It was the humble video cassette recorder (VCRs) that brought on-demand video into the homes of millions for the first time, fundamentally changing the way we consume video and interact with media more generally. It’s easy to forget but back in the ‘80s, the idea of watching a movie of your choice at home was pretty cool, albeit on a clunky cassette the size of a small lunchbox.
Alas, nothing can last forever and – with an announcement from the last manufacturer of the technology that production has ceased – the VCR has been consigned to the annals of history. While the CI industry is more future-centric than most, let’s take a moment to wax nostalgic as we rewind (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and take one last tear-stained look at the VCR.
Although they were first manufactured in the ‘50s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that VCRs became a viable option for the average consumer. This increase in popularity gave rise to an epic battle between two incompatible cassette formats: Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s Video Home System (VHS).
While Betamax provided (at least theoretically) the better quality audio and video of the two, due its higher price point and shorter playing time, the format eventually had to concede defeat to the wildly popular VHS. By the mid-80s an average video shop had three walls of VHS movies to one of Betamax: a testimony to the dominance of the VHS format.
VHS was a mainstay in many homes for near-on 20 years, which for a media format is a considerable length of time. But in 1997 the introduction of DVD signalled the beginning of a gradual demise for the video tape, with the final death-rattles being heard almost another 20 years later.
While they were far from perfect – those of a certain age will remember that dreaded crunching sound as the player devoured a favourite tape – VCRs represent a pivotal change in the way we consumed media. Sure, people had been buying music on vinyl records for decades but VCRs brought on-demand media consumption to video – no more were we held hostage to the TV, allowing it to dictate what we could watch and when.
So farewell, old friend – though you may be gone you shall not be forgotten.