In the early 1970s, all the major consumer electronics companies were racing to develop a consumer VCR that would record a full length movie without the need to change tapes.
In May 1975 Sony launched Betamax in Japan and the US, but it was only a one-hour system. Sony asked Matsushita/Panasonic, the largest CE company of them all, to pool resources. Sony also asked Matsushita’s subsidiary, JVC. Both said no because both had their own secret research projects.
Matsushita’s system was called VX. It squeezed 100 minutes from a cassette by compromising picture quality. Apparently unaware that its product was named after a nerve gas, Matsushita built a factory to make VX machines and started selling them in Japan and the US in June 1976. The Quasar brand, bought from Motorola in 1974, was used in the US.
JVC was working on a Video Home System which used slant azimuth to get two hours without loss of picture quality. Two magnetic heads are opposingly angled, to record tracks on the tape which can only be read by similarly angled heads. So the tracks can be packed very tightly and even overlap.
When Panasonic’s company founder, Konosuke Matsushita, visited JVC’s labs in Yokohama and saw a prototype two-hour VHS machine working, he pressed his cheek against the metal chassis to signify company approval.
JVC unveiled VHS in Tokyo in September 1976. Panasonic committed to the format, scrapped VX and shut the new factory. It soon became well nigh impossible to find anyone inside Matsushita who remembered, or would admit remembering, VX.
(All photos copyright Richard N. Diehl)