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Why 8mm won't replace VHS or VHS-C

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Why 8mm won't replace VHS or VHS-C
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1989, The Syracuse Newspapers

A reader wrote to complain that I have been ignoring the hottest thing in video -- 8mm tape. He says 8mm is going to take over from VHS. Actually, he didn't say anything as lucid as that. He called me a name a couple of times while ranting about 8mm.

The letter was an example of the hate mail I receive every now and then.

Nearly all of it comes from videophiles.

I'm not sure why, but it seems you can insult computer users and audiophiles and partisans of this or that odd gadget and not get a peep out of them. Maybe they are used to abuse.

But rub up against a video nut the wrong way and you'd better call Lloyds of London. You'll need an insurance policy against letter bombs.

The Beta fans were once the loudest complainers. But now that Sony has all but given up on its Beta system and every other manufacturer has dropped it entirely, the Beta boosters have slunk away.

Some of them have undoubtedly switched their allegiances to 8mm, which was also invented by Sony.

This is understandable, since Sony is the most innovative manufacturer in the electronics business. If Sony makes it, many of us feel, it must be good. But the issue here is not the parentage of the 8mm system, but whether it is likely to become the new standard format within the next few years.

This same question can be put another way: Is the VHS format likely to become obsolete soon? Will the millions of VHS recorders and hundreds of millions of VHS tapes suffer the same fate as Beta? Basically, my answer is no. I have three reasons.

First, VHS is too entrenched. To take over from VHS, any competing system would have to be much better or much cheaper and 8mm is neither.

Second, VHS is now the universal medium for the distribution of movies on video tape. With Beta out of the way, video stores and videotape-duplicating companies have settled on VHS as the way to go.

Third, a truly superior system is waiting behind the curtain, and 8mm manufacturers know this. That's the main reason they aren't pushing it very hard. The new system is laser-disc video, using discs that can be recorded on and erased.

Let's go over each of these in turn.

VHS video recorders have become the world standard. Only in Japan, where Sony still has clout with Beta, and in some areas of South America is there any competition from BetaŚand even in those areas Beta is fading just like it did here a few years ago.

This worldwide standardization is helping to set VHS up as the unchallenged standard. Tape duplicators, libraries, audio-visual companies, schools and many other organizations that make use of videotapes are at last able to settle on one format. If they send a VHS tape out to clients, for example, they know that everyone who wants to view the tape will be able to see it on a VHS machine.

I can't emphasize this point too strongly. It is just as important, in the video-entertainment industry, as the standardization of driving on the right was to the auto and travel industries nearly a century ago. Further, everyone who enjoys video recorders has become used to the fact that the machines and their tapes are cheap. A store near me is advertising three different VHS VCRs for less than $200, and even the smallest grocery stores sell tapes for $4 or $5. 8mm systems cannot match VHS for price, and probably never will.

One reason they never will is the advent of laser recording. The first record-and-erase laser discs are now available for computer applications, with audio and video close behind. The audio and video versions are still a few years away, but that is close enough in technological time to keep 8mm designers from making an all-out assault on VHS.

This is no more than an intelligent guess, but it's likely that laser video will kill off tape-based recording in a relatively short timeŚwithin a decade, probably. There are so many advantages to erasable laser recording and so many disadvantages to tape that the changeover is almost guaranteed to be fast and cheap.

It'll be fast because so many companies and so many consumers will want to abandon the old system. And that's why it will be cheap. Competition will make sure of that, just as it did in the case of compact disc players.


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