Published on 22nd Nov, 2023 by Cable Chick

The Video Media Graveyard

The Video Media Graveyard

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology and entertainment, certain media formats have risen to prominence only to fade away with the passage of time. Either the result of being superseded by a leap forward in technology or beaten by a comparable competitor, the transition from one dominant format to another has been a long recurring theme in the history of media consumption.
Many video formats were only ever released in Japan, the UK or The United States and unfortunately, to cover them all would result in an article that would give Stephen King's 'IT' a run for its money in terms of word count. So in the interests of 2023 attention spans, we're only going to explore the most prominent formats that made their way to our Australian shores. We may cover the most interesting of those that never crossed the pond in a future article but for now, let's dive in.


Betamax (1975 - 1996)

First release: Hello Dolly (1969) - Final release: Mission Impossible (1996)

Introduced by Sony in 1975, Betamax was a magnetic cassette tape format that offered high quality video playback for the time and became the first widely available home video recording system which quickly gained popularity among consumers eager to bring the magic of the movies into their living rooms

Beta tapes feature two internal spools known as the 'supply reel' and the 'take-up reel' of which only the former is visible from the outside. When fully rewound, the magnetic tape is spooled around the supply reel which is then transferred to the take up reel as the tape plays. When the tape is inserted into a player, the machine pulls the tape from the cassette and wraps it around a 1500 rpm rotating video head drum which reads the contents of the tape before passing it through to wind onto the tapes take-up reel.

Betamax's introduction marked a pivotal moment in the history of entertainment, setting the stage for the emergence of the home video market. But unfortunately for Sony, it's not always best to be first to market and despite its technological advancements, Betamax found itself embroiled in a format war against the VHS system, a battle it would ultimately lose.

While Betamax would provide a higher resolution than its VHS rival, its Achilles' heel was its limited recording time. Sony's original Betamax tapes could only record for one hour, whereas JVC's VHS tapes, introduced shortly after, could record two hours or more and were significantly cheaper. The format war took a toll on Betamax, and by the mid-1980s, VHS had emerged as the dominant home video recording system.

Betamax may have lost the videotape wars, but its legacy as a pioneering format cannot be understated. Sony's creation paved the way for the widespread adoption of home video recording, shaping the landscape of home entertainment for decades to come. While Betamax may no longer grace living room shelves, its impact on the evolution of technology and consumer habits is undeniable.

VHS (1976 - 2006)

First release: The Young Teacher (1972) - Final release: The History of Violence (2005)

Introduced by JVC in 1976, VHS was a competing magnetic tape format that would ultimately emerge victorious over its competitor Betamax. Larger than its rival with 2 visible reels, it would quickly become an essential part of every household and usher in the video rental boom despite its lesser video quality.

So how did VHS come out on top when the Betamax technology was superior in almost every way? Although both formats essentially work the same, as is usually the case in such matters, it all came down to money. As Betamax was owned by Sony and only Sony, studios and consumers had to pay a premium to get their hands on it, the 'Sony Tax' as it were. But then came along JVC with their VHS format which was an essentially open source technology accessible to everyone so needless to say manufacturers were quick to jump ship resulting in cheaper tapes and VCRs for the consumer market.

VHS would also give rise to the mighty video rental market. Everyone over the age of 30 remembers how much a part of the culture visiting a video store on a Friday night to rent the latest new release was. Unfortunately we also remember the exorbitant late fees! Video rental stores became cultural landmarks, offering a vast selection of movies that families could enjoy in the comfort of their homes. This accessibility democratized the film industry, making a wide range of content available to a broader audience and provided the possibility for anyone with a video camera and a few hundred dollars to make a 'shot on video' film and have it distributed to video stores.

Despite its technological limitations compared to modern standards, VHS remains a nostalgic symbol for those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. VHS tapes, with their distinctive labels and grainy video quality have found a second life as collector's items, evoking a sense of nostalgia for an era when the anticipation of rewinding tapes was part of the movie-watching experience.

