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The Fate of the VHS

By Olivia Harlow

Any millennial’s childhood can be summed up with Gushers, Bagel Bites, The Sims, Mario Kart, Britney Spears, and the video home system—more commonly known as the VHS. Now nearly extinct, the VHS was once a radical icon. Any 90s-era kid can fondly remember sitting atop a scraggly carpet next to their VCR player, holding the clunky Rewind button down, while gazing above at the TV screen, watching Jasmine and Aladdin fly in reverse through the sky on a magic carpet.


They’d press Play as soon as the Disney lovers returned to the castle tower, to sing along to “A Whole New World” over and over and over again. It’s no secret that the VHS has been deemed a bulky, outdated mode of movie-watching since its Disney classics days, but how did it reach its doomed fate?


VHS Comes to Life


Motion picture film was born long before VHS tapes, in 1895, when Auguste and Louis Lumiere created and patented the cinematograph—the world’s first camera with motion picture capabilities. Following this huge step in cinematography, inventors around the world sought to make the act of watching movies easier and more convenient for the public—eventually leading the creation of the VHS.


In 1976, JVC launched VHS, as well as the video cassette recorder (VCR) in Japan. The inventions came to the United States in 1977, at a press conference in Chicago. Featuring fast-rewinding and –forwarding, the two-hour long VHS films were considered compact and revolutionary for their time, and immediately gained traction nationwide. The best part? Movie enthusiasts could now watch videos in the comfort of their own home, whenever they wanted. All one had to do was simply insert the one-inch thick tape into a video player and watch their film come to life on a television or projector screen.


Moving On


But just as the VHS had caused original cinematography formats to die out, modern improvements eventually lead to the expiry of the VHS. In 2003, the VHS began to die off the market, overcome by DVD sales and online rentals. What was once a progressive icon became a tech dinosaur—the fate of so many inventions. The final movie produced in VHS format was “A History in Violence,” which debuted in 2006.


Since the ultimate demise of the VHS, the ways in which movie-goers watch film has advanced even further. The quality of DVDs has improved significantly, and nowadays Blu-Ray discs are the most common upgrade to a traditional DVD. Yet, it may not be long until tangible movies go extinct altogether. With the evolution of online platforms such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, purchasing a hard copy will soon be unnecessary. Now, movie-watchers can watch movies through network subscriptions, rentals, and downloadable purchases—all online, with the simple click of a button.


For many nostalgic 90s kids, looking back on the history of the VHS is bittersweet. But fear not: Your collection of Disney classics can live on! By digitizing all your old video tapes, you can keep Lion King and Snow White alive! And now when you want to rewind to Aladdin’s “A Whole New World”, you won’t need to sit on the scraggly carpet and hold the Rewind button.

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