Betaphile Club 1988-1991
Are you an OS/2 Warp
fan? Have you participated in a discussion about the advantages of
vs. the more popular Windows 95?
Do you argue the benefits of
Unix? Or vice versa? Or either of them over
Windows NT? How about
Intel Pentium Pro microprocessors?
Are you a Macintosh
afficionado? If so, you can understand how a technically superior product
can lose ground to an inferior, though more popular, product; Even with a
head start. You might also understand how someone could be passionate about a
product and want to have a club, not unlike
or Harley-Davidson fans.
Simply put, the Beta video format is a better system. SuperBeta and ED Beta
furthered that still. Beta owners liked the features of their machines,
features that weren't available, or weren't of the same quality on other
formats. Many chose Beta after doing side-by-side comparisons with VHS
machines. However, for years, because of its smaller market share, the Beta
format and its supporters were treated as second class citizens.
The Beta format had been declared dead by many starting as far back as
the late '70s. Even though the Beta format was at the forefront of video
technology, the first format to develop various features, the first Hi-Fi
video recorder, the first camcorder, and generally a full year ahead of the VHS
camp, it was constantly being referred to as obsolete. After years of either
being ignored or seeing nothing but anti-Beta press, and not wanting to see
a good thing abandoned, Beta lovers (``Betaphiles'') found the need for a
user's group to defend their interests.
On January 11, 1988, Sony announced that
in addition to Beta, they would begin marketing a VHS recorder later that
year. Betamax owners, used to being treated as second class citizens for
choosing a superior format by others, were fearful of becoming second class to
even the company that created the Beta format and with it the Home Video
revolution. This event prompted me and a video-hobbiest friend to start such
a group early in 1988.
Why Beta is better than VHS
Both Beta and VHS are 1/2'' video cassette recorder (VCR) formats based
on azimuth helical scan technology. This being the case, still, there are many
technical aspects of the two formats that differ. A good explanation of video
technology on the web is
Magnavox's Video Technology Handbook.
An outline (that will be expanded soon):
- Because they both spin at 30 times per second, Beta's 21% larger head drum
results in 21% higher video head writing speed and larger video bandwidth and
higher fidelity recording.
- Wider video tracks than VHS results in higher Signal-to-Noise.
- Video head azimuth for Beta is +/- 7 degrees vs. +/- 6 degrees for VHS
resulting in less crosstalk between video tracks (fields).
- The video's Luminance (black/white) signal frequency modulates a carrier
to a peak of 4.8MHz (5.6MHz for SuperBeta) with deviation of 1.2MHz, VHS
has its peak at 4.0MHz with a deviation of only 1.0MHz, which means larger
luminance bandwidth and a sharper picture for Beta.
- ED Beta's have a peak of 9.3MHz and deviation of 2.5MHz compared
to SuperVHS's 7.0MHz and 1.6MHz respectively. This results in 500-line
horizontal resolution for ED Beta compared to 400-line for SuperVHS.
- Chroma (color) signal is heterodyned from 3.58MHz (NTSC) to 688kHz compared
to 629kHz for VHS, resulting in larger chroma bandwidth and better color for
- The video head design of Beta has only the video heads inside the head
drum rotate, with VHS, the whole drum spins and increases the friction on the
- Sony's double azimuth system for crystal clear special effects accomplishes
with three video heads what VHS takes four to five heads to do, extra video
heads mean more tape wear.
- Beta machines use a smaller version of the U-load of the professional
U-Matic format which grabs it in one place and curves it around the head drum.
VHS uses an M-load which grabs the tape in two spots and pulls it up to the
drum. The U-load puts less stress on the tape, which is why all but more
recent VHS machines would pull the tape back into the cassette after Stop was
pressed rather than letting the tape sit in the M-load position.
- Beta hi-fi uses the video heads to record the audio and modulates a
carrier in the space between the chroma and luminance carriers. VHS couldn't
do this because there wasn't enough room, so it uses two additional heads
to record the audio on the tape and records the video tracks on top of them.
Since both Beta hi-fi audio and video are recorded with the same heads, a
tracking adjustment on another machine then the tape was recorded on will
maximize the quality of both, while with VHS, the best video tracking setting
may not be the best setting for the hi-fi audio. Also, the two extra spinning
audio heads rubbing against the tape cause additional tape wear.
- Because of the way the AGC (Automatic Gain Control) works with the Beta
format, the Macrovision copy-protection system is not effective on Beta.
