The first videocassette recorder, or VCR, was the Sony VO-1600, introduced in 1971. Using Sony’s proprietary U-Matic 3/4-inch tape cassette, the heavy and expensive device had a counter but no timer, a problem rectified the following year when Philips released the N1500, which played 1/2-inch tape cassettes and cost about half as much as the VO-1600. Another 1972 entrant into the VCR market was CartriVision, whose devices were built into console TVs and played pre-recorded square cassettes that could only be rewound at video-rental stores (in other words, you could only watch a tape once). Even though the entertainment systems were sold in Sears, the company folded in just a year.

In 1975, Sony unveiled its first Betamax VCR, the LV-1901. With a retail price of $2,300, the device was bundled with a 19-inch television and had two tuners, which meant you could watch TV on one station and record a show on another. Although the quality of Betamax tape and Sony’s equipment was regarded by many to be high, the format lost out to VHS, which was introduced in 1976 by Japanese electronics manufacturer JVC. Unlike Betamax tapes, which ran for just one hour, the first VHS cassettes ran for two, which made the new format attractive to consumers and movie studios alike. In addition, JVC licensed its technology to all the major electronics manufacturers, forcing Sony to go it alone with Betamax. But by 1988, even Sony would be making VHS machines.


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