End of an Era: VHS is dead!

The old Betamax vs. VHS wars were won by JVC and their VHS Format. But that's over now. VHS is dead, too.
The old Betamax vs. VHS wars were won by JVC and their VHS Format. Now, VHS is dead, too.

With the last shipment of VHS Tapes leaving a Burbank warehouse, the bell tolls for the Video Home System (VHS) tape format. It’s been long overdue, but to hear that this holiday season would be the end of it was, both refreshing (quality) and of some note (memory-wise).

A popular story about video in the US had JVC and Sony locked in a battle of formats nearly 30 years ago – and a JVC distributor came up with a novel idea: sell VHS tape at highly discounted or free rates to producers of adult entertainment in exchange for a “format” exclusive on any released title for a period of time, ranging from six months to forever. At that time, adult theaters were closing down and VCRs were becoming the new playback mechansim for adult entertainment. The impact of this strategy and for the interest in adult entertainment in the USA was a factor in Sony losing the Beta battle in America. Many American’s aren’t aware that Sony continued to sell Betamax tape in Europe and Asia, the last model being sold in Europe just a few years ago (pretty recent, actually).

For those with a more engineering-inclined reality, VHS tape was superior to Betamax in a number of ways, with the exception of picture quality. VHS tape used a far simpler loading mechanism than Beta, rewound faster, and was available from a wider range of manufacturers. Betamax was licensed by Sony, with only a few players on the market outside of Sony – this was in the pre-open-source days, when proprietary technology keys were considered the best method for securing marketshare.

Regardless of which story you like, the downside to the JVC-inspired victory was that VHS tape and all of its variations (perhaps excluding the short-lived S-VHS and HD-VHS) was not of a quality that anyone should have been proud to sell. Thank goodness for NTSC television – nobody could really tell how poor the quality was. Today, as televisions become 1080p and Blu Ray, not to mention HD downloads (the wave!) become standard, there’s no room for the fuzzy, hazy, color-weak image of VHS.

Now, the real story will be, “what happens to all of those VHS tape out there?” Many of them have useful information on them – important family functions, news recorded from television, and so on. This would be a good time to transfer all of that to DVD. Not only did VHS deliver a poor picture, but the oxide that is the recording mechanism does not hold up well over time. So, if you’ve got old VHS tapes, copy them to DVD or some other digital format. You’ll be glad you did. Blank VHS tape will still be sold for awhile, but the end is near.

It’s a Blu Ray Christmas… but I wonder when we’ll read about DVD players going into the circular file? I fear technology will pass this format by as well.

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