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Sunday, July 24, 2016

VCR / VCP - that played movie and your marriage cassettes - is dead !

Way back in 1994, my brother on his return from Gulf got a costly gift – Sony VCR @ Rs.10000/- - it could play video cassettes, can be attached to our TV and have TV programmes recorded.   In the days of audio cassette, in a time where DD’s 2nd channel has just come – VCR was a technological marvel, not affordable to middle class.

Many of us would remember that late 1980s and 1990s saw mushrooming video trade. There were shops renting VCR/VCP – cassettes too would be rented. In Triplicane (as also in many other places) – on Friday / Sat nights, the rented VCP would play 3 or more cinemas continuously, watched by families, tenants sitting together and enjoying movies in common – as the rental value for a day,  was considered high, people would use it to the hilt, by seeing movies together.

Raj Video Vision, the shop in Mount Road [of Raj Television] had a very good collection of films; Eknath Videos tried out a video magazine; a shop in Parsn complex had a good collection of Cricket matches [ we saw many WI Vs Aussie – even Packer matches in video player] … and .. what the younger generation saw in VCP is too well known !!

The videocassette recorder, VCR, or video recorder is an electromechanical device that recorded analog audio and analog video from broadcast television or other source on a removable, magnetic tape videocassette, and could play back the recording.  Slowly they were  superseded by the DVD player. Most domestic VCRs were equipped with a television broadcast receiver (tuner) for TV reception, and a programmable clock (timer) for unattended recording of a television channel from a start time to an end time specified by the user. In later models the multiple timer events could be programmed through a menu interface displayed on the playback TV screen ("on-screen display" or OSD). This feature allowed several programs to be recorded at different times without further user intervention, and became a major selling point.

The videocassette recorder remained in home use throughout the 1980s and 1990s, despite the advent of competing technologies such as Laser disc(LD) and Video CD (VCD). The VCD format found a niche with Asian film imports, but did not sell widely. Many Hollywood studios did not release feature films on VCD in North America because the VCD format had no means of preventing perfect copies being made on CD-R discs, which were already popular when the format was introduced.  The birth of the century saw DVD becoming universally successful optical medium for playback of pre-recorded video, as it gradually overtook VHS to become the most popular consumer format. DVD recorders and other digital video recorders dropped rapidly in price, making the VCR obsolescent.

In a few years, rapidly the VCP was gone, dead and buried.  Today read an article in Washington Post that the  videocassette recorder that revolutionized home entertainment by allowing television audiences to capture their favourite shows on tape and watch them at their leisure will die later this month after a decade-long battle with obsolescence. It is roughly 60 years old.  

Globally, it was a key fixture in each household as a means for watching movies with terrible resolution, forced viewing of grainy family milestones, mainly the wedding videos.  In case you are middle-aged, sure you would have watched your marriage video umpteen times, but now you may neither have the player to play it nor would it work, unless of course, you had converted them into CD / DVDs. 

The VCR’s demise may come as a shock, mostly because many thought it was already dead. The article reads that for those of you who may have fond -- or not-so-fond -- memories of the video cassette recorder, today is a day to feel old and wallow in VCR nostalgia that younger generations will only experience through stories of the device that changed TV viewing habits for those who had been at the mercy of broadcast schedules.  The news is that the  last VCR is set to be produced in Japan by the end of the month, according to the BBC. A company called Funai Electric -- which has been producing VCRs for 33 years -- will cease production, the BBC reported, citing the Japanese newspaper Nikkei.

Funai produced only 750,000 units last year, which sounds like a lot, but when compared to the 15 million units per year that it reportedly sold at the technology’s peak popularity, isn’t all that much.  Though the VCR will soon be gone, its legacy cannot be forgotten. Its influence is evident today in the binge-watching and time-shifting habits that have become a norm in home entertainment. Television and film were once by appointment only; stations would air your sitcom at a slated time, and studios would release movies during set windows. You watched when they wanted.  All that  changed with the rise of VCRs and those black, stackable VHS tapes they played.

But the life of the VCR, like all things, was one of complication and mystery. Why, for example, was the machine hellbent on eating every favorite VHS cassette? How did your cat manage to unspool 1,000 feet of tape from that black plastic box? And what do you mean you accidentally taped over our wedding video? Now, we may never know the answer. The birth date and birthplace of the VCR depend on how far back you want to look. Video recording technology itself dates to the early 1920s, but the company Ampex is credited with developing the first commercially viable videotape recorder in 1956. The machine was bulky, expensive and designed primarily for professional broadcasters. A variety of home video recorders from Phillips, Telcan and Sony, among others, came to market over the next two decades, but widespread consumer adoption remained elusive. In fact, VCRs found their earliest customers in hotel chains during the 1970s, said Mark Schubin, a technology consultant and member of the Emmy Engineering Committee. The heyday came in the 1980s and and ’90s, when VCRs exploded in popularity. The number of households with VCRs climbed from 14 percent in 1985 to 66 percent in 1990, according to Nielsen data. VCR penetration peaked at about 90 percent of households in 2005.

The common issue with older tapes was a sort of distorted picture that required you to manually adjust your VCR’s “tracking” -- usually done by turning a knob on the front of the device. If the knob was not doing its job, then a cleaning tape was required.  Dust and other grime collecting in a VCR could distort playback, requiring users to purchase a special tape that wiped clean the play heads -- the components that read the tape.  There was also the complaint of bad placement of stickers on the cover of cassettes. Misaligned cover art could drive some people absolutely crazy.

It is official ~ the VCP / VCR is dead !

Regards – S. Sampathkumar

24th July 2016.
Source : BBC & Washingtonpost.


  1. I landed here searching for "VCR". This is one of the most funniest pieces I have seen in recent times. Being from Chennai, when it was still Madras, and remembering the golden 80's and 90's, this piece hits home!

  2. I have vcp and I want cassette