The Death of VHS

VHS cassette by A. Carlos Herrera

Nobody is going to buy a video recorder based on the VHS format this Christmas. Everything will be MiniDV (camcorders), DVD and hard drive based.

In the US, the VHS format was recently declared dead. That’s perhaps a bit premature, it’s rather more of a retirement. VHS tapes will still be active for some years to come as old tapes with treasured memories or cult films will still be rewound and played through every now and then.

From the article linked above:

After its youthful Betamax battles, the longer-playing VHS tapes eventually became the format of choice for millions of consumers. VHS enjoyed a lucrative career, transforming the way people watched movies and changing the economics of the film biz.

VHS is a media which has survived 30 years, and over the years I have owned (and lost) hundreds of tapes. In the early days, the quality wasn’t very good, but improvements in image processing circuitry (VHS HQ) drove a nail into the Betamax coffin and made VHS ubiquitous.

The same kind of tension is apparent in the market now – regarding downloading films – as there was when VHS became popular. The cinema industry was frightened that tapes you could view at home would have a negative impact on their revenues. In fact, VHS became a money-spinner in it’s own right. Film downloads could be just the same, if legal download sites get their acts together. People want to get hold of DVD quality content from the comfort of their home office chairs and living rooms. They also want all the accompanying bonuses and language options. