‘Okay grandpa, just what is Betamax?’ - I hear some of you young whippersnappers ask…
Betamax (also known as Beta, as in its logo) is a consumer-level analog-recording and cassette format of magnetic tape for video, commonly known as a video cassette recorder. It was developed by Sony and was released in Japan on May 10, 1975.
The first Betamax device introduced in the United States was the LV-1901 console, which included a 19-inch (48 cm) color monitor, and appeared in stores in early November 1975. The cassettes contain 0.50-inch-wide (12.7 mm) videotape in a design similar to that of the earlier, professional 0.75-inch-wide (19 mm), U-matic format.
Betamax is obsolete, having eventually lost the ‘videotape format war’ to VHS. Despite this, Betamax recorders were not discontinued until August 2002. Betamax cassettes were available until March 2016, when Sony stopped making and selling them, alongside MicroMV.
^ information and image is taken from the Wikipedia article for Betamax - to which more in-depth info can be found in the link.
An introduction to the Original Trilogy on Betamax…
Continuing on with some of the more obscure and oft-forgotten formats that the Original Trilogy saw releases for a long time ago… on CED, on VHD, on Video8, on V2000, on VCD, and on Super 8 formats…
1982 was the year Star Wars was released on home video (VHS, V2000 & Betamax) - a full five years after the release of Star Wars at the cinema.
VCRs did existed as far back as 1975 - and many people did ‘record’ the showings of Star Wars on TV onto a blank tape when the film was eventually aired on tv back in 1982 in the US (via PPV; something which only half a million people could access at the time).
Yet very few people had VCRs due to the considerable cost at the time - especially in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Later, the Trilogy was shown on US network TV - 1984 for Star Wars, 1987 for Empire Strikes Back, and in 1989 for Return Of The Jedi.
In fact Star Wars was still running at some cinemas in the US fourteen months after being released on home video (in 1982).
This was a time when rentals made up the vast majority of the videotape market, and it would be several more years before Star Wars was available to own at a price which many fans may have been able to afford (in 1982 to buy Star Wars on tape was circa $80, and a VCR could cost circa $600).
Not to mention that home video viewers were still only able to view more than half the picture that had been seen on cinema screens - as Star Wars was cropped (‘panned and scanned’) to fit the dimensions of 4:3 TV sets.
Though Betamax was considered by many to be superior to VHS in quality, it lost out in the ‘format war’ - and the last release of Betamax for the Original Trilogy was in 1986 for Return Of The Jedi (in the UK & US). Betamax never saw a ‘box set’ or ‘3-film set’ release of the OT - as VHS did get in 1988 with the ‘Star Wars Trilogy 3-Pack’ set (links to a 22 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel).
^ information mainly sourced from the The history of the 1977 film on VHS and Beta article at the superb Episode Nothing site.
Some online videos re the Original Trilogy films on the Betamax format…
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #4.1: ANH VHS vs. Betamax (1982 - 1987)’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVKHVBmF_wE - a 20 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #3: ANH on VHS and Betamax (1982 - 1983)’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM8Q9EJTziw - a 16 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel.
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #88: Early ANH Tapes Revisited’ (including Betamax):-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esy-5LOaARA - a 15 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel.
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #210: Betamax Video Rental Library Editions’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeaxLj0Je8s - a 9 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel.
'From the Star Wars Home Video Library #341: ‘Revenge Of The Jedi’ - Trailer Beta Cassette:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHuLGpM4Tso - a 5 minute video at the Nathan Butler youtube channel.
‘The Starship Review - Ep. 6: Star Wars Trilogy on Betamax’ (all 3 tapes are rental copies from an old video store):-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EXCzLfSpkw - a 4 minute video at the JPFAN5 youtube channel.
