Why Betamax and laserdisc never caught on?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Thik Nongyow, Aug 2, 2002.

  1. Thik Nongyow

    Thik Nongyow Stunt Coordinator

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    The betamax is considered a rival to VHS in the 1970s, but it never became a popular video format. Laserdisc provides better video quality than VHS, but like the betamax it never dominated the home video market.

    I am told that both video media are superior to VHS, but for a number of factors never caught on with the buying public. What are their flaws?
     
  2. Kevin P

    Kevin P Screenwriter

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    I think Beta failed because it was a Sony proprietary format that was difficult or expensive to license. VHS, on the other hand, was cheap to license so everyone came out with VHS machines. The longer recording times available on VHS was another edge it had over Beta.

    Laserdisc, on the other hand, never really caught on because it was expensive. A cheap player was about $3-400, a decent player around $1000, and the discs ran $40-60 a pop. Also, with the decline of vinyl in favor of CD, people probably didn't find the 12" discs (which were modeled after LP records) appealing.

    DVD caught on faster because it's inexpensive, flexible, and compact (same size as a CD), and looks and sounds great.

    KJP
     
  3. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer
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    Betamax died for two Reasons

    1) Sony
    2) More vs quality mentality

    Laserdisc never caught on because of two reasons

    1) expense
    2) quality isn't worth the extra expense mentality

    HDTV is liable to suffer the same fate. The quality of picture is vastly superior to what is available now but expense for that kind of quality is too high for anyone (except a few videophiles) to care about.
     
