Betamax was a 1/2-inch home video tape recording format engineered by Sony. It was derived from the earlier professional 3/4-inch U-matic video cassette format. Unlike VHS, it had no guard band, and used recording azimuth to reduce cross-talk. Some say the name "Betamax" was derived from a Japanese phrase (beta raw + gaki write). However, the system's trademark punningly incorporated the Greek letter Beta.
Compared with VHS, the size of the cassette is smaller and is widely said to have a better picture quality than VHS.
For home use Betamax lost over VHS despite a huge marketing push by Sony. In his autobiography, Sony founder Akio Morita attributes this to Sony's refusal to license the format, allowing the technically inferior VHS format to get "critical mass". Others believe that the shorter recording time of Betamax was the factor that retarded its early consumer adoption.
Once VHS had achieved a critical mass in terms of the installed base of home video recorders, the rest of the Betamax marketing chain collapsed. Eventually, Sony started producing its own VHS format recorders, effectively conceding the "format war". The last American model appeared on the market in 1993, and overseas production of Betamax VCRs had completely halted by 1998. Sony continued manufacturing a limited number of Betamax VCRs for the Japanese market until 2002, when they officially announced the end of the Betamax consumer line.
The process by which VHS won over the apparently superior Betamax format has become a classic case study in marketing, to the point of the creation of a nounal verb "to Betamax", as in "Microsoft Betamaxed Apple out of the PC market".
Technologies such as Betacam evolved from the Beta format and became the most widely used professional recording format by television stations until it was surpassed by digital media at the end of the 1990s.
Also called Beta or Betacord.
One other major result of the introduction of the Betamax technology was a lawsuit, Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the legality of home videotaping was finally determined. The court judgement held that home videotape recorders were a legal technology since they had "substantial non-infringing uses".