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The format wars are over as Sony calls time on Betamax

TOKYO - The format wars are finally over. Sony has announced it is to cease production of its Betamax video recorders and will only make 2,000 more machines.

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However, in the end it was defeated not by rival tape format VHS -- which purists have long argued is inferior to Betamax -- but has been seen off by the advent of digital technology.

Betamax was the original video format, released by Sony 27 years ago. However, it was soon outstripped in popularity by rival Japanese firm Matsushita's VHS format, despite Betamax offering better quality.

From a peak of 2.3m units produced in 1984, Sony produced only 2,800 Betamax machines in the 12-month period ending March 2002.

The end has been a long time in coming after Betamax was first withdrawn from sale outside Japan in the 1990s. Owners of Betamax equipment, however, will not be left high and dry. Sony says it will continue to offer repairs and make tapes for the machines.

Despite the fact that the movie industry now makes a vast amount of money from the video industry, it was initially opposed to the video recorder.

In 1976, Universal City Studios took Sony to court, accusing the Japanese electronics giant of contributory copyright infringement, on the basis that taping television shows was illegal. However, Sony eventually won the case, which ran for almost 10 years.

In a statement, the company said: "With digital machines and other new recording formats taking hold in the market, demand has continued to decline and it has become difficult to secure parts."

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