The Curtain Comes Down on the Video Cassette Recorder

by • July 27, 2016 • UncategorisedComments (0)1013

At 4Cabling we pride ourselves on spreading the good news. This time around, it’s hard to put a positive spin on the sad news of the month, that the once much-loved VCR is being laid to rest.

Anyone over 40 will have fond memories of pleasurable hours spent selecting the best movies from their nearest Blockbuster – and remembering to check whether they needed it in VHS or Betamax format. Does anyone out there remember the heated debates over whether your Dad should have gone large and bought the Betamax player instead of the VHS one?

This all happened back in the mid-1970’s when the video cassette recorder burst into our lives. Everybody was talking about the “standards battle” that was raging between Sony’s (higher fidelity) Betamax format and the VHS format (that was of lower quality but was cheaper) and developed by JVC. This turf war continued for several years with each side trying to convince customers and film makers to choose them. It was like watching a heavyweight title fight with neither boxer able to land the decisive blow.

At the time, it was hard to predict the winner, but by 1980, VHS had captured something like 80% of the market! The VCR machines reached 95% of American households in the 1990’s. Now that’s what we call market traction.

One of the most interesting aspects of this technological leap revolved around Hollywood’s reaction. Suddenly people around the world were able to record television programs at will, without paying any fees and even more powerfully, they could just fast-forward through any irritating advertisements.

But, as is always the case with new technologies, few could predict how this new power would evolve, and who would gain from its use. By 1986, there was more spent on buying and renting tapes ($4.4 billion) than on people actually going to the movies ($3.8 billion).

But it is the legal ramifications of the VCR’s appearance that still affects our lives to this day. In 1984 the case of Sony v. Universal City Studios shook the media world. The outcome became known as “The Betamax Decision”. Essentially, Hollywood went to court to attempt to block this irritating VCR, but the  Supreme Court ruled that it was perfectly legal to tape copyrighted broadcasts as long as it was for your own use and that the companies making the devices could not be held liable. This was the powerful precedent that allowed us to benefit from all kinds of technologies that were able to grow unimpeded.

And then, as always, change occurred.

Even the youngest of you are familiar with the DVD. They sprouted in 1997 but their take-up was slow, with spend only exceeding video tape sales and rentals by 2002. Nevertheless, the drip was fated to turn into a flood and by 2005, DVDs were outselling tapes fifteen to one.

So here we must end our sad tale. The last maker of VHS-compatible video cassette recorders, Japanese manufacturer Funai Electric, has just announced that it will cease producing video recorders at the end of this month. The last factory of its kind is quietly and gently laying the VCR to rest.

We at 4Cabling tip our hats to a great technology, a fight well fought, and say thanks for the indelible memories we will always enjoy.

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