- Beta tapes use a metal leader and senses a capacitance change to detect
the start or end of a tape, VHS uses a clear plastic leader and a photo
sensor to do the same. Therefore a small hole in a VHS tape will cause the
machine to stop, whereas this doesn't happen with Beta.
Some Beta links
Sony's current SuperBeta model(s)
The Betamax Case: Sony's defense
of home video taping rights
The Beta video format in the UK
Ray Glasser's Betamax Info guide
Beta Lore: Personal
stories of Beta owners
catalog (link nolonger active?)
``Beta es para siempre. Palabra de honor. Palabra de Sony.''
which translates to:
``Beta is forever. It's our word of honor. The word of Sony.''
-- Quoted from a full page December 30, 1988 advertisement in ``La Estrella de Panama''
With a call of ``Betaphile's Unite!'', the Betaphile Club was an expression of
Beta advocacy. The club's purpose was to organize loyal Beta owners, to be a
source of Beta news and resources, negotiate special discounts, generate
contacts among people who shared their hobby, and generally promote the format.
Upon joining the club, a member received a membership kit with a membership
card, one of three bumper stickers, a button, an ``I <heart> Beta''
keychain and a ``Call to Action'' which described the Club's goals and how
they could help further them.
The main benefit of the club was its newsletter,
. It was a full-color publication which was printed six times
a year and ranged from 12 to 16 pages per issue. In all, 11 issues were printed.
included articles about television
and video technology with a more technical bent than the major media. It
focused on Beta video recorders (from consumer to industrial and professional
models) and had news on new models (It was the first to break the news about
the 15th anniversary Betamax, the SL-HF2100) and information from both Japan
and inside Sony itself. It also featured reports on trade shows, reprinted
articles from other publications as well as original articles written by
members, highlighted sources of Beta programming and had special offers from
companies to members that the club arranged.
- Line In: The letters to the editor section
- Your Questions Answered: Answers to video related questions
- Production Corner: Descriptions of home video productions and techniques
- Technical Corner: Explorations inside video technology
- The Home Front: Reports from the Beta grapevine
- The Front Porch: Observations of past, current and future of Television
- Classified ads
Built from small classified ads in video publications, word of mouth,
and being mentioned in the general media, the Betaphile Club grew to
approximately 2,000 members. The Betaphile Club had members in all
50 states, Canada and 8 other countries. A number of questions were asked
on the membership form, here are some Statistics.
Media Coverage of the Club
Media coverage of the club ranged from the good, to the bad and worse.
``fascinating, very informative newsletter for Beta owners''
-- The Perfect Vision
``mad-as-hell newsletter'' -- Entertainment Weekly
``It's official. The Beta format is dead. I have the evidence here in my
hand - the first two issues of The Betaphile recorder...''
-- Burl Burlingame, Honolulu Star-Bulletin
``Vance Haemmerle, the club prez, is a very nice person, an excellent
writer, and is very dedicated to the format.''-- Marc Wielage,
Technical Editor, The Perfect Vision
a listing of coverage...
- Video Magazine, November 1988, Page 22
- What Video? (British video magazine), May 1989
- VideoMaker, September 1989, Page 14
- Entertainment Weekly, April 27, 1990 (Issue No. 11), Page 52
- The Perfect Vision, Summer 1990, Volume 2, Issue 8, Page 16
- Video Magazine, September 1990, Page 66
- Video Review, November 1990
- Newspaper articles
- Milwaukee Journal, October 25, 1988
- Albuquerque Journal, January 1989
- Times-Union (Rochester, New York), April 13, 1989, Page 22E
- Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), April 23, 1989
- Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 12, 1989
- Associated Press wire story, September-November 1990
- Dallas Times-Herald
- Los Angeles Times
- Des Moines Register
- Chicago Tribune
- many others
- TV and Radio
- MTV, Awake on the Wild side, Morning of May 4, 1990
- Live radio talk show guest appearances (1990)
- WBAL-AM (CBS, Baltimore, Maryland, 1090 kHz) hosted by Dan Roderick
on May 3rd at 10:30pm EDT for about 15 min.
- CJAD-AM (Montreal, Quebec, 800 kHz) hosted by Peter Anthony Holder
on May 11th at 12:15am EDT for about 30 min.
- WLS-AM (ABC, Chicago, Illinois, 890 kHz) hosted by Bob Lassiter
on May 25 at 5:00pm CDT for about an hour.
Last modified on February 5, 1998 by Vance Haemmerle