The Japanese Enter the Video Race

Sony Starts Running

Although Ampex appeared to have the upper hand in video technology, it made a major mistake; ignoring the home consumer. After the initial development of the VTR, Ampex’s engineers were unable to compete in the development of the VTR to the VCR. A small company in Japan, however, was ready to take on this task and the Sony Corporation was born.

Sony's founder, Masaru Ibuka, began work after WWII by setting up the Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujyo company (later Sony) in 1946. Along with Akio Morita, Ibuka created Japan’s first tape recorder called the G-Model in January 1950. The G-Model was able to financially secure Sony’s future through government purchases used mostly to replace courtroom stenographers and for police. (Lardner p.44) However it would be Sony’s helitical scanning VTR technique that would revolutionize video technology.

Heletical Scanning

In 1959, Sony changed VTR production by introducing the idea of helical scanning for video recording. Instead of recording in a zigzag pattern like the older Ampex VTRs did, Sony created heads that recorded in an elliptical pattern. (Dobrow p.12) This allowed for more information to be stored on the videotape and, therefore, VTR who used helical scanning needed less tape. Instead of using the usual 1/32 of a video frame, the helical scanning technique allowed for 1/2 of the frame to be used for video storage. Also, by doing this Sony was able to eliminate two heads out of the quadraplex system used by Ampex. When, the president of Ampex, George Long heard of this new dual head system, he immediately began to make deals with Sony, hoping to revitalize Ampex’s technical developments.

In July 1960, Long visited Ibuka and Morita in Japan where the negotiations in information sharing began. Sony was highly invested in the new technology of transistors that had come to replace vacuum tubes, while Ampex’s engineers still relied on the tubes. Sony agreed to produce transistor circuits for Ampex’s VTRs in exchange for Sony’s right to produce VTRs to non-broadcast customers. (Lardner p.63) Sony, therefore, was able to copy Ampex’s existing technology under their own name; they received the rights to future developments through transistor technology. By 1961, Sony released the SV-201 VTR that used the helical scanning technique and transistors, but the market was limited to mostly educational uses, but Sony envisioned a future home market for the VTR. Ampex on the other hand decided to expand on the broadcasting market through its invention of the EDITEC.

Industry Editing

Before 1963, the editing techniques used by the major broadcasting companies (NBC, ABC, & CBS) involved physical cutting videotape and splicing it back together in a similar manner in which film is edited. With Ampex’s release of the EDITEC, video editing changed to a completely electronic medium. The EDITEC allowed for frame by frame video editing that increased the speed and easy of editing. This advancement allowed for the instant manipulation of data and video animation also had its birth here.

The instant electronic editing would become a major factor in commercial television when in 1967; Ampex released its VR-3000. The VR-3000 was a portable color VTR that used the editing capabilities of the EDITEC to manipulate the image. Specifically, this revolutionized the commercial sports industry by allowing slow motion and instant replay. The first use of this technology came in 1967 when ABC taped the World Series of Skiing in Colorado and slowed down the images so viewers could follow the action. (Kunin p.3) This technology was useful to the broadcasting world, but Ampex’s failure came through its lack of development in the home market.

Home market

In 1965, Sony was able to produce the world’s first consumer VTR, the CV-2000. The CV-2000 used similar reel to reel tape as Ampex’s earlier VTRs, but incorporated Sony’s new heletical scanning technique. By doing this, the CV-2000 was able to use a 1/2-inch tape that could record up to one-hour worth of programming. Being priced at $1,250, the CV-2000 was far affordable to upper crest of the home market compared to the $30,000 price tag of Ampex’s VTR a decade earlier. (Lardner p.67) Ampex also tried to penetrate the home market that same year by releasing its own home VTR for $1095. However, Ampex’s home VTR did not sell well because of its huge size and larger tape (1 inch) that ironically had a short recording time. (Dobrow p.12). Sony seemed to have the upperhand on the home video market, but there would be one major change that would come through the tape design. Instead of marketing a reel-to-reel VTR, Sony decided that the best market would come from tape stored inside a cassette tape, and the VCR was invented.