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How the VHS Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

By Christian Roemer


For a little while in the late 20th century, the VHS reigned supreme as the standard format for home videos. The ease of use, affordability, relatively good quality, and accessibility made it a standard in pretty much any American entertainment system. While the VHS format has basically ceased to exist outside of relics that still haunt closets around the country, it was still one of the most pervasive video formats in all of history. Tracing its history, you’ll find it way more interesting than a simple cassette invention that appeared out of nowhere then disappeared almost as quickly. Rather, it was a slow rise to the top with an abrupt and swift decline. Before VHS existed, a format called VTR was invented in the 1950s. The VTR was a huge piece of equipment that was able to record and re-record videos on a reel of film. However, instead of a small, household appliance, the VTR was a giant machine that cost a bunch of money--about $400,000 in today’s money. This really pricey tool was mainly used by TV stations and professional studios due to its high cost and difficulty of use. But the VTR re-recordable technology paved the way for the more accessible and usable VHS to exist in the future.


Drawing on the same technology that the VTR used, Victor Company of Japan (JVC) started working on creating a consumer version. In 1971, two Japanese engineers worked on what would eventually become the cassettes that we know and love today...errr yesterday. It wasn’t easy though--it took them about 5 years to release the direct-to-consumer VHS. The first version of the in-home VHS format was still pretty expensive. The VCR itself would run you about $1,000 in 1986. That’s about $4,500 in today’s dollars. For the following few years, VHS and Betamax battled to become the industry standard. It was very similar to the Blu Ray and HDDVD fight of the mid-late 2000s. Ultimately, VHS won, almost every home had a VCR connected to its TV. The boxy cassettes lined shelves in homes all across the country until the dreaded DVD knocked it from its home theater throne.


Overall, the VHS was an integral part of the development of home theater and personal media. It made recording things easier for the average citizen, and it was affordable enough to put in practically every home. Before the obsolescence bug hit it, the VHS was the home video king. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure you back up every piece of media that you own. Keeping your home library up to date in a format that you can still use is instrumental in ensuring your memories don’t end up stored in a closet somewhere for forever...even if it seems like whatever you’re using will be around until the end of time.
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