When JVC shocked Sony by refusing to back Betamax as the home video standard, and released their own VHS system, they were effectively declaring commercial war. And in Europe, the Philips/Grundig camp added a third front to the conflict. This format war was to become legendary, an archetypal conflict between content and marketing.

By the time the Japanese formats reached the UK, the companies knew how to attack each other. At first, the key battleground was recording time, both for the convenience of having a whole film on a single tape, and due to the high cost of tape. Betamax was initially launched with a maximum of one hour (like VCR), so VHS responded with two hour tapes. Beta fought off this attack with the "extended play" Beta II; the VHS standard was modified to allow thinner tape and three hour recording. By the time the Japanese formats arrived in Europe, three hours was standard (3h15m for Beta), and recording time was much less of an issue. Thus the four hour recording offered by SVR, with five hours "real soon now", had little effect on its fortunes.

On a more technical level, Betamax's more sophisticated lacing system meant a faster response to operating keys, and cleaner "edits" between recordings. There was also the possibility for cue and review (picture search) in the future, which VHS, with the tape unlaced during fast-forward and rewind, would find difficult. SVR, advertised at the same time as the first Beta and VHS machines, offered the most sophisticated timer, the best picture quality (due to the highest head-to-tape speed), and full logic-controlled electronic operation - which would make full-function remote control a realistic proposition. But as it turned out, technical features had almost no impact on the much-touted Format War; marketing and distribution would be the pivotal issues.
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