When did DVDs Beat out the VHS?
When did DVDs Beat out the VHS?
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When did DVDs Beat out the VHS?

By Christian Roemer

For the kiddos around here, you might not know what a VHS tape is. If you stumbled across one of these strange, black boxes at some point in your life, you may have thought to yourself, “Hm, what a curious object. Is it some sort of specialized storage container?” Then, you probably took a picture with your iPhone, uploaded it to the internet to ask a bunch of strangers what the heck you were looking at.

Well, young padawan, that little black box is called a VHS tape. At one point in humanity’s history, VHS tapes were the bees’ knees. Now? Let’s just say, they had their day but it’s time to put them out to pasture.

For a pretty good while, VHS tapes changed the world. Basically, they were the first real home media format that put video consumption in the hands of the consumer. Before VHS, TV channel programmers basically had all of the power. TVs were just screens that picked up stations over the airwaves, and you watched what the programmers wanted you to watch. Worse still, you watched it when they wanted to you watch it. Your options were figure out which channel you wanted to hang out with, then programmers and producers did the rest.

VHS changed all of that.

With the invention of those little plastic boxes, home media viewership changed for forever. Because they were compact, easy to use, and (most importantly) affordable, families could create their own video libraries and watch whatever movies they wanted, whenever they wanted.

Producers everywhere cried themselves to sleep at their loss of cultural clout.

VHS was king for a couple of decades. From the 1970s to early 2000s, VHS was basically the only format that regular people could afford to watch home videos and movies at home. Tapes continued to get better, VCRs got cheaper, and home videos were everywhere. Blockbusters were on every corner, and trendy shirts reading “Be kind. Rewind.” were on display at practically every high school and college campus in the United States. In fact, that one phrase elicited an almost universal, technological morality, where entire moral judgments could be determined in relationships based on whether someone rewound their tapes after watching or not.

But VHS didn’t live forever. A better, newer, crisper technology arrived that knocked poor VHS off of its perch: DVDs. DVDs were more compact, had clearer picture quality, and didn’t require rewinding. As proudly awesome as VHS was for its time, it was equally quickly dispatched due to this newer, more tech-savvy technology.

DVDs overtook VHS tapes in sales in 2002, and VHS never recovered. Once DVDs and DVD players became more affordable, there was really no reason to ever watch a VHS tape again. And so VHSs were relegated to boxes in closets everywhere, never to return again.

If I’m honest, I don’t miss VHSs at all. They were bulky, VCRs were annoying, and rewinding and fast forwarding were basically torture. You couldn’t pause them without giant lines in the middle of the TV, and there was some feature on VCRs called tracking. I still don’t know what that means because I never used it.

But then again, VHS tapes represent a simpler time. There’s no morality in a DVD--aside from scratches, I suppose--whereas every interaction with a VHS tape was an engaged struggle with your own character. Would you finish the movie? If you did, would you rewind it afterwards? If not immediately, before you put it away? If not, would your sister find out it was you that left her favorite Disney movie on the end credits, track you down, and kick you in the shins? Watching a VHS tape was serious business.

The ethics of VHS might be the saddest loss of the technology. That and this hilarious Little Mermaid box. But the actual experience of watching VHS vs. DVDs? Psh, get me that DVD every day of the week.

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