Tag Archives: VHS

Roll The Tape

In this day of rapidly developing technology, it is fast becoming a curiosity to see remnants of the old ways.  I was in a Family Dollar and saw that they still had VHS video cassettes for sale two for seven dollars.  The first thought I had was “gee, that sounds expensive,” followed up with “who still buys video tapes?”
My mother was a video tape archivist.  She still has cardboard boxes full of VHS tapes of shows she recorded from back in the 80s.  She had them stored in book cases for years along with tapes of movies she bought at the store before she started buying DVDs and Blue Rays.  She still has the VCRs plugged in and still records some things to tape for permanent storage.  For daily recording, she, like most people, uses a DVR, but she still has that collection of cassettes.
I built quite the collection of tapes myself over the years.  I still have several of those VHS tapes in storage somewhere.  In the bottoms of cabinets, in boxes in the garage, in plastic organizer totes shoved under beds in guest rooms, they sit waiting in futility for a day when they might again see the tape player.
I still have a VHS tape recorder.  It probably still works.  I wouldn’t know.  It’s sitting on the floor next to my desk from the last time I plugged it in to transfer a video tape to digital storage.  I cannot remember the last time I bought a video tape.  It would have to be around 1994 or so.  Zorro, the Gay Blade was the title, I think.  It is one of my favorite movies; one that I can still quote from beginning to end and my sister, Diane, and I both bought a copy when it went on sale.  That was the movie I was digitizing the last time I used the VCR.
I DVR everything now.  I even built my own DVR out of a computer to make it easier to record four shows at once.  Now most providers can do that, but when I built mine four years ago, it was not so common.  The DVR is so ubiquitous that it is almost surprising to run into people who don’t have one.
I was in an elderly neighbor’s house this morning; he was having a problem with his cable and the technician was going to fix it for him.  He had an old pre-HD reverse-projection TV and a cable box that was plugged into a VCR.  He still used the VCR to record his shows from the cable box.  He had tapes across the top of his TV and his living room was littered with unlabeled VHS cassettes.  I was standing in awe of what I was seeing when it hit me: this is the guy that still buys video tapes from stores like Family Dollar. 
I’m not sure Wal Mart even stocks VHS anymore.  The cable tech was trying to explain DVR to the guy, but he wasn’t interested in a new way to record his shows, because it wouldn’t be permanent.  This guy has his tapes and his VCR and he’s good to go.  He doesn’t want the new tech.
The mind boggles.  At least now I know who still buys tapes.

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Time For The New Toys

The technology we use to entertain ourselves is in a state of constant flux. It is always changing; some things shrink while others grow. New features make that which was intricate simple and the obvious complicated. One thing that never changes, however, is that customer whim drives the technology. The latest medium has had a rocky road, but 2010 will finally be the year of the Blue Ray.

Once upon a time, the only way to watch a movie in the home was to buy a projector and a copy of the actual celluloid film. In the 70’s, home video came of age with the aptly named Video Home System (VHS) which beat out rival Betamax in a heated contest for consumer hearts and minds and wallets. With video, a new industry was born and flourished with many companies manufacturing tapes and selling copies to rental houses across the country. Soon, the cost of reproduction fell so low that people could afford to buy a copy of their favorite movies to own. Home libraries grew to rival the rental houses and as more stores popped up selling tapes, the rental houses began to fall away one by one.

Then the first real challenge to VHS market dominance came in the digital versatile disk (DVD). This CD-sized medium offered startling resolution when compared to VHS as well as surround sound. It filled the hole in the market left by the failed laser disk and overflowed all over the VHS market. Soon, the remaining rental houses began stocking only DVDs. Wal-Mart decided to do away with tapes altogether. Now the video tape has gone the way of the 8-track.

DVD has enjoyed total market dominance for almost 10 years, surviving the HD wars that caused such a stir three years ago. Two new formats of DVD fought it out much in the same manner as Betamax and VHS. HD DVD and Blue Ray both offered significantly better picture and uncompressed 5.1 digital surround sound. They used improvements in laser technology to cram more data onto disk the size of a standard DVD. Drives that read either disk could also read standard DVDs as well. So the battle was fought not in the TV, but in the shopping centers and box stores as releasing companies tried to outmaneuver each other with the new format. Blue Ray finally won and HD DVD has joined Betamax in the annals of failed but superior technology.

But Blue Ray’s victory was not complete. While it emerged as sole High Definition format, the Venerable DVD was still the big boy on the block and wasn’t going gently into that good night. Vendors and movie companies failed to realize the market and thought and planned on Blue Ray as a premium medium. They priced players in the $500 range and movie titles were double that of standard DVDs. Well, customers just thought that wouldn’t do, so they stayed away in droves from the Blue Ray section and bought more titles in standard DVD.

Even as HDTV took off and more and more people bought LCD and Plasma flat panel TVs, they were not spending the extra money for Blue Ray. Many market analysts predicted that Blue Ray would die a death of market apathy. People wouldn’t elect to buy a Blue Ray version of a title they already had in standard DVD, especially with the premium price tag. Some stores only allocated a half a shelf for the entire blue ray section, while the standard section was four or five shelves.

The rebound happened with Christmas 2009. After the summer FCC mandated digital transition, HDTVs started flying off the shelf even faster than before. Prices for flat panel sets dropped well below the thousand dollar mark. Movie companies finally began to realize that customers will not pay more for a blue ray title and so stores started marking them down to almost as low as standard DVDs. Many titles are actually cheaper on Blue Ray. Blue Ray players have also dropped in price, making the whole high def home theater experience affordable.

For those still on the fence, it is time to get in the game. Prices will only drop so low, and with the economy being the way it is, specials abound making it the perfect time. Besides, you will be doing your part to stimulate the economy to help bring us out of the recession. It is time for the DVD to join the VHS tape and the LP in the age of obsolescence.

Next, 3D-TV?

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