The VHS era may have come to an end, but its impact on the evolution of home entertainment is indelible. From the format wars of the 1980s to the rise of video rental stores, VHS played a crucial role in shaping how we consume visual content. As technology continues to advance, the legacy of VHS lives on in the hearts of those who fondly remember the ritual of pushing a cassette into a VCR and hearing the familiar hum of magnetic tape signalling the start of movie night.

LaserDisc (1978 - 2000)

First release: Jaws (1978) - Final release: Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Most people remember VHS and its eventual replacement by DVD but not everyone may remember there was another contender in between, the LaserDisc. Building on the optical disc technology pioneered by inventors David Paul Gregg and James Russell, LaserDisc was a joint venture between Phillips and MCA and later purchased by Pioneer.

As you might have guessed by its looks, LaserDisc was a departure from the magnetic tape formats of its time. Instead of using magnetic technology, LaserDiscs relied on optical technology, utilizing a laser to read information encoded on the disc's surface. This innovative approach allowed for higher quality video and audio fidelity compared to its VHS and Betamax counterparts.

One of the most distinctive features of the LaserDisc was its size. Measuring 12 inches in diameter, the discs were substantially larger than VHS and Betamax. This larger size allowed for more data to be stored, contributing to the enhanced audio and video quality. The disc's appearance, resembling a vinyl record, added a touch of nostalgia for enthusiasts who appreciated the analog charm. Speaking of analog, one common misconception is that LaserDisc was a digital format, likely due to its resemblance to CD's and DVD's however on launch it was a completely analog format with later incarnations being a combination of analog video and digital audio.

LaserDiscs were not just about superior audio and video quality; they also introduced widescreen presentations, while novel at the time have now become the norm. Some discs included commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes footage and other bonus content, setting the stage for the bonus features that would become standard in later formats. This focus on supplementary content enhanced the overall home viewing experience.

Despite its technological advantages, the LaserDisc faced several challenges that hindered its mass adoption. The larger size of the discs made them less convenient than the compact VHS tapes. Additionally, the players were prohibitively expensive, and the format never achieved the widespread popularity of VHS. As DVD technology emerged in the late 1990s offering similar quality in a more compact form, the LaserDisc era gradually came to an end.

The LaserDisc served as a bridge between the analog and digital eras of home entertainment. While the format may have faded from mainstream use, it remains a collector's item for enthusiasts who appreciate its unique place in the evolution of home video technology. The format's influence is evident in the features we now take for granted in contemporary media, showcasing how LaserDiscs paved the way for the digital revolution.

DVD (1995 - Current)

First release: Twister (1996)

The DVD or 'Digital Versatile Disc' made its debut in 1997, marking a departure from the analog formats that preceded it. Developed jointly by several technology giants including Philips, Sony, and Toshiba, the DVD capitalized on optical disc technology, allowing for significantly higher storage capacity than its predecessors.

DVDs work by encoding digital data, such as movies or software, onto their surfaces using a system of pits and lands. These microscopic variations in the surface represent binary code. When a disc is played, a laser in the DVD player reads the reflections off the pits and lands, and a sensor detects these changes in light. The resulting binary code is then decoded back into the original digital information, allowing the playback of videos, audio, or other data on a compatible device like a television.

One of the key selling points of the DVD was its superior audio and video quality. DVDs provided higher resolution and better colour reproduction compared to VHS and LaserDisc. The digital format eliminated the analog noise and degradation associated with these formats, delivering a crisp and immersive viewing experience that captivated consumers.

The compact size of DVDs represented a major leap forward in terms of convenience. DVDs were smaller, lighter, and more durable making them easier to store and transport. The elimination of the need to rewind, as was the case with VHS tapes, further streamlined the viewing experience.

Building on what LaserDisc previously offered, DVDs went beyond traditional playback by including interactive features and bonus content. Viewers could navigate through menus, access multiple language tracks, and enjoy behind-the-scenes footage, director's commentary, and other supplementary materials. This interactive element added depth to the home entertainment experience and set a new standard for consumer expectations.

