Sony has introduced more formats, either solely or jointly, than anyone else and now has over 50 entries in the Museum of Obsolete Media.
Whilst it has had success with formats such as the Compact Disc (developed in collaboration with Philips), the 3.5-inch floppy disc, and the Betacam family (a professional video format not to be confused with Betamax) it has had less success with many of its proprietary consumer formats.
With the announcement in November 2015 that Betamax tape production in Japan will finally cease, we take a look in no particular order at 10 of Sony’s less successful formats.
Elcaset (1976 – 1980)
The Elcaset was intended to marry the sound quality of reel to reel tape with Compact Cassette convenience.
Whilst technically excellent, Elcaset was a total failure in the marketplace, with a very low take up by a few audiophiles only. When Sony pulled the Elcaset from the market in 1980, the remaining equipment was sold off in Finland for bargain prices.
MiniDisc (1992 – 2013)
Introduced 1992, the MiniDisc was a magneto-optical disc that combined the quality of the Compact Disc with the convenience and recordability of the Compact Cassette.
MiniDiscs were popular in Japan but made a limited impact elsewhere despite attempts by Sony to make 1998 the ‘Year of the MiniDisc’. A smaller number of pre-recorded albums were available than on other formats, and it later faced competition from CD-Rs, and then from MP3.
The last MiniDisc players were sold in 2013.
Betamax (1978 – 1988)
Betamax was first introduced to the US market in 1975 (reaching the UK in 1978) and intially offered a one hour recording time.
Despite having a 100% market share prior to the introduction of VHS, Betamax eventually lost out in a long drawn out format war and by 1986 had a market share of just 7.5% in the UK.
The longer recording times of VHS on its introduction, as well as the easier availability of VHS machines to rent in the UK are some reasons cited for the failure of Betamax. Although Betamax could potentially offer better picture quality, on domestic television sets of the time, the difference was negligible.
By 1988, Sony began to produce VHS machines but continued to produce Betamax recorders in Japan until 2002. In late 2015, Sony announced that it would cease production of tapes in 2016.
Despite being seen as failure, Betamax was much more successful than many other video cassette systems such as Video 2000.
Memory Stick Micro (M2) (2006 – 2009)
The Memory Stick Micro (M2) was the smallest form factor of the Sony Memory Stick family, introduced as a joint venture with SanDisk in 2006.
By 2009, Sony Ericsson phones had switched to microSD cards, effectively making the Memory Stick Micro obsolete.
UMD Video (2004 – 2011)
The Universal Media Disk was introduced by Sony in 2004 for use on the PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming and multimedia device, the only device that UMD was ever used on.
As well as video games for the PSP, discs were available containing full-length movies, television shows and music videos. While similar in appearance to the Sony MiniDisc, the two formats were incompatible and there was never a recordable version of UMD.
Disappointing sales of movies on UMD meant that by 2006, retailers and studios began to withdraw support for movies on UMD, and no movies were released on UMD after 2011. New games continued to be distributed on UMD until 2014, when the PlayStation Portable was discontinued.
Ruvi (1998 – 1999)
The Sony Ruvi (short for ‘Recording Unit by Video’) was an analogue video and still camera released in 1998. It contained a small video cartridge holding 30 minutes of Hi8 video tape as well as the video head drum that the tape was permanently wrapped around so that no loading mechanism was required. This helped make it the smallest camcorder ever produced at the time of its release.
Up to 350 still images could be recorded onto the cartridge, each with 5 seconds of audio, or 30 minutes of video.
Only one model was produced (the CCD-CR1). It was never released in the US, and was discontinued in 1999 after achieving only mild success.
MicroMV (2001 – 2006)
MicroMV was a digital videotape format for camcorders, introduced by Sony in 2001. It is the smallest videotape format, being 70% smaller than MiniDV. Despite this, a tape could hold up to 60 minutes of video.
It was not a success, and Sony was the only manufacturer of MicroMV cameras. By 2006, Sony no longer offered any MicroMV camcorder models, switching instead to DVD and hard disk recording. In late 2015, Sony announced that it would cease production of MicroMV tapes in 2016.
HiFD (1998 – early 2000s)
The HiFD (High capacity Floppy Disk) was an attempt by Sony to replace their own 3.5-inch floppy disk.
Initially launched in 1998 with a capacity of 150 MB, the drive was backwards compatible with 3.5-inch floppy disks by using dual heads. Read/write head misalignment problems meant a full recall in 1999.
It was relaunched in November 1999 with 200 MB capacity, but this version could not read or write to the previous version’s 150 MB disks.
By this time the Iomega Zip drive now sported a 250MB capacity and CD-RW drives were entering the mainstream. These factors doomed HiFD to failure.
Digital Audio Tape (DAT) (1987 – 2005)
Digital Audio Tape (DAT) was a digital magnetic tape format introduced in 1987.
It was never widely adopted by consumers due to its cost, but saw use in professional recording. A small number of albums were commercially released on DAT in the first few years of the format.
In 2005, Sony discontinued its remaining DAT recorders.
Super Audio CD (1999 – )
Super Audio CD (SACD) was jointly introduced by Philips and Sony in 1999 and like DVD-Audio was intended to be a successor to the Compact Disc format.
While SACD can offer surround sound and a longer playing time than standard CDs, research published in 2007 found no significant difference in audio quality between SACD and standard CD.
Since 2002, most SACD releases have been on hybrid discs using two layers, offering both CD and SACD versions.
It was not a success in the marketplace, but a small number of SACD discs continue to be released by smaller record labels.