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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May 10, 1975

Welcome to another Tuesday Timeline adventure!  This will be a bit of a break from the "everything five years old is new again" theme, as nothing exciting happened on May 10, least not that I could find, anyway.

But, a lot of things did happen on May 10 throughout history...have a look and see what I mean!

70 - The Siege of Jerusalem takes place

1534 - Jacques Cartier visits the area that would become the Canadian province of Newfoundland

1773 - The Parliament of Great Britain passes the Tea Act

1774 - Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are crowned King and Queen of France

1775 - Fort Ticonderoga is captured by Colonial militia lead by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen

1837 - The Panic of 1837; Banks in New York City begin to collapse and unemployment skyrockets

1865 - Jefferson Davis is captured by American troops in Georgia on the same day that William Quantrill is mortally wounded by Union soldiers in Kentucky

1872 - Victoria Woodhull becomes the first woman to be nominated for the United States presidency

1893 - The Supreme Court of the United States rules that a tomato is not a fruit, but a vegetable, under the Tariff Act of 1883

1899 - Actor/dancer/singer Fred Astaire (d. 1987) is born in Omaha, Nebraska

1908 - Mother's Day is observed for the first time in the United States

1922 - Actress Nancy Walker (d. 1992) is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1924 - J. Edgar Hoover is appointed the first director of the FBI, remaining in the position for forty-eight years until his death

1940 - Germany launches full on attacks during World War II, invading Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg - Winston Churchill becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

1954 - Bill Haley & His Comets release "Rock Around the Clock" - the first rock and roll single to top the American music charts

1957 - "The Sex Pistols" frontman Sid Vicious (d. 1979) is born in Lewisham, London, England

1970 - Bobby Orr scores "The Goal" to win the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins

1977 - Actress Joan Crawford passes away in New York City

1994 - Four years after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa

1999 - Poet and illustrator Shel Silverstein dies at the age of 68

2005 - Vladimir Arutyunian attempts to kill President George W. Bush by throwing a live grenade at him while making a speech in the nation of Georgia - luckily for Bush, the grenade does not detonate

2013 - One World Trade Center officially becomes the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere - twelve years after the original World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001

And for celebrity birthdays, we have the following famous faces blowing out candles today; Carl Douglas, David Clennon, Jim Abrahams, Donovan, Graham Gouldman, Dave Mason, Caroline B. Cooney, Meg Foster, Miuccia Prada, Rick Santorum, Victoria Rowell, Bono, Linda Evangelista, Young MC, Craig Mack, Helio Castroneves, Kenan Thompson, Odette Annable, and Lindsey Shaw.

So, since we've already established that 2011 is NOT the year we'll be visiting this week, let's see what year we WILL be looking at.

May 10, 1975.  Before I was born, but let's go with it.  On television, it was the year that "All In The Family", "Good Times", "Happy Days", and "M*A*S*H" were some of the top shows on television.

And thanks to the power of DVD technology and online channels like Netflix, you can watch these shows over and over again!  Heck, if you have one of those digital video recorders or Tivo, you can record these shows from classic sitcom channels and watch them at your disposal now!

Of course, when I was a kid, none of that stuff even existed.  But we did have those old fashioned machines...I believe they were called VCR's back in the day.  While VCR's were great back in the day - and spawned a video store explosion during the 1980s and 1990s - they weren't exactly foolproof.  I can't remember the number of VHS tapes I pitched in the garbage because my VCR ate them.  That being said, it was the only way you could watch the newest episodes of "Dallas", "Dynasty", "Miami Vice" and "The A-Team" if you had to work during the times that they were on.  Just set the timer on the VCR, have it record onto a tape, and voila!

Now, VCR's and VHS tapes have always been around since I was born.  Though my family didn't get their first VCR until 1988, I do remember seeing video stores in my town at least three years prior to that - though admittedly anything before 1985 is a little hazy to me.

But...did you know that there was a predecessor to the VHS tape?  A device that some would consider better quality than the VCR?  Something that first made its appearance in Japan exactly 41 years ago today?

Ladies and gentlemen...I present to you - The Betamax player!

The technology behind Betamax was brought to the world by Sony - the same company that brought us the Walkman and the PlayStation.  Released in Japan on May 10, 1975, it wouldn't be released in North America until November of the same year.  And interestingly enough, the first Betamax recorders were sold with a nineteen-inch colour monitor.  It was kind of similar to the televisions with the built-in VCR's or DVD players.

And the reason why the product was named the Betamax?  Well, in Japanese, the word beta was used as a way to describe the signals that were recorded onto the tape - and the fact that when the tape ran through the transport, it kind of looked like the Greek letter Beta kind of gave a little bit more insight towards the naming of the product.  And Max was simply an add on to describe the product's greatness.

And many people will argue that the Betamax technology was better than VHS tapes.  Although I've never used a Betamax player, I have heard from others that say that the picture and sound quality surpassed the VHS tape quality, and that in general, the Beta tapes were much more durable and lasted longer than VHS tapes. 

So, why did the Betamax flop, and the VCR thrive?

Well, there were quite a few reasons. 

One factor could have been cost of manufacturing, which lead to the cost of the products themselves.  When JVC began releasing VCR's in Japan in 1976, and RCA began selling them in the United States in 1977, they were manufactured at a much cheaper cost than Sony was manufacturing the Betamax.  As a result, the price of a VCR was significantly less than the price of a Betamax.

(Though, keep in mind that a VCR in 1977 was worth thousands of dollars as opposed to the 40 dollars or so you'd pay for one today.)

Ultimately though, the main reason why the Beta bombed was due to one major factor that determined whether a person would go Beta or go VHS.

Time.  Specifically the time that was allowed on a standard tape.

Now, having recorded several programs and movies on VHS cassettes in my lifetime, I know all about how VHS tapes work.  Depending on whether you have the setting on SP, LP, or SLP, VHS tapes could run from 2 hours of recording time to 6 hours.  Or, if you had one of those extended tapes, you could make it an 8 hour long tape.  Of course, the SP length meant crisper, clearer images and sharper sound quality, but you only had two hours to work with.  On the other hand, you could make a 6 hour tape, but have poor sound quality and not as clear images.

(I usually just set it to four hours.  It was the best compromise, and you could put a movie, as well as have room for four episodes of The Simpsons...well, if you pause it during commercial breaks, anyway.)

Now, comparing the length of time on a VHS tape to a Betamax tape, and sucked.

On a standard Betamax tape, at least when they first came out in Japan, Sony made the decision to limit the length of time to just ONE hour of recording time.  That wouldn't even tape a full movie that aired on television.  Whereas JVC marketed their VHS cassettes with two hour tapes, thus allowing people to record full-length features on the tapes.  And although Sony would start manufacturing Beta tapes with longer recording times in the 1980s, by then the VCR had the market cornered, and Sony simply couldn't catch up.  By 1980 alone, 60% of the North American market had embraced the VCR, and by 1988, Sony accepted defeat and began manufacturing their own VCR's.

Here's one final and sad footnote.  Although VHS tapes overtook Betamax tapes in the 1980s, Beta tapes continued to be manufactured long after Betamax recorders ceased production.  You could still buy brand new Beta tapes as late as 2015 in some remote stores!  Sadly, in late 2015, Sony made the decision to cease all production of Beta tapes, and in early 2016, the last Beta was made.

Another piece of technology joining the electronics graveyard.

R.I.P. Betamax.  May 10, 1975 - March 1, 2016

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