By: Chris Warren.
I came along at that perfect time where I’m old enough to know what life was like before digital technology took over the world and young enough to embrace the change. I owned vinyl records, and am now a iTunes fanboy. I had a car radio with mechanical presets, and now I’m addicted to SiriusXM and podcasts. I don’t miss phone books, even a little. I love the idea of making a few clicks on Amazon and a package magically appears at my door the very next day. Soon another piece of my analog past, the VHS video recorder, will roll off the assembly line and into multimedia history.
I was honestly surprised that VHS video recorders were still being made at all. I assumed they had gone out of production years ago. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new-in-the-box VHS in a store or on line, so I got curious and did a little looking around. Apparently they are still out there, but not for much longer. Soon the only way to get a VHS video recorder will be on the used market because the last company to manufacture them, Funai of Japan, is ending VHS’ run forever.
The VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become yet another broken down old junk on the information superhighway.
Those young enough to think that having high definition video no further than the smartphone in their hand is a normal expectation of life might have a hard time grasping what a breakthrough VHS was. The machines were big, heavy, and expensive. They were mechanical devices and prone to breakdown. They required a mess of wires, adapters, and plugs. The picture and sound quality was dismal by today’s standards. But the ability to record programs and watch them later, or watch them over and over, was something that had not been possible until the VHS recorder came along.
Imagine the drudgery of having to sit in front of your television at a certain time and date to see your favorite show. If you missed it, or wanted to see it again, you were out of luck until the episode came around in reruns, at which time you would still be tied to the schedule of the network programmers.
VHS was the on-demand programming of its day and had a social appeal that does not transfer over to digital media. As a teenager, me and a bunch of friends would hole up in my parents’ basement with a borrowed VHS recorder, some sugary-caffeinated drinks, cheap Little Caesar’s pizza, and a pile of rented tapes. I don’t know how many times we watched Mad Max and Spinal Tap in glorious analog on a tube TV. The party, such as it was, would usually last until 3 or 4 in the morning.
Those great times would not have happened without the then-innovative VHS recorder. Yet, as great as the new technology was, home video entertainment still required enough effort & expense that it was something of a special occasion.
Kids today will never suffer the archaic process of getting up to adjust the tracking to get a decent picture and having to rewind and change the tape when the movie was over, much less the now absurd transaction of renting physical tapes. I can hear my nine year old nephew’s incredulous voice now: You mean you actually had to get in the car and go pick up the video tapes? From where? And then bring them back when you were done? By the way, what is a video tape?
Technology rapidly rolls forward and the VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become just another broken down old junk on the information superhighway. As I type this article I’m lounging on my couch with a laptop computer connected to wifi, smartphone at my side, watching my large flat screen high definition TV with Bluetooth speakers. Yeah, I had a good run with VHS recorders back in the day. The memories of fun times with my friends mean something to me but the new stuff is so far and away better that I have no such nostalgia for VHS recorders. Like floppy disks and phone books, VHS’ time has passed and we who lived through it are just fine with letting it become a fading dot in the rear view mirror.