Betamax Cover Art for just some the Original Trilogy releases (as found on the superb www.starwarshomevideo.com)…
^ image from the 1982 USA release of Star Wars: www.starwarshomevideo.com/2020/01/star-wars-usa-1982-beta.html
^ image from the 1984 release of Empire: www.starwarshomevideo.com/2020/01/the-empire-strikes-back-usa-1984-beta.html
^ image from the 1986 release of Return Of The Jedi: www.starwarshomevideo.com/2020/01/return-of-jedi-usa-1986-beta.html
More cover art and info for further variances of the Betamax releases (including rental tapes) - as we all as releases such as ‘Caravan Of Courage’, ‘SPFX: Empire Strikes Back’, and ‘The Making Of Star Wars’, can be found at:-
Rare cover art and info for a 1986 Norwegian rental copy of ‘Return Of The Jedi’, can be found here:-
An image of ‘Star Wars: Droids’ being available for rental on Betamax…
A few more informative videos on the Betamax releases for other Star Wars releases…
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #21.4: The Making of Star Wars and SP FX: ESB on Betamax’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrlRAQW8u48 - a 3 minute video from the Nathan Butler youtube channel
‘From the Star Wars Home Video Library #211: Betamax Making of Star Wars (1980)’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWYfzXphu3U - a 5 minute video from the Nathan Butler youtube channel
‘Clip - Star Wars & the Optical Printer (1986) BETAMAX’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4g4RMM8COW0 - a 12 minute video from the Edutainment Edutainment youtube channel
Reviews & Information:
• SWonVideo.com Page for Star Wars Betamax releases - by Video Collector
• StarWarsOnHomeVideo Page for Star Wars Betamax releases - by projectcclarke
• Holocron Vault: Betamax Info - check the 1982, 1984 & 1986 pages for OT Betamax info
• The SW CAD: Betamax Info - at the SW Archive Database
• DavisDVD•com’s Information Pages on OT Betamax releases (and other formats) - SW : ESB : ROTJ : Misc
• Star Wars comes home: The history of the 1977 film on VHS and Beta - 2014 article at Episode Nothing
• From the Star Wars Home Video Library #143: The Empire Strikes Back 1984 Preorder Form - video from Nathan Butler
• Star Wars on Betamax and VHS? - 2010 forum discussion on Rebel Scum
• Collectibles for the Outer Rim: VHS releases - 2015 article at SW•com (listed in here for info)
• Flashback 1975: The VCR Is Born - 2018 article at Sound & Vision
• 30th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Monumental Decision About Betamax - 2014 article at Slate
• Betamax: Tidbits - at the Beta Info Guide
• How Betamax Was Going to Change Your Life, According to Sony - 2015 article at Mental Floss
• 1975. The 1st ever Betamax VCR. The Sony LV-1901 - article at Rewind Museum
• The rise and demise of Betamax - 2020 article at CultRFace
• Betamax is dead, long live VHS - 2015 article at The Guardian
• Betamax is dead - 2015 article at EW
• A Product of Genius: A Eulogy for Sony Betamax (1975 – 2016) - 2016 article at Flashbak
• RIP Betamax — Sony officially kills analogue video format after three-decade fight with rival VHS - 2015 article at EP
• 5 things you may not know about the Betamax - article at LegacyBox
OriginalTrilogy•com threads related to the OT on Betamax:
• Info Wanted: anyone done a OT betamax and from star wars to jedi preservation? - 2005 thread, by skyjedi2005
• Info Wanted: Anyone ever do a Betamax transfer of the Oriignal Trilogy as a preservation? - 2009 thread, by skyjedi2005
• Theater Performance Preservation - 2010 thread, by none
• Theater Performance Edition: Empire Strikes Back betamax bootleg preservation. (Released) - 2013 thread, by Video Collector
• Theater Performance Edition: Return of the Jedi betamax bootleg preservation (Released) - a 2013 thread, by Video Collector
• PAL Betamax question… - a 2005 thread, by SilverWook
• Slightly OT: Betamax tape surgery question… - a 2005 thread, by SilverWook
^ There are also mentions of Betamax releases in some of the Videotape threads in the ‘The Home Releases and Formats of the differing versions of the OT films…’ section of the An Index & Help Thread for Original Trilogy Discussion.
With more Betamax discussions in the ‘Original Trilogy Preservations - VHS / Videotape, CED & Laserdisc sourced’ of the An Index Of Projects & Help Thread for Star Wars Preservations thread.
An old postal competition where the 1st prize was a 50" tv, betamax recorder and copy of Star Wars on Betamax:
A magazine advert from 1975 for a Betamax recorder…
About the Betamax format as a whole…
‘How Sony’s Betamax lost to JVC’s VHS Cassette Recorder’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddYZITaxlTQ - a 4 minute video from the engineerguy youtube channel
‘Betamax: Old Technology Returns Once More’:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4YbM_PVZcM - a 35 minute video at the CCGFilms youtube channel
Obligatory Wikipedia Page for the Betamax format: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betamax
Techopedia for info on the Betamax format: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/32378/betamax-beta
VHS vs Betamax - The Difference: https://kodakdigitizing.com/blogs/news/what-is-the-difference-between-betamax-and-vhs
Total Rewind article on Betamax: http://www.totalrewind.org/betamax.htm
As ever, if you see any mistakes or broken links please let us know - or have anything for inclusion to the above info too. 👍