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How To Avoid Getting Caught In A Technology Crunch: Learning A Lesson From The Past

I have been around for a while, so I can still remember when movies and TV shows first became available for home viewing on videotapes. Unless you were rich and could afford a three quarter inch professional video recorder and player like Elvis had in his bedroom, you were left with no options until the Phillips VHS and Sony BetaMax machines and formats came along. They were two competing technologies that allowed you to purchase a home video recorder and player for a what was eventually a few hundred bucks in the late 1970s, then rent or buy pre-recorded tapes in either format, or purchase blanks to record your favorite TV shows using units with built in TV tuners.

Although you could argue it offered a better quality viewing experience with less tape errors, BetaMax made the unfortunate choice of making their video tapes more expensive and available only in odd running times instead of the standard 60, 90 and 120 minute formats that VHS offered for a reasonable price when they first started. The lower tape prices, more standardized recording times which were excellent for recording TV shows, and the addition of HQ technology to improve picture quality for the VHS format meant the end of the Sony BetaMax format as a popular home video choice.

While the video tape format wars raged between the Phillips VHS and Sony BetaMax, video discs about the size of a long playing vinyl record album also hit the market. I remember riding to the video store with a friend of mine who had just spend a fortune on a new video disc player and joined a club at the store that sold the machine. Being a member of that club allowed him to rent as many pre-recorded video discs as he wanted at one time for a discount fee. He told me that the salesperson swore that this was the technology of the future and that both VHS and BetaMax would disappear within a year (it was 1979). Well the salesman had the right future, but the wrong disc and time frame.

I knew a guy that wrote tech articles. His specialty was home video and I told my friend that according to him, large video discs would quickly succumb to something called laser rot which caused the images on those large video discs to quickly degrade thanks to the laser used to read the images in those disc machines. Well, it turned out he was right and VHS outlived those huge laser discs. Just when VHS probably felt safe, Sony took a second shot across their bow with those tiny 8mm tapes that could be used to fit in much smaller home video recorders, players and portable camcorders.

Sony probably felt confident, but VHS shot back with a smaller VHS tape called VHS-C designed just for VHS portable camcorder use. VHS was still dominate even after Sony came up with Hi-8mm tapes which produced an amazingly clear image with digital quality stereo sound. VHS answered with S-VHS for standard machines and SVHS-C for portable camcorders and the wars continued until everyone started talking about the new DAT format. The DAT machines were extremely pricey recorders and players that used equally expensive Digital Audio Tapes that were about the size of Sony’s 8mm variety.

DAT was supposed to be the next big thing and a lot of Japanese tech companies invested heavily in that format; but alas, it was all just too expensive and too late. DVDs, which were the same size as a CD, were looming on the horizon and took over everything video from everyone else once they became affordable and licensees had enough deals with the big entertainment companies to offer a decent number of movie titles in that format. The lesson learned from all this is that paying attention to inside industry buzz as available on Facebook and Twitter, reading tech reviews and watching for upcoming products can save you from putting all your eggs in one technological basket. Especially when it comes to portable devices like cell phones and tablets. It is important to remember that what some say will be the next big thing, could merely be the next big bomb.


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