  4. Rob Gillespie

    Rob Gillespie Producer

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    LaserDisc did catch on. Not with the general public, but with film collectors who wanted movies in the best possible home format. It was the first format to bring letterboxed movies to the home, the first to have digital soundtracks, the first to have 5.1 tracks - and the first to deliver goods worth collecting. A relatively successful format for more than ten years. Didn't sell in huge numbers, but it was supported by all the studios. Didn't catch on? Blaah! [​IMG]
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    A number of factors converged in the 70s and early 80s to establish VHS as the dominant home video format, and relegate LD to a niche market. (It was a similar convergence that made DVD a hit when it was introduced in the late '90s. If DVD hadn't come along, LD might have had a second chance, because all the pieces were in place to make a play-only home video system with better-than-VHS quality a success.)
    Try to remember something about the period: Most TV sets were between 13" and 27". Projection TVs were big, expensive, of marginal quality, washed out by any ambient light and had very limited viewing angles. People were becoming familiar with the still relatively new consumer audio tape recording systems. The only way to see a recent movie on television was to wait a couple of years for one of the three networks to air it. People recorded the events of their own lives with still cameras and with inexpensive film cameras, which required that the film be developed, and a projector and screen set up and the room darkened before you got to watch the grainy, silent images.
    The VCR (generically including both Beta and VHS) was not sold as a "movie watching" format, initially. It was sold as a replacement for the 8mm and Super8 camera and projector, a way to make "home movies".
    Only after VCRs had begun to establish themselves in American homes did anybody start releasing pre-recorded movies to play on them - and then the impetus came largely from the porn industry!
    Beginning with Deep Throat in 1972, and Behind the Green Door a year or two later, porn started emerging from the backrooms and stag parties into the American mainstream. Couples started going to X rated movies at semi-legit theaters in the major cities. The stigma was being eroded. But in many areas there were not porn theaters. Home video allowed people to check out these suddenly famous dirty movies in the privacy of their own homes, without fear of being spotted entering or leaving a "dirty movie" theater. Rental stores began popping up, and the major Hollywood studios, smelling money, began to release films on both Beta and VHS. They never intended that the films would be purchased by the general public. The idea was to sell them at very high prices to the rental stores, which would then make their profits by repeatedly renting them.
    Beta, contrary to the propaganda, was not an inherently superior format, nor was the quality difference between an ordinary Beta deck and the best of the VHS decks all that apparent to the casual observer. However, given that JVC was willing to license VHS cheap, lots of low-priced, low-quality VHS decks were sold, and these were visibly inferior to Beta - as they were also visibly inferior to the more expensive VHS machines. Besides, quality wasn't everyone's number one concern, and on those small TV screens, the differences weren't all that apparent. But the proliferation of competing VHS machines rapidly drove down prices, while the longer tape meant that feature films could fit on a single cassette, as they could not with the first Beta tapes. VHS became affordable while Beta remained a high-priced niche product.
    One result was a feedback loop as far as the fledgling video rental industry and the studios were concerned. More people were buying VHS decks, and therefore renting VHS versions of movies offered on both formats. Stores started stocking more VHS. Studios started releasing films in VHS only. Potential VCR buyers, who wanted to rent movies as well as record their kid's doings, went to the video store and saw nothing but VHS - so they walked past the overpriced Beta machines and bought VHS VCRs.
    Within a couple of years families could buy a relatively cheap system that allowed them to make "home movies" and watch them conveniently and immediately - no delay (or expense) for developing, no projector and screen to set up, no room to darken. You could use this same machine to watch pre-recorded movies (mainstream or otherwise) that you could rent from a store down the street. Finally, you didn't have to schedule your life around your (or your kids') favorite TV shows. You could now set a timer to tape the show when it was on, and watch it at a time convenient for you. Given the small sizes of TV screens, the picture quality seemed perfectly acceptable to most people. No worse than the local broadcast TV stations with the snow and interference they commonly suffered from. (The cable industry was just getting started at the time, and millions of Americans had no access to cable. There were no 18" satellite dishes. If you had a satellite dish it was several feet across, you probably lived in a rural area, not a city or suburb, and you probably had a fair amount of money.)
    For several times the amount of money the system described above would cost, you could buy a laserdisc player. It couldn't record anything. It would playback Hollywood movies, but you'd have to stop several times in mid film either to change discs or to switch sides. The discs themselves were big, the size of an LP, and much heavier. Since you'd be watching them on a 13" to 27" TV, the superior picture quality would not be as evident. And since few people connected their home video systems to their stereos, and few receivers or amplifiers were designed with this in mind, the difference in sound quality would be almost non-existant.
    Let's get a show of hands - who is still puzzled that the VCR took off while LD became a niche product limited to film fanatics and the technologically savvy? Or why VHS became the standard format for the VCR, while Beta became an also-ran in the consumer video market?
    Flash-forward to the mid-1990s. Rear projection televisions have become affordable and offer a great picture, viewable from virutally anywhere in the room. Their sales are largely driven by sports, but people soon realize that they're great for movies, too. Stereo televisions and VCRs are common, and more and more people are using the new generation of A/V recievers and amps to get superior sound out of both broadcast (which is now frequently offered in surround sound) and prerecorded material. Everybody already has a VCR and/or a camcorder for home movies and time-shifting. But those newer, bigger screens (even CRTs are commonly available in 32" and even larger sizes, and they're affordable) also show up the flaws in VHS. The colors look smeary, the picture is soft and lacks detail, even in comparison to broadcast TVs. The market is ready for a high-quality playback only system. Folks are already familiar with the 5.25" optical disc, both for music and computer applications. VCD dies a quick death because it is no better than VHS in quality, and you have to change discs. But if there were something like VCD with a better picture, greater storage capacity and better sound...
    Thus the incredible success of DVD. Like I said, if DVD hadn't been invented, LD might have had a second chance, since two decades of movie rentals and purchases had already begun to create a movie-collector audience who cared about quality. (And found OAR more acceptable on those bigger screens.) But DVD beat it to the punch before it could be rediscovered by a new generation. (Except, of course, those of us who discovered it in the years just before the advent of DVD. [​IMG])
    Regards,
    Joe
     
  6. David Susilo

    David Susilo Screenwriter

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    LD never caught on? In North America, maybe. LD was HUGE in Asian countries. In Indonesia where I came from, you'd be having a better chance winning the lottery than finding a VHS rental. LD rentals, however, can be found even in the most remote area of the God Forsaken country. LD players were cheap too. For the EXACT same brand and model number, the price was only about a third of the North American price.

