Brain Food: History lessons - Make it available ... VHS versus Betamax

Your product may set the pace, but if it doesn't deliver what people need it's heading for the scrapheap. When Sony unveiled Betamax in 1975, it pioneered a new era of home entertainment. But it was soon killed off by VHS, a technically inferior spin-off from JVC. The key? Betamax tapes were compact, but lasted only an hour; in contrast, you could record a whole film on a bulky VHS cassette. Plus people cared less about the marginal difference in picture quality than the big gap in price. Then, when video rental took off in the early '80s, film studios signed up to the more popular format. If you hired a film, you had to have VHS. Bill Gates heeded the lesson. Microsoft software was always available and compatible, if not technically superior. Now, as next-generation DVDs roll out, Gates and Sony are caught in a new format war. At first, it was Sony's Blu-ray that had the legs, but Microsoft has weighed in behind Toshiba's HD DVD. Critics are saying Blu-ray is needlessly elaborate, and kit is retailing at around twice as much as its rival's. Ring any bells?

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