VHS at 30

First VHS VCR

(Image from Gizmag)

VHS turned 30 this past Monday. Its parent, JVC, was awarded with an IEEE milestone, given to electronic inventions that have had great social, cultural and historical significance. And amazingly, VCRs are still being manufactured, VHS tapes are still being produced and used.

We’re well into a digital comfort zone, with our DVDs, DVRs, flash drives, BitTorrent, Wi-Fi, and Web 2.0, where content is seemingly a mere matter of storage and software. Yet there’s something persistent, almost “solid” about VHS, that our current media doesn’t have. Yes, it generally looks and sounds awful, and yes, it takes up a lot of shelf and closet space (especially in the homes and offices of every media scholar that I know) . But it’s physical, it’s there. You actually plopped that tape in your VCR twelve years ago to record that episode of The X-Files, or that football game. Or who knows what; labelling was more of an option than a habit with me.

Like many, I’m in the process of removing VHS from my life. I can’t remember the last time I recorded something on it. I purge a good trash bag full of it from my closets every six months or so. I transfer what I can over to digital formats (e.g., DivX). Someday, probably within the next 3-5 years, VHS will be gone from my life, and thus gone from my childrens’ lives. They may remember it (my son uses it now), but they almost certainly won’t encounter it once they’re past grade school. It’ll be odd when it’s gone, but we’re kind of already there in a way. We’ll only miss it when we consciously think about it.

In some respects this is much worse than the fate of the LP. Nobody’s waxing (sorry) nostalgic about VHS the way so many do about vinyl records. The LP’s enshrined, even worshipped; the VHS cassette will be acknowledged but soon forgotten.

That said, however, it may have the last laugh. There’s plenty of material out there on VHS that has yet to be released on DVD, and thanks to Macrovision protection, is virtually impossible to move onto digital formats. Don’t trash those VCRs just yet…

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6 Responses to “VHS at 30”

  1. Tim Anderson Says:

    I still miss Beta, but I don’t miss laserdiscs (too brittle and you had to flip them, blech). The best thing that I remember about VHS was you could make amazing audio recordings with it. Because of the 1/2 inch of tape you could slow it down and get almost CD quality sound that would last 6 hours or so. I know of at least one cafe in Chicago that used to record radio shows from WZRD and just replay them for their clientele.

  2. Jason Davis Says:

    What brand of VHS machine is that in the photo? Looks like it says “Vector,” but I’m not familiar with that company. Was that a common brand way back when?

    Do you plan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of S-VHS or will I be alone at that particular party?

  3. dkompare Says:

    Great point about the audio. I had a friend do that for a party mix a couple of times back in college.

    As for the VHS deck in the picture, that apparently is the first model JVC produced (for the Japanese market). I think it’s “Victor” (for Japan Victor Company, JVC), rather than “Vector.”

    Count me in for the 20th anniversary of S-VHS (as well as DAT, for that matter), though you have the most extensive collection of it that I know of!

  4. Travis Says:

    The pictured VCR looks a lot like the first VCR that my parents owned. I remember the manual knob to tune it. I also remember having to tune only 15 channels because that’s all it could reproduce. And as was with my generation, I got the privilege of programing the thing.

  5. Jason Davis Says:

    Variety’s eulogy for the format can be found here:

    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117953955.html?categoryid=20&cs=1


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