    I remember buying the very same model LD player in Canada at triple the price (about $1000 in Canada, only $300 in Indonesia). This does not only happen once, twice, or thrice, but FOUR times. Same goes with the movies. I ended up importing US LEGITIMATE (not pirated) LD Movies that have been imported to Indonesia from USA back to Canada. After shipping and taxes, I still SAVE about $5 per title. Considering I used to have about 500 titles on LD, that means I saved around $2500.

    The cause of penetration failure of LD in North America is PURE GREED. How can the same player cost three to four times more than in Indonesia? How can any movie after being imported from US to Indonesia, back to Canada, including shipping and taxes still be $5 cheaper than the same title being bought directly in Canada?

    This problem goes to MD as well. I was one of the early adopters of MD. I bought an MD recorder in Hong Kong only at half price of the same model in Canada (and get the 100V-240V power adapter to boot instead of the 110V-Only). I keep buying the MD blanks from Japan because to get one blank in Canada I had to pay $14 per blank whereas in Japan (the very same Sony brand) only cost me $2 (and shipping was $10 up to 20 blanks). Even if I only need one blank, it's cheaper to ship one blank MD from Japan than to go across the street and buy one from a B&M store.
     
  7. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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  8. David Susilo

    David Susilo Screenwriter

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    Joseph, watch your language!

    when somebody sell something is $100, you WILL be able to sell it better than $400. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. The prices of LD players and movies are LOW from the get go in Indonesia, so again, your assumption is also bullshit. Can you get an LD player for US$500 in 1982? Can you get an LD movie for US$20 in 1982? In Indonesia you can! The price never needed to be lowered because it's been low from the get go. Plain and simple. LD businesses flurish in Indonesia because the LD industry have never been greedy.

    VCRs were and still are HUGE in Indonesia, but now only for time shifting. VHS rental was huge UNTIL the introduction of LD. Then one by one went dead when they brought in LDs. LD rentals started emerging in the early '80s. By the mid 80s, there is no more VHS rental. So your argument of LD is bullsh*t. The price of a VHS movie is exactly the same as LD. They both are manufactured in the USA (at least most of them), whereas in Indonesia you can get the very same movies and players for much much much cheaper.

    What do you mean studios can getaway by charging higher? The same Moonwalker LD, for example, I bought one copy in Indonesia for $25 and I had to pay $35. The very same damn movie, pressed by the very same manufacturer, distributed by the very same studio! Again, your assumption is pure bullsh*t.

    What ready-market? In Indonesia, people have to buy multi-system TV because our local broadcast are in PAL, VCRs were and still are in PAL. Why? because ALL of our LD players and LD movies are designed for the US and Japan market. We even get the movies day and date with the US and Japan counterpart. On top of that, we get the LD players day and date with Japan. Again, your assumption is pure bullsh*t.

    Last but not least, the poster asked about the failure of LD penetration PERIOD and NOT failure of LD penetration in USA. Just like the bad guy from Steven Seagal's movie Under Siege 2 - Dark Territory said "Assumption is the mother of all f#ckups!"

    Your logic doesn't go with my examples of MD either. Same manufacturing cost, same model, sourced from the same country, higher electronics import duties in Indonesia than Canada, higher shipping cost to Indonesia than Canada, why are things more expensive in Canada? The same thing goes to the price of most cars, most electronics, and the list goes on. Again, you're commenting on something that you know absolutely nothing about.

    As VCD goes, I'm not going to go there because it's an apple-to-orange comparison. Legit movies in North America versus illegal VCDs in Asian countries, of course it thrives over there. But even then.. why VCD thrives there? THE PRICE IS RIGHT!. Yes the pq is horrible (not THAT bad actually, since the illegal ones were mastered from LD and now DVD), but for US 50 cents with a player of only US$50?.