The DVD era signaled the end of the format wars that characterized the home video landscape in previous decades. DVDs quickly gained widespread acceptance, eclipsing formats like VHS and LaserDisc. The digital versatility of DVDs made them compatible with various playback devices, from dedicated DVD players to gaming consoles and eventually personal computers.

HD DVD (2006 - 2008)


 First release: The Last Samurai (2003) - Final release: Into the Wild (2007)

Just when you thought the format wars were over! The 'High Definition Digital Versatile Disc' or 'HD DVD' emerged as a contender in the high-definition format battle in 2006. Developed by Toshiba and NEC, HD DVD promised a leap forward in audiovisual quality, boasting enhanced resolution, greater colour depth, and superior audio fidelity compared to standard DVDs.

HD DVD offered technical specifications comparable to Blu-ray, providing 1080p resolution and advanced audio codecs for an immersive home theatre experience. One of the key advantages touted by HD DVD supporters was its affordability, as players and discs were generally less expensive than their Blu-ray counterparts.

Initially, HD DVD garnered support from several major studios, including Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures. Manufacturers such as Toshiba and Microsoft also threw their weight behind the format. This support led to a brief period during which consumers had to choose between HD DVD and Blu-ray when building their high-definition home video libraries.

Despite its initial momentum, HD DVD faced challenges that ultimately led to its downfall. The format war created confusion among consumers, hesitant to invest in a technology that might become obsolete. In 2008, Warner Bros, a major studio supporting both formats, announced its exclusive support for Blu-ray, tipping the scales decisively. Following this announcement, Toshiba officially discontinued HD DVD, marking the end of the high-definition format war.

While HD DVD did not emerge victorious, its legacy endures in the evolution of home entertainment. The competition between HD DVD and Blu-ray spurred technological advancements and drove down the prices of high-definition players and discs. Additionally, the demise of HD DVD reinforced the industry's preference for a unified standard, a lesson that would shape subsequent developments in home video technology.

Blu-Ray (2006 – Current)

First release: 50 First Dates (2004)

Developed by a consortium of leading technology companies including Sony, Philips and Panasonic, Blu-ray was introduced in 2006 as the successor to DVDs offering a significant leap in storage capacity and data transfer rates, making it capable of delivering stunning high-definition content.

Compared to the 4.7GB storage capacity of DVD, Blu-ray discs could hold up to 25 GB of data on a single-layer disc and 50 GB on a dual-layer disc. This higher capacity allowed for high definition 1080p video providing a level of detail and clarity not previously attainable in home entertainment. The format also introduced advanced audio codecs, such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, providing a level of sound quality that rivalled the experience of a movie theatre.

Unlike the format wars that characterized previous transitions in home video technology, the Blu-ray format achieved a level of unity and industry support. Major studios and manufacturers rallied behind Blu-ray, ensuring a more cohesive and standardized approach to high-definition home entertainment.

Blu-ray continued to evolve, introducing 3D capabilities for those seeking a more immersive viewing experience. Furthermore, the advent of Ultra HD (UHD) Blu-ray expanded the format's capabilities, supporting 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) for an even more breathtaking visual experience.

In the age of streaming services, Blu-ray has faced fierce competition from digital platforms however its enduring appeal lies in the tangible nature of physical media and the uncompromising quality it provides. While the market for Blu-Ray is shrinking and its inevitable demise is almost guaranteed, collectors, cinephiles and home theatre enthusiasts are sure to keep the format alive as long as possible.


The story of discontinued media formats serves as a testament to the dynamic nature of technology and consumer preferences. From the format wars of the 1980s to the digital revolution of the 21st century, each era has brought forth innovations that shaped how we consume media. As we continue to witness the emergence of new technologies, it's worth reflecting on the evolution of media and the impact these formats have had on our cultural landscape.


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