Friday, August 12, 2016

The End of VHS

Some of you may have recently noted the news that the last company to manufacture VHS VCRs has ceased production as of July 30. Some of you may have been surprised that they were even being made anymore. More about this can be found here.

I have written and talked at some length over the years about home video formats so I thought it was only right that I comment on this news (I don't believe I was blogging when the last Betamax deck rolled off the assembly lines back in 2002). Wait, did VCRs actually roll?

While I can be very nostalgic for old electronics and media, I also happen to believe that I, as someone who likes movies/TV shows, have never had it better in many ways. The quality and convenience we have with digital video discs and streaming is so far beyond what we had back in the heyday of the VCR. I am a bit old-fashioned when it comes to this sometimes as I like actually owning copies of the media I care about (I've become far more choosey as to what I consider worth owning though) so that I have access to it when a particular title gets unceremoniously yanked from a service due to people fighting over money or some other equally worthy issue. I won't go on any more about this, you probably know how I feel.

As for VHS itself, I spent years of my youth resenting this format which I felt won its format war for reasons other than technical merit. The format's running time advantage I will grant you, but that's it!!! Beta was the (very) slightly better format; it looked sharper and mechanically seemed more robust. As anyone who might be reading this knows, VHS was adopted far more widely by the consumer electronics companies. And who wants two incompatible formats? I have memories of trips to the video rental store back in Rapid City where we had to browse the movies on the "Beta side" of the store. We were such a persecuted people.

In the end, VHS improved somewhat and I eventually capitulated. I purchased my first VHS deck in 1990 or so. This first deck was a Sony. I knew that when Sony, the developer and main champion of Betamax, threw in the towel that it was time to move on.

This was my first VHS VCR, the mighty SLV-555.

Yes, I actually remember the model number of this VCR and was able to find an image of it on the Web. This machine was great. It made good recordings and was built like a tank. Sony really made nice gear in those days.

As good as that VCR was, it was still crummy old VHS and I always wanted something better. For a while, that something was LaserDisc. LD was really something with its digital sound and sharper image (plus you could get movies in widescreen!) but of course never made it beyond a niche product. I am also reminded of my first LD player, which I bought at a Wal Mart in Laramie, WY. I sometimes think I bought this thing partially out of shock that such an esoteric device actually appeared at that store (and no, I don't remember the model number!). 

In the late-1990s, I adopted DVDs and finally invested in a media format that "won". Of course DVD didn't really have competition (unless you count DIVX) which turned out to be one of the rare cases where the electronics companies did the right thing. And now I have Blu-Ray. What the hell, Sony finally got a winning video format! BD is probably the last physical format I will buy into (4K not withstanding) which brings me back around to the late-great VHS.

I have VHS tapes that still play, decades later. As it turns out, magnetic tape is pretty robust. However, I don't miss the low-res image, fussy mechanics, and sheer bulk of tapes. And let's not forget that in adjusted dollars, video tape wasn't that cheap. BDs and well-rendered digital video look great (BDs can be pretty darned close to replicating actual film). I have most of my owned video from all those discs (and a few tapes that are unique) on a PC and can watch them with a few clicks. As long as I back up my hard drives, I have that content available in a manner that would have amazed me back in the old days. I sometimes miss that old cool hardware but not the experience of actually watching it.

So this got really meandering! How do I feel about the passing of VHS? 

I feel fine.

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