The Rise And Fall Of VHS

Posted by Ian Stewart on

It never scratches, it always starts playing at the point you left off, it doesn't have any frustrating menus or loading screens, and you can get rid of obnoxious ads with a pair of scissors and tape. Best of all, no one's ever hauled it out of the house before! What could this hypothetical device be? A VHS player! The iconic video player that has been a staple of home theatre entertainment for over 30 years–fuelled by footage of yesteryear and waves of nostalgia.

A Technological Breakthrough In Its Day 

The Video Home System (VHS) has been around for a few decades but didn't last long enough to compare it to the iPod or iPhone. It was released in the 80s and got outshone by the likes of DVDs in the early 2000s, which is just a little bit before Blu-ray and streaming services really took off. Back then, the VHS was a major breakthrough in technology—specialised video cassettes allowed users to record their favourite movies, shows, or anything they wanted to remember. For the first time, people could watch things while they recorded something else on their tapes. And it wasn't just a new toy: the VHS had a major impact on the home theatre industry. 

The Turf War Between Betamax And VHS

Various companies previously made videotapes, including the AMPEX Company and Sony. The AMPEX Company released the AMPEX VRX-1000 in 1956 at a whopping £25,000. (Whoah, that's a lot of money for a home entertainment budget!) Not surprisingly, Sony's offer wasn't very popular with the general public either because of its high price. Sony took the idea and came up with a new version in 1963, but it was still expensive for most people, just like most new and innovative technology is. Then in 1975, Sony introduced the Betamax. Even though it was first on the market and had superior audio quality, it couldn't compete with VHS when it came to video quality. The VHS was released soon after by JVC and the VHS/Betamax war began. VHS took off because it was a more affordable format, with third-party companies involved. By 1987, 90% of the video cassette recorder (VCR) market in the U.S. was based on the VHS format. But Betamax was better technology and charged a higher price tag. JVC had no such reservations, and in 2001, VHS sales were at their peak. That year, enough tapes were manufactured to cover the earth-moon distance over 900 times, not even counting all the reels of film inside them.

The Rise And Fall Of VHS

In the early days of home video, there was a transformation in the way we watched movies. Though it is little known, the famous VHS tape was introduced at a press event in 1977 at a trade show called CES. It had a long playtime, fast rewinding and fast-forwarding. The two-hour tape was incredibly compact, leading to the longevity of both the VHS and its smaller counterparts – VHS-C, MiniDV, Hi8, etc. Even with the rise of DVDs, the VHS kept up with the changing times–and refused to die quickly or quietly without a fight.

Gradually, Hollywood began discontinuing the distribution of movies on VHS. "A History of Violence" was the last movie to be released on VHS in 2006. This signals the end of the era that we used to call "being kind and rewinding.

It may seem like the entertainment sector is always changing, and it is. For example, it used to be that the only option we had was a VHS or a DVD. And now? Well, there are so many streaming services at our fingertips. It's almost as if people don't want to own physical copies of their favourite movies or TV shows anymore; they just want to stream them online or order them on-demand instantly. However, there are still a few people out there that love to collect and have a DVD or VHS collection.

In this new era, those old VHS tapes have value. Your memories and the precious moments recorded to your tapes or film are all important – they matter to you, which means they matter to us.


Fun VHS Fact

If you enjoy learning about VHS history, then these fun facts will blow your mind.

  • The first-ever film released on VHS was called "The Young Teacher."
  • Titanic was the only movie to be released on VHS while still being in cinemas
  • Certain VHS tapes still hold massive value, mostly old horror films and things that didn't get converted to DVD. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks could be worth up to £1000.
  • The last major motion picture released on VHS was "A History Of Violence" in 2006.

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