Digital boom booting Sony workhorse Beta

Hardware staffers have been told there's no sales future for the ¾-inch format

Sony Corp.’s respected professional video-gear division, for years the recording and playback equipment of choice for the TV and video industries, is undergoing something of a sea change as full digitization of image data heaves into view.

On its way out, Sony staffers note, is the division’s reliable breadwinner for decades, its ¾-inch Betacam videotape format. As close to a universal standard as exists in an industry crazed by unique national and regional regulations and perquisites, new Betacam hardware (including editing suites, cameras, VTRs and the like) apparently no longer is being manufactured by the company, though existing gear likely will be serviced by the factory well into the 21st century.

The reason being put forth by the Sony folks is that, in keeping with the rest of the company and the industry as a whole, emerging digital-ready tape formats are crowding the older analog formats out of the picture. The company is making a major commitment to its proprietary 8 mm Handicam and 1-inch Digicam formats, and feels these formats will better handle the move into full digital-image production and reproduction.

All of this won’t happen overnight. Though most of the ¾-inch recorders have been discontinued from the factory production rolls, many still new in boxes exist in the retail channel, and the installed base is so enormous (estimated at more than a million units) that Sony will be supporting the existing users for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, Sony’s future is so tightly bound up in digital product that hardware staffers have been told there’s no sales future for the ¾-inch format.

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