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VHS Better than BetaMax?

I know I have always heard the other way around, but this artictle:,12449,881780,00.html
begs to prove differently.  Pretty interesting read about the mix of marketing and technology that I thought some people on this board would appreciate. He also goes into talk about why the WINTel box is superior to other OSes.
This was originally posted on slashdot (twice) so you may have already seen it.

Matt Watson
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Here's another article on the same thing but more indepth:

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Absolute rubbish. This article is just an exercise in stating the obvious.

Every person I've heard mention this they always use it in the context of technical superiority. It's often used as an excellent example of how better technology doesn't always win out.

Anyone with half a dead brain cell could say that the better 'whole product' won - when the definition of a 'better whole product' is essentially that it won. Clearly every better 'whole product' in the world always wins - otherwise it wouldn't be the best 'whole product'.

I can't believe an article like this could get into the mainstream press. Ah, but it is the Guardian . . .

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Don't you read the Guardian Neil?

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

This is more important than it may appear at first sight.

The free marketeers (those that say it takes zero people to change a light bulb because if the light bulb needed changing the market would do it automatically) have always been unhappy wiith examples of better technology being killed off because of market dominance by another inferior technology ("path dependence" is the technical term.

Two of the examples always given are the Betamax video format and the Wankel rotary engine. Neither of these two claims hold water (the Wankel was produced in the 70's and proved to be horrifically inefficient), and it has been a long time since even the most devoted Apple freak has pretended his product is actually the third in the list.

However with the Dvorak keyboard there is a problem. It simply is faster, the problem of keys locking (in fact the suggestion that the QWERTY keyboard was chosen to be the slowest possible to stop this is an urban myth) disappered half a century or more ago, and with computers there is no need to even change the hardware.

The answer of the free marketeers is simple. They simply lie. The actual article is

Policy and Path Dependence
From QWERTY to Windows 95
Stan Leibowitz and Stephen E. Margolis

and all of the arguments he uses against the Dvorak keyboard were clearly answered  at

However Margolis simply ignored the refutation of his claims and continued to repeat his original article as true.


What overwhelming interest does an obscure professor of Economics from the University of North Carolina have in upholding the virtues of a keyboard layout that nobody actually has any financial interest in?

The answer is given in the title of the an article you get on the first page when you do a search on Google for Dvorak + betamax

"Techno Myths vs. Consumer Choice

Is Microsoft a Threat?"
Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis

Margolis appears to receive a (very handsome no doubt) retainer from Microsoft in order to testify on their behalf when the question of anti-trust arises, and if tit can be proved that an unregulated market always produces the best result depsite "path dependencies" then the DOJ have a much weaker case.

Another interesting thing is that the only "serious" articles on this are those by Margolis and Liebowicz, excluding of course the refutation by Brooks mentioned above. Yet one keeps on finding articles in web and press (including the economist though I cannot access it) that state the Qwerty's superiority is a myth (there is even one site that goes as far as to state that there are tests that prove QWERTY's superiority, which is quite untrue). What appears to have happened is that because Marogolis regularly repeats his arguments in right wing think-tanks it has become accepted as fact by lazy journalists.

So looking behind the scenes we actually have an interesting scenario with a couple of  academics whose intellectual curiousiity appears to be dulled by the comforts of corporate sponsorship, a collection of journalists who can't be bothered to check their sources, and a lone voice (Brooks) outside both the academic and media establishment who is completely ignored.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

OT ...

The Wankel Rotory Engine has not completely disappeared. Mazda's racing team uses them (and won Le Mans in 1991). Additionally, Mazda is introducing the rotary RX-8 model this year after addressing many of the efficiency/emissions concerns. This is certainly a niche market, but rotary is not as dead as betamax for consumers.

(I am not affiliated with Mazda, but I do like their cars.)