    A similar thing goes with DVD over there. You can get a DVD player for about 90% of the very same player's price in Canada (but already multi-region chipped) and LEGIT movies for $15 (again, same title sold around $25 here, but this time from different pressing plant because it has Indonesian subtitle). The latest example is Discovery Channel's Blue Planet. $17+15%tax in Canada, $5 including tax in Indonesia. Both legit, both has the same transfer, same content, same cover, just different subtitles).
     
  9. cafink

    cafink Producer

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  10. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    David,
    Calm down. There's no need to make this personal.
    Well, here are two possible reasons: 1) The weak Canadian dollar, 2) Canadian taxes, tariffs and/or import duties, which may be higher than those in Indonesia. There are many reasons why the price of a product will be higher in one country than another, and some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the company that makes a given product. The price difference does not necessarily go into the pockets of the manufacturer.
    Regards,
    Joe
     
  11. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    I bought my first vcr in 1980, about 6 months after vhs became widely available. It was a Matsushita (panasonic parent) built RCA Selectavision. At the time the Beta units I looked at all produced faint diagonal lines in the picture and vhs didn't, though the pic was a bit sharper on the Beta models. Mine was one of the first units that would record up to 6 hours on a T-120 tape, Beta maxed out at maybe 3 hrs at the time.
    Blank T-120 tapes or the longest available Beta tapes cost $19.95 each at the time, and that was a lot of money in 1980, so the extra recording time was a big factor.

    The popular belief that Beta was the superior format is imho an urban myth. A good VHS machine could produce a picture just as good as any beta machine, and the early Matsushita-built top-loaders, sold under the RCA, Panasonic, and Quasar names, were much more reliable than the Beta models of the time. My original one lasted 8 years and only died due to abuse by my first ex's ham-handed kids.

    VCRs were first marketed primarily as time-shifting devices, prerecorded movies were not that plentiful. My first rental experience was from a small kiosk set up in an appliance store, the movies were way too expensive to buy, and remained so for many years.



    LD would not record, but had picture quality very much better than vcr or even broadcast tv. I paid $500 for my first one (I still have it) in 1990, and it's a very basic unit. My main reason for buying it was that some rental stores in my area had started carrying LDs, and when a new release was all rented out on vhs they'd usually still have a copy for rent on LD. The pic quality was very much better, and there was no copy protection so I'd copy a rented LD onto vhs and own it for the price of a rental and a blank tape, which by then could be had for $5.

    VHS movies priced for sell-through were virtually nonexistent in the early 90s. They could be bought when released, but at $80-$100. LD was released day and date, and sold for $45 or so, which meant it was cheaper to buy LD of a film than the inferior quality vhs.

    Until I bought my first dvd player in 1998, I owned more movies on LD than on pre-recorded VHS. LD was viable, but only as a nich market item.

    If dvd had never come out, LD would still be a viable niche market item here in the US.
     
  12. David Susilo

    David Susilo Screenwriter

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    Joe, read my post carefully. Your last post shows clearly that you didn't read my post carefully.
     
  13. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    David and Joe,
    Either move on with this discussion or take it off line! Stop hijacking this thread which is about the reasons why Betamax and LaserDisc didn't go beyond a niche market.
    Crawdaddy
     
  14. David Susilo

    David Susilo Screenwriter

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    Uhmmm, Robert, I did talk about the reason why the format was a niche market and Joe, if you read carefully, claimed that my view is, and I quote, "Pure bullsh*t". It was also Joe who refused to read my post carefully and made a counter argument which assumes (again, wrong assumption by not reading my post carefully) that I didn't take foreign exchange, shipping and duties into consideration.

    Bottom line, extreme price point made LD a niche market in North America. I was just pointing out that LD was NOT a niche market in Asian countries, also because of the LOW price. Price is, after all, everything.
     
  15. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Then I hope this concludes the "tit for tat" portion of this discussion, whereas it can move forward with other points of view.
    However, any further attempts to revisit those same issues between the two members will not be tolerated.
    Crawdaddy
     

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