In a world where the pocket calculator was as close as many of us got to technology, the video recorder seemed like it had come from outer space (or possibly off the set of Tomorrow’s World). A whole world of television viewing opened up in the late 1970s with TV shows and the latest(ish) films available to watch whenever we wanted.
Now, that all seems like a very long time ago, with Tivo and Youtube making that pioneering video tech look like it came from the Stone Age. So with the news that the world’s last video recorder will roll off production lines in Japan later this month, here’s five things we won’t miss about VHS.
Nowadays it would take a hard disk crash to wipe out all of your data, but in days of video yore, your recordings were more fragile, being committed to a half-inch wide mexal oxide-coated tape being fed between mechanical rollers. Head cleaning tapes didn’t seem to do much good, with ‘tracking’ problems distorting the picture and cause a weirdly warbly sound. And just one kink could cause destroy your wedding video in a disastrous snarl-up.
Being able to capture TV programmes forever was science fiction at first, but soon we were beset by first-world problems, such as simply forgetting to record a show, or worse still, a delayed transmission or human error meaning that we ran out of tape - imagine Murder She Wrote stopping dead just before the killer’s revealed.
Technology came to our rescue as the video recorder evolved. Newer models could use Video Plus, where a (usually) six-digit code could be used to automatically select the correct programme to record. Assuming, that is, that you had enough tape (see above), or your mother hadn’t unplugged the video to do the hoovering. And the newspaper got the code right (ahem).
These days we can hit a couple of buttons to watch a film. Back in the day… you’d have to schlep it down Blockbuster or Azad or your local video shop. And woe betide anyone who had forgotten to rewind their previous rental. Fines would be incurred. And late returns would also incur a penalty - after all, video shops were just like libraries (remember them?) but with blaring telly screens and popcorn.
But the most heinous crime anyone could commit in the world of VHS (and Betamax, and V2000) was to use someone else’s video cassette for their own recording. Imagine watching Game of Thrones and 20 seconds into the Red Wedding, up pops Mary Berry going on about soggy bottoms. That’s what us video recorder users had to contend with (except with The Sweeney and Fanny Craddock).