Sony's Long List of Format Failure, From Betamax to MemoryStick Micro

With news that two new Sony Ericsson phones will ditch the MemoryStick Micro card for the standard SD format, rumors are swirling on the 'net that Sony will kill off the format. If true, then the MemoryStick Micro card will follow a long Sony tradition of formats sent to their graves.

Now that you can buy 16GB microSDHC cards are roughly the size of your smallest fingernail, it's time for Sony to concede defeat in the memory card market. The company's two new Yari and Aino phones are using SD cards rather than MemoryStick Micro. Trusted Reviews asked Sony Ericsson's Global Marketing Director, Fortuné Alexander, if MemoryStick Micro (M2) would get the boot, and he responded, "Yes, we are moving in that direction." It's about time.

Here's a list of Sony's other formats that never survived:

Sony's Failed Formats

Betamax video, 1975

Sony developed Betamax back in the day to combat JVC's rival VHS format. The video quality actually superseded VHS, and the tapes were smaller. But JVC's format won the day, in a classic marketing triumph, leaving Sony's format to limp on as the little-used underdog for decades—the last tape was produced in 2002.

Digital Audio Tape, Mid-1980's

Sony introduced the DAT as a digital successor to the regular analog cassette tape for consumers, combining spinning-head technology from video tape machines and digital-encoding. It was controversial, with the RIAA lobbying to prevent DAT machines being sold in the U.S. on the grounds it would facilitate high-res album copying (sound familiar?). DAT saw limited take-up by the consumer, thanks partly to expensive players. Sony officially killed the format in 2005, as it never lived up to the success of cassettes, and was overtaken by recordable CD tech.

Minidisc, 1993

I remember being hugely excited by the Minidisc when Sony launched it. It seemed like a tiny, recordable digital music standard was a good thing. The discs came in a sled that protected them from harm. Though they could've been successful, Sony sadly added stern digital copy protection, and that, combined with high media prices and the steep cost of buying a player/recorder meant it never took off. It was also superseded by recordable CDs. The product has disappeared, though Sony still makes a single player/recorder unit.

Sony's Failed Formats

ATRAC Audio Compression, 1993

Sony developed ATRAC for the Minidisc, where it was used to fit near CD-quality and size audio files onto the much smaller physical disc space. That was a fabulous use, but when Sony introduced its first all-solid-state Walkmen much later, it chose to use ATRAC. In fact it took until 2004 for Network Walkmen to support MP3s natively, by which time MP3s had taken off. It was a nasty, close-minded move by Sony, and it failed. MP3, an open standard, is king for a reason.

MemoryStick, 1998

Sony developed its MemoryStick technology for its own digital cameras and portable music players. It was an entirely proprietary format, initially limited to Sony alone, and designed as an additional revenue stream for the company. After all, if you wanted to buy a Sony digital camera, you had to spend more money on media for it. The core technology also went into the memory cards for the PlayStation range, and Sony enhanced it with the Duo and Micro variations. While MemoryStick slots are occasionally found on non-Sony laptops, the format has never taken off with other manufacturers.

Universal Media Disc, 2005

Sony took some of its miniDisc thinking into the design of the optical discs for the PlayStation Portable. Games and movies were distributed on the format, but since it was clunky it made the PSP larger than it needed to be and never saw widespread support from movie studios—production of UMD movies was significantly cut back as soon as 2006. The new PSP Go has ditched the UMD for a digital-only distribution model. 

With the impending death of UMD and MemoryStick Micro—maybe implying MemoryStick itself is on the way out—we really hope Sony's evil proprietary format-loving days are over. But with a Sony heritage dating back to 1975, it may be a forlorn hope.

[via RegHardware, Wikipedia]

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9 Comments

  • Scniman99

    SONY must returned back to their innovative and good sense technologies that lies on SONY WALKMAN (cassette), HANDYCAM (video 8/Hi-8 cassette), TRINITRON CRT TVs (the best ever CRT TV technologies tha has vertically flat tube), AMS Cassette Decks (automatic music sensor)  and some other professional equipments, rather to put much on proprietary-based medium to public consumers. SONY also had LOST their state-of-art in hardware design compared as well as in their glooming age now. I would still remember that SONY Trinitron 21' in my old school years, has a so 'comfort' trigger button that doing remotely function to the TV fast response. Also their FH series of Mini Hi-Fi that got so cool of design, finest touch of functions (Cassette deck and CD mechanism soft silent work), panels, display that you will LOVE your SONY so much. But now? I had also lost my faith to SONY after a few fails done by them.. Where are they? lost with their 'proud' proprietary things in a wrong manner to customer.  

  • Carl Hartman

    Then again, Sony has created a number of formats that have become the standard. DATs and the Minidisc were the standard in the broadcast industry for a long time for recording digital audio. Betacam and Betacam SP held the lions share of the broadcast TV market for shooting and mastering television. Many other companies have their own proprietary formats and do fine. While some type of "open source" method is probably a better marketing idea, Sony has had their share of successes with proprietary formats.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Jerruco. True--and we had a DAT machine among the audio stack in my old theatre techy booth for that reason.
    @Noah. I was wondering when BR would surface. It's won the first battle, against HDDVD. But will it win the war? Nope...it's a 5-year+ stop-gap until ubiquitous solid-state storage.

  • Jerruco Rodriguez

    My 2cents: I wouldn't list the DAT as a total failure. DATs were widely used in the professional audio field. Many songs and albums were mixed down and mastered directly to DAT in the late 80's through late 90's. Also, many radio stations archived long form programming and shorter in house productions on DAT as well.
    Obviously recordable CD's and the eventual affordability of hard drives made DAT obsolete but it had carved a pretty solid niche in the professional audio world.

    On another note Sony listen up! The Walkman was a success because people could listen to their favorite radio stations and cassette tapes on your hardware. If you had tried to force a proprietary media on us instead of the already popular cassette history would have been quite different.

    Please stick to standard formats and build better hardware.

  • Kit Eaton

    @G. Couldn't agree more! The MemoryStick format has always rankled with me. On the other hand, and it's a big hand, we've got to remember Sony had a significant input to both the CD and DVD formats, and they were pretty darn good.

  • G Irish

    The shareholders of Sony need to raise a big stink the next time the go on a Don Quixote format crusade. Think of all the resources they've wasted developing these proprietary formats, then think about all of the products they didn't sell because of them. I was about to buy my dad a Sony digital camera until I remembered that Memory Sticks cost more than twice as much as SD cards. If Sony has finally learned from this consistent mistake maybe they can return to the success they had in the past.