The second letter of the Greek alphabet. It comes right after Alpha. In our business it is short for beta test, a test for a product prior to commercial release. Beta testing is the last stage of testing, and often involves sending the product to beta test sites outside the company for real-world exposure. Beta testing is often preceded by… you guessed it… a round of testing called alpha testing. Alpha testing is generally done without releasing units outside the company.
Beta is also known as a VCR format developed by Sony that was used throughout the early 1980’s. The beta format, which many users believe was the higher quality format, eventually fell out of favor and disappeared due to the larger market share held by the VHS (Video Home System) format developed by Matsushita and JVC. Many “pro” video machines still have their roots in beta technology, but at the consumer level you’ll rarely see a beta machine these days.