VHS: The Second Coming

December 24, 2008

I started using VHS again this year. It just made sense. I wanted to watch the new season of Lost as it happened, not on DVD, and my schedule didn’t allow it, so I bought some blank tapes at the dollar store (the only place where they were available) and started taping. We have this cheapie VHS/DVD combo thing down in the rec room, and while the DVD half stopped working ages ago, the VHS side still tapes, and still plays, once you get the hang of the tracking dial.

After Lost ended its season, the VHS player stood dormant, until I started buying cheap movies for the kids. There’s a place here that sells three movies for $5, after all, so I’ve begun building a VHS collection with spare change and bottle caps.

Years ago, I had hundreds of VHS movies. Now I have about 20. But I think I’ll get more. I was at a thrift store the other day and spotted the entire Star Trek movie run, on VHS, for about $10 for all of them. That’s unreal. There’s another place in town with a massive archive of VHS for a buck a flick.

It boggles my mind how technology can drop in price so far, so fast. I saw an MP3 player for sale today for $6.99; it’s very close to one I bought in 2001 for $150. Sixteen megs, etc. And flash memory … the SD cards I used to pay a fortune for now cost next to nothing. Don’t get me started on televisions …

But video is a whole other story. It seems like it’s a race to come up with the next best technology. Blu-Ray is supposed to replace DVD? Okay. I can see why people think that. Not me. At the same time I re-embrace VHS, I’m shifting to all-digital, because I think the days of hard-copy formats are close to over. Blu-Ray technology is fantastic, but the odds are good the physical disk will soon be phased out in favour of online Blu-Ray streaming.

In the midst of all this, though, I’m still popping tapes into the VCR.

Maybe it’s the same thing that happens to people who cling to their classic cars, or music fans who listen to vinyl. It’s ease of use, and familiarity, and nostalgia. It’s that little nudge you feel when you see The Best of Bread on 8-track being sold in a flea market  for a buck. It’s a simpler day.

I bring this up because the last VHS tapes just shipped out.  Distribution Video Audio, a Florida-based company that makes those cheapie VHS tapes you see in discount stores, is done. The last tapes went out yesterday. It’s over. The last “major” movie released on VHS was A History of Violence (filmed down the highway from me), and even the cheap-ass crap producers have given up.

But I was in a video store a few weeks ago when a woman came in, looked around, and asked where the VHS tapes were. She was told they don’t carry them, and she would have to get a DVD player.

“I don’t want to get a DVD player,” she said. “Tapes work better.”

Was she right? I don’t think so. Nobody’s ever going to win the VHS-beats-DVD argument … unless price become a factor.

Still, though, tech is catching up. I notice FutureShop has recordable DVD players, and also thingies that hook up to your computer to record right to hard drive. Fantastic idea. But not the same.

Do they have tracking?



  1. We still have many video tapes, though most of them are home made stuff, but we have yet to replace all our VHS movies with DVDs. I must confess, though, that since we got a DVR there hasn’t been a need for tapes. And I don’t really miss them. The DVR is like a TV droid. I just tell it what shows I like, and when they are on, and it does the rest. I can even watch one while recording two others. But I do agree that the days of physical, or at the very least optical, data are drawing to a close. I can see flash drive movies being the next step before a completely on line methods, since some folks just won’t have access to broadband for some time yet.

  2. I’ve still got a big box of VHS’s at my parents house, and they have a cupboard full of them. I’ve still got my VCR but it’s been a bit neglected since I took the aerial out of it and stopped paying my TV licence. I used to tape a lot of stuff but then I started to struggle to find the time to watch it all. I decided that once I get my own place I’m getting Sky+ which is basically Sky on demand as I can record and set it to track entire series’s for me. Will still keep my VCR though as most of my Sherlock Holmes stuff has yet to be re-released on DVD.

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