Aww, shucks: thanks for the nice feedback, ChurchAVGuy!
Early on, circa 1981, I began my home video insanity with Panasonic and RCA VHS: enormous, clunky machines which were not too good at second generation dubbing (already my primary criteria: right from the start I was cutting out commercials and making compilations). On the advice of a geek friend, I experimented with Beta, and discovered it was MUCH better for making second generation dubs (despite the standard Beta II speed being slower than VHS SP).
So for several years I ran a dual-format setup: VHS for mediocre timeshifting, and Beta for dubbing or keeper recordings. At first, I had the top-line Sony SL-5800, a sensation due to its introduction of speed search and slo-mo. It came with the near-magical BetaStack accessory, a dream come true for the truly obsessed among us. The stacker allowed you to coordinate multi-event timer settings with separate tapes, keeping each TV series or movie on its own tape at the fastest recording speeds. Short of owning four VCRs, this was the only way to go, and a feature I dearly missed when the time came to ditch Beta completely in favor of an all-VHS system.
The novelty of watching the stacker in action never wore off: it was really an amazing contraption. You loaded the first tape in the vcr, then up to three more went into the feed hopper. When the first tape ran out, or the timer triggered a change, the piano keys would depress by themselves in a mechanical ballet: first the eject key would go down, the hatch would pop up, and rollers would shoot that tape into a receiving tray. The next tape would drop from the chamber, rollers would reverse to shoot it into the hatch, then a finger would press down to close the tape hatch. The eject button would pop up, then the record button would depress by itself, and the unit would either continue recording or go into standby pending the next timer trigger. Unfortunately, no youTube vids exist of the thing working properly, but theres a quickie overview vid on youTube titled "A Camera Video of 3 Betamax BetaStacks (Changers)!!"
Once Beta HiFi debuted, the monaural SL-5800 had to be sold so I could upgrade. That was a sad moment, because to this day there has never been another VCR as luxurious in materials and tactile quality as the 5400-5600-5800 series. The initial HiFi model 5200 (pic here
) was a downgrade: gigantic, clumsy, noisy, unreliable front-load box, the most depressing VCR I've ever owned. The HiFi audio was incredible, but all the thing did was record and play: it was stripped of all convenience features in order to meet a $599 holiday price at Macy's (yep, in 1983 Macys was the major Sony retailer).
Those "budget" front-load Sonys were all a mechanical disaster: like most, mine promptly croaked the minute its 90 day labor warranty expired. It wouldn't load or eject a tape unless you helped nudge the internal gear train with your hand, so I took all the screws off the cabinet (routinely lifting the hood every time I had to change a tape). A few months of that, and I was *done* with the Sony vcrs. I replaced that trainwreck with more elegant, reliable, convenient competitors: a Toshiba V-S36 BetaHiFi (seen here
), and a NEC VC-739E. The Toshiba especially was arguably the high watermark of Beta HiFi: superb audio tracking, and video recording quality that remained competitive even after SuperBeta arrived.
When I precociously opened my own video rental store in 1985, it was clear Beta was already dead as a mass-appeal format, so I reluctantly stocked my place as VHS-only. During the ten years I had that shop, less than a dozen people asked if I carried Beta. I migrated myself to 100% VHS at home by 1987, tho I still had a couple hundred Beta tapes in storage. I eventually bought a cheap Sony SL-340 SuperBeta to handle those, but it died in 1997. My Betas just sat unplayed for years after that, until 2011 when I wanted to digitize some of them. Thus began my eBay odyssey of dysfuntional $100 beta vcrs, until I gave up and paid $350 for a fully reconditioned SL-HF360.