months.
  • As a comparison, the average new car cost in 1978 was $6,380 and the same car would cost $23,180 today.
  • The Beta and VHS VCRs were both a small fortune.

Owners argued about which VCR was better much like today with game consoles and smartphones.  In the end, it was not quality that won the battle but price and the limited differences between the two units.

  • At low speed, the Beta was superior to the VHS when recording but with a limited recording time on Beta, VHS was superior.
  • The Beta had a smaller tape footprint so the Beta unit normally took up less space.
  • The movies you purchased on Beta could be judged as better but the quality was not worth a price tag of 30% more.

When Beta and VHS both came out, you had to order movies using the mail and they would cost anywhere from $60 when on sale to more than $100.

  • There were no video rental stores established so your options were to purchase the movies or record the movies on television so you would capture commercials.
  • The early VCRs also did not have timers to set recording times and if it took more than one tape to record, you had to put in a new tape when the original rewound and popped out with a clunk.

Based on price and other subtle reasons, the VHS VCR won the battle by the mid-80s so many of us were stuck with worthless Beta videotapes once our Beta VCRs broke down.

I thought I would never see a Beta VCR again until I reported to the USS Newport News (SSN-750) in 1994 and found four (4) Beta VCRs onboard.

  • The funny thing is the US Navy discontinued reel to reel movies and moved to Beta VCRs on submarines instead of VHS VCRs so nobody would pilfer the movies.
  • So, in a roundabout way, I am sure Beta recovered its investment after all since the Navy had purchased $10 hammers for $300 so each Beta VCR probably cost the Navy $30,000 each.
    • Think about it, there were 400 ships in 1994 with a minimum of four (4) Beta VCRs per ship for a total of 1,600 Beta VCRs.
    • The Navy’s invested value would probably be $48 million.
    • It looks like I should have invested in Beta VCRs after all.

Unluckily, VHS and Beta only paved the road for Video DVDs that came along not ten (10) years later. Since that time, technology has just marched on.

  • Beta and VHS VCRs may be obsolete but I still miss the first time I popped the Great Escape in and watched a movie on my schedule without commercials. What a feeling of freedom in the late 70s.
  • There are many other long-lived and short-lived formats that were utilized to watch movies at home but the VCR tape and DVD format were the leaders.

Although this was a quick overview about Beta and VHS, I must ask:

  • What did you first watch movies at home on? 
  • Did you prefer Beta or VHS?

Wishing you health, safety, and success. Isn’t it great being fifty plus going on fifteen.

Jay Patterson

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