Technology killed the video star: the end of the VCR

After 45 years, the production of video casette recorders is to be ceased, closing the chapter on the era of video shops, format wars and divinely wobbly VHS

Name: VCR.

Stands for: Video Cassette Recorder.

Age: 45 years.

Function: To record and play films and television programmes in the home.

So it’s like a hard disk recorder? Yes. Except it doesn’t store movies. You have to keep them separately in a library somewhere, and use blanks to record something new.

Ah. I get it. More like a DVD system then? Yes. Except the video is recorded on a spool of magnetic tape, a VHS, meaning that the picture and sound quality is terrible, and over time gets worse. Plus you have to spend ages rewinding and fast-forwarding to find the bit you need. And the cassettes themselves are huge.

OK. So basically it’s a terrible old machine. You young folk don’t know you’re born! The VCR was wonderful! It’s a sad day now that we know its era is about to end.

You mean its era is still going? Just. The last Betamax cassette was made in March. And one Japanese company – Funai Electric – still makes VCRs, often for other brands such as Sanyo. But they’ve now announced that production will stop by the end of the month. Just 750,000 of Funai’s new machines were sold last year, mostly in China.

And this is sad because … VCRs were where it all started, man! When they first became affordable in the 1980s, it created a new world of home entertainment and exploration, not to mention a new institution: the video shop.

You used to have to go to a shop to rent a film? Yes. Although often when you got there, someone else had rented it first. And you had to take it back afterwards, or you ended up paying more.

Happy days. They were, although of course we didn’t know it at the time. And who could forget VHS v Betamax? The greatest-ever format war!

I’m not really a connoisseur of format wars. Never mind. The VCR also opened a golden age of extreme horror movies and pornography.

Um … Great. You may scoff, but some of the old “video nasties” are worth a lot of money now. The moral panic that surrounded them turned out to be quite wrong, too.

I’m not really a connoisseur of moral panics, either. Fair enough.

Do say: “You can’t beat the little grey lines and the authentic wobble of lovely old VHS.”

Don’t say: “Pah! VHS is mainstream. I prefer Video 2000.

The GuardianTramp

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