Today, let us mourn the passing of an outdated, obsolete form of 20th-century technology.
The Japan-based company Funai announced last month that it would stop making video cassette recorders, commonly known as VCRs. Due to difficulties in acquiring components (and the fact that no one is buying VCRs anymore), the company rolled out its final batch of players last month.
I’m actually surprised VCRs were still being made. After all, the production of video cassettes ceased in 2008, when the last supplier of VHS (video home system) cassettes – a Florida company called Distribution Video & Audio – shipped the last of its product. After tapes became obsolete, I thought the machines themselves would be next on the chopping block. Although, every now and again, I would head out to a Best Buy and see VCRs still for sale, gathering dust.
For a long time there, the VCR format had a magnificent run. It all started 40 years ago, when the 1972 South Korean family film “The Young Teacher” became the first film released on VHS. By the time the ’80s rolled around, VCRs were all the rage. Other formats were trying to get in the home video game, like Betamax (which Sony finally killed earlier this year) and laserdiscs (a precursor to DVDs). But people always stuck with VHS.
But the DVD boom of the late ’90s changed home video and made everyone realize they were wasting their time with VCRs. You could watch movies in the way they were intended to be seen – in their God-given, widescreen format. (No more pan-and-scan!) There were also special features like audio commentaries and deleted scenes and all that jazz – all on one disc. A VHS tape, with its lone feature presentation, on lower-quality, black videotape that could easily be damaged in the player or just cut in half after multiple viewings, never had a chance.
But just as VCRs were being scooted out the door, the clock was ticking on DVD players as well. With services like Netflix and iTunes setting things off in the streaming-video revolution, people were finding it much easier to just stay at home and acquire movies through their laptops, iPhones or smart TVs. Eventually, the whole concept of leaving your house and picking up a couple of new releases became irrelevant itself, destroying the whole video-store market in the process. I mean, who needs all these Blockbuster Videos when a whole library of movies is at your fingertips?
I have to admit I’m feeling a bit sentimental about the whole thing. For starters, I still have a VCR – actually, it’s a combination DVD/VCR player. Even though I don’t watch as much on it as I used to, I have it there just in case I come across a hard-to-find movie somewhere. (Thrift stores are usually stocked with them.) Plus, I grew up with VCRs. I remember way back when I was about 4 or 5 years old my grandmother showed me how to operate a VCR. (I believe we were watching “The Blues Brothers.”) By the time I was 10, I had one of my own. I was taping things off TV left and right. I amassed quite the VHS library in my younger years, which I still have.
While the VCR has given me many memories, its time as the superior home video player has come to an end. Unless millennials and hipsters make it cool – just like they did with vinyl – to watch movies on VHS again, I hardly think VCRs will be making a comeback. So, let us pour out some liquor for this antiquated, home video device – but I’m still keeping mine.
Craig Lindsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org