Technology: Another One Bites the Rust

Advancing technology has claimed another victim, albeit one you probably thought was already dead: The VHS tape and Video Cassette Recorder.

As reported over the weekend, the world’s last maker of VCRs, Japan’s Funai Electric, announced that it would be ending production. Last year they sold under 1 million units, mostly to China (we were wondering who was still buying them).

The VHS tape was around for roughly 45 years, with its 10-15 year heyday starting in the mid 1980s. After holding off the Laserdisc and MiniDisc, the DVD proved too formidable an opponent and digital downloads polished it off.

People recall VHS as standing for “Video Home System,” which makes sense, but it actually stood for “Vertical Helical Scan,” which referred to the machine’s head and tape scanning technique, in comparison to its higher quality but less user friendly competitor Betamax (which died in 2002).

With video now pretty much available whenever you want it, it’s hard to remember how revolutionary the VCR was and how it changed television and Hollywood. It single-handedly freed up people’s schedules -- back in the day, if you wanted to watch, say, “Magnum, P.I.,” you had to stay home and watch it, no ifs, ands, or buts. I personally remember skipping a party in college to watch the series finale of “St. Elsewhere”; there was no other choice.

But the VCR changed that. It brought freedom. And fear. Hollywood was terrified this meant that people would stop going to movies, once they could rent them. Of course, what actually happened was that Hollywood’s annual box office grew and the studio’s bottom line grew even more when people started buying tapes of films for their own libraries (boy, how stupid do those people feel now?).  

But technology marches on, and what was once world-changing is now obsolete, along with a ton of subsidiary businesses -- goodbye, Blockbuster! -- that sprung up around it. Here’s an interesting article on other obsolete home entertainment technology as well. We also found a guide to the 25 most valuable VHS movies, in case you've got one of them.