Devil's Advocate
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

More OT -

Back in the 70's, Mercedes experimented with the Wankel, going so far as to construct a drop-dead beautiful car called the 'C-111', indicative of it's 400 HP multi-rotor Wankel engine (I believe they had a 3 and a 4-rotor version, the 3 rotor having somewhat less power, but I don't recall clearly anymore, though the three '1's' of the name came from the 3-rotor version). The car, constructed with off-the-shelf components for aspiration and ignition, would do 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, with a paint-stripping top-end of 186 mph. No turbos, no super-chargers. Their aerodynamic and chassis design efforts were remarkable as well, producing a highly slippery shape whose center of pressure was close to the CG -- without resorting to any sort of spoiler or vertical fin arrangement, and a low polar moment of inertia. Damn it was beautiful, and very very hot. They later removed the Wankel and used the chassis/body combination (in some cases with wings/fins attached) as a test bed for research on their turbo-diesel engines. Some more recent pictures have occasionally appeared of the C-111 outfitted like this (with wings/fins), but running the turbo-diesel engines. The Wankel C-111 was a fairly quiet project, as far as I know, but man oh man Mercedes made a hell of a car there.

The Wankel is inherently superior to the reciprocating engine dynamically (10K RPM on the tach was no big deal for the Wankel), but did have a disadvantage of greater mechanical complexity in sealing the combustion and exhaust portions of the 'cylinder'. Mercedes had to wrestle with rates of seal wear vs seal performance. It's likely that metalurgical and ceramic materials advances since the 70's may have made it possible to get better seal wear and associated emissions characteristics out of the engine now. The car probably could have gone racing if they'd wanted to do that with it, but like the gas-turbines that appeared on the circuits briefly years ago, there are difficulties in making sure you're comparing apples to apples regarding power output, and displacement in determining car classifications--figuring displacement for a 6 cylinder reciprocating piston engine is easy; not so for a 3 rotor wankel, much less for the gas-turbines.

sorry about the OT, but the Wankel was a fascination of mine back then, and the C-111 was probably the hotest thing on wheels ever built with it, though it never saw the open market. Of course, with performance like that, it'd be pointless to even own one outside of Germany -- you get a horse like that you've got to be able to let her run, and it's kind of hard to get onto the A6 or the A8 from the USA.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

>And when people use the VHS v Beta analogy, they are
>not indicating a market failure but their own ignorance.

Beta is better than VHS.

There. I stated my ignorance. This is stupidityness. TV stations world wide (as far as I know) use Beta all the time. A friend of mine is building OB units for TV broadcasts and all they use is DigiBeta cameras and video recorders.

Anything other than that is just useless for broadcasting.

So there is always a question what problem you set out to solve. VHS is better for renting porn, but just wont cut it for broadcasting.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Beta video system used for professional broadcasting is not the same as the consumer Beta system (they are incompatable) - comparing the professional Beta to consumer VHS is comparing apples to oranges. And the new DigiBeta is yet an entirely different thing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

So there is always a question what problem you set out to solve. VHS is better for renting porn, but just wont cut it for broadcasting.

The technical superiority of Betamax was not disputed.  What was said was that the technical superiority of Betamax was irrelevant to the market.  The quality of the average TV picture meant that the superiority was not evident to the average customer.

Picture quality was less important to the market than length of tape. 

Ged Byrne
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Ok just curious here, how does SuperVHS compare to Pro Beta? I use SVHS tapes on my 8 track digital audio tape recorder and I have to get them from broadcast supply houses as that is where they are used. Is it a rare thing? Do only a small number of broadcast stations use SVHS? Seems to me SVHS is more common than the pro Beta being mentioned - my understanding is that SVHS is what's used in the news cameras they take out into the world, but as I said, I use them for audio not video applications.

Ed the Millwright
Friday, January 31, 2003


> my understanding is that SVHS is what's used in the
>news cameras they take out into the world.

This is my understanding as well, SVHS cameras is used for handheld news gathering, say in war zones and such where you face the risk of having to ditch the camera and run for your life instead.

Pro Beta is used to my knowledge when doing TV studio stuff as well as OB-broadcasting of say different kinds of sports or other types of shows (rock concerts, scene plays and such).

Friday, January 31, 2003

I thought DivX was the new porn standard...

Dunno Wair
Wednesday, February 05, 2003

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