back when there was the betamax

This week I've been having a mini-flimfest at home, thanks to a friend who lent me a loaded external hard drive. It's even got some hard-to find classics and art films - stuff that I've long been looking for at various video shops but haven't been able to.

I muse about how easy it is to acquire movies and entire seasons of television series now, even ones that just recently showed. Thanks to streaming or stealing file-sharing. Really easy. Tech-savvy teens swapping USBs could put movie pirates out of business, and the Optical Media Board can't really go after them.

Not that I'm an advocate - though I do admit I also enjoy the convenience. ^_^

Before the rise of digital media, we employed the use of a Japanese inventions called the Betamax. Beta for short.

The first Betamax I befriended was the machine in my Grandfather's house. Our then-new electronic acquaintance supplied us with weekend entertainment, and I was sure it was going to be a big part of our lives. Except that there a few major considerations: First of all, it wasn't our machine to abuse. And secondly, there were no Beta tapes for children at my Grandfather's house.

Eventually, my Dad bought a Betamax for us. It was a promise of less-boring weekends and possibly funner summers. He had it installed in their bedroom in no time and it was used mostly by my brother and I.

Luckily we discovered two video rental shops just outside our village (They were near enough to walk, but we weren't exactly allowed to walk there so weren't able to visit them as often as we wanted to). Naturally, we had to rely on the selections offered to us by the shops. Choices were very limited, and we had to find new shops every few months.

We also had to make do with the generalized write-ups on the inner labels - "action", "drama", "comedy", "cartoons" and so on. It was a gamble; we had to choose based on the sound of the title and the less-than-useful inner sticker. We often found really enjoyable stuff like Labyrinth and Legend, though we sometimes ended up with something we didn't like. Every now and then we unknowingly borrowed stuff that wasn't for kids at all (Like, how were we supposed to know that titles like Hot Bubblegum and Lemon Popsicle were R-rated? Those titles seemed quite kiddie to me!) Of course, why would the video shop people care about screening what the neighbor children took home if it made them easy money, right?

But we soon encountered another problem: The tapes we borrowed were usually not re-wound. Be kind, Rewind wasn't yet a known adage, and unfortunate renters had to go through the hassle. Initially, my brother would rewind entire tapes using the Betamax player just so we could watch them, but we were later told that this damaged both the tape and the player. I remember attempting to wind the tapes by hand.

The stress led to my Dad's next purchase: a video casette tape rewinder. Our first one looked like a little red race car.

The next Beta-related acquisition was a tape head cleaner. Betamax players were very prone to accumulating dust, which affected its performance. A cleaner looked exactly like a Beta tape, except that it didn't have any real tape in it. You put a few drops of cleaning solution on specified spots on the cartridge, stick it into the player, hit play and let it go run a few seconds to clean the inside parts.

By the time I was in high school, Betamax lost popularity due to the supposedly better-quality VHS (though it was common for homes to have both a Betamax and a VHS player at that time; well-to-do families also had LaserDisc players, which were wrongly perceived as futuristic). By the time Y2k rolled in, the VHS had also already faded into the background because of video compact discs and digital video discs.

When the Hubby and I cleaned out the house a couple of months ago, we discovered a stash of old tapes inherited from my Mom's old place - some even had good titles I would have loved to keep in our movie collection. But we don't have a Betamax or VHS player anywhere, and we don't know anyone who still does. We tried selling the tapes at a garage sale, but no one showed the slightest bit of interest - even the tricycle drivers laughed at those tapes!

And these days, the only "betamax" around here are these:

Some people have now discontinued buying DVDs since it's easy (albeit "illegal") to download movies and TV series for free. There are even those who have begun to give away their space-consuming DVD collection and opted to store films in hard drives.

You know, the word "film" is a major misnomer now, since the stuff we watch aren't even in film anymore (I learned to be very discriminating with words like "film", "movie", "cinema" and "video" when I was a film major, back when we used real, actual film). They aren't exactly "movies" either; everything is just video now.
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