Early History of VHS Tapes

“VHS” stands for “Video Home System,” and it was developed by the Victor Company of Japan or “JVC.”

Engineers at JVC began to develop the VHS technology in 1971.  Originally, JVC collaborated with Sony and Panasonic to design a single format for consumers.  However, no sooner did this collaboration begin than Sony and Panasonic each went their own way to begin working on their own competing formats.  Sony began to work on Betamax, and Panasonic started to work on the (now) obscure form VX.

JVC’s first iteration of VHS was set forth in a planning manual, at the end of 1971, that set forth the 12 objectives of the VHS format.  These objectives included the following:

  • The picture quality of VHS must be closely similar to a regular broadcast.
  • The VHS player had to be compatible with an ordinary television set.
  • Each VHS tape should be able to store 2 hours of video.
  • VHS tapes must be interchangeable between VHS players.
  • The VHS system must be able to be integrated with other devices, like a video camera.
  • VHS player should be affordable, easy to use and maintain.
  • Players should be affordable, easy to operate and have low maintenance costs.

1972 proved to be a difficult year for the commercial recording industry in Japan.  As a consequence, JVC cut its budget and stopped officially funding the development of VHS.   Unbeknownst to JVC, the two JVC engineers who began the VHS project, continued to work on it during this time.

In 1973, these two engineers had built a fully functional prototype of the VHS system.

In 1974, Sony – pressing the argument that Japanese consumers did not want dueling formats (VHS vs. Betamax) — was able to pressure the Japanese government to attempt to adopt Betamax as the single standard for the Japanese recording format.   Sony licensed this technology to other companies in order to de facto cause Betamax to be widely adopted as the preferred consumer format.

JVC continued to believe that consumers preferred an open standard that allowed them to share videos across devices from a variety of companies.  By partnering with various companies (including Panasonic, Hitachi and Sharp) in Japan, JVC was able to stop the Japanese government from imposing a single consumer standard.

1975 proved to be the pivotal year.  In this year, Sony released the Betamax format to the public and once again pressured the Japanese government to adopt a single consumer standard.  However, by this time JVC’s alliance with several other Japanese companies (and their lobbying of the Japanese government) was enough to stop the government from adopting a single standard (Betamax).

During the balance of the 1970s, Betamax and VHS competed for consumer adoption.  While Betamax may have had certain technical advantages, consumer eventually flocked to VHS which became the consumer preference.

If you have memories stuck on either of these early formats, you might want to transfer VHS to DVD or transfer Betamax to DVD to preserve your memories and be able to enjoy them again on your DVD player


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