The End of VHS

It was announced this week that the Funai Electric Company will stop producing VHS video cassette recorders at the end of July. “Who on earth still owns a VCR?” I hear you asking.

Well, I do.

I installed a capture card in my computer and connected a VCR to it that allows me to convert video tapes into computer video files. Yes, I’ve tried those DVD/VCR combo units, but I like the freedom and options that this system affords me. I can edit them easier that way, and half the time I’m just capturing them to send them to YouTube anyway, so it saves me a step (and a blank DVD).

I actually owned a cheap Funai VCR a few years ago. When it stopped working, I was under the delusion that if I opened it up, I might be able to fix it. My first warning should have been that the entire thing seemed to only weight a couple of pounds, a far cry from the old VCRs that took two hands and a pile of muscles to move. After removing half a dozen screws, I found a motor and a small selection of permanently mounted chips. Into the trash it went.

When I went to find a replacement VCR, I couldn’t find new ones for sale. Again, this was a few years ago. Walmart has several VHS/DVD combo units for sale, but no VHS-only units. I guess the demand just isn’t there. I was leery of buying one from a garage sale or thrift store, and didn’t want to spend the money on ordering one only. Fortunately, my mom came through (she had a spare one in her garage) and I’ve been using it ever since.

I personally don’t have any interest in movies on VHS tape that have since been released on DVD, but like I said, lots of movies (thousands) never made it to DVD. Occasionally if I’m in a thrift store or garage sale and run across one such movie, I’ll pick it up and convert it from VHS to MP4 when I get home. I also really enjoy finding old VHS tapes from the 80s (and less so, the 90s) with recordings of television programs, mostly for the commercials. I’ve ripped almost 200 commercials from thrift store tapes I’ve purchased this year, and created a YouTube playlist if you want to watch them all.

VHS tapes (by design) won’t last forever, and some would argue that at least when it comes to tapes containing McRib commercials, that’s probably okay. And maybe they’re right, I don’t know, but I enjoy doing it. It’s kind of like a little treasure hunt, looking for old tapes that contain old commercials that I remember from my childhood. When I mention hobbies like this to Susan she shrugs her shoulders and says, “people are bored.”

I know two people who have large collections of VHS tapes — kids movies, mostly — and still have VCRs hooked up in their living rooms. Again, yes, most if not all of those movies have been released on DVD (and they both own DVD players), but if you have a collection of VHS tapes, why not let kids watch them until they wear out?

While I know there are others, VCRs are a technology that came and left during my lifetime. It’s weird to see kids today not know what a VHS tape is or how to use a VCR (my kids were aghast when I explained to them the concept of “rewinding” something). Even though VCRs served us well and and had a fruitful life, it’s still a little sad to read news like this.

PS: My friend SteveW recently recommended the documentary Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector, a film about the hobby of collecting VHS tapes. I can only imagine the guys that appear in this film have a spare VHS or two (or a dozen) stashed away.

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2 comments to The End of VHS

  • AArdvark

    Well there goes the blinking 12:00 generation. Glad I put all my home movies on DVD when I did. The average VCR has a lifespan of 2 years. Less if there are children between the ages of 8-14 and have different opinions of content to be watched.

  • VHS is a technology that I won’t miss. The quality is so bad compared to current HD that my eyes bleed when watching old VHS tapes.

    But I do appreciate the social structure around VHS: the family going to movie rental store and trying to decide on a movie to watch together, those damned late fees, oops – forgot to rewind the tape, the hassle of recording TV shows, etc.

    I’m still amazed how far we’ve come. Before VHS, if you missed a movie in the theater, then you had to wait for years for it play on TV. Then HBO came along and allowed us to watch some hit movies at home. But now we can pretty much watch what we want, when we want. We live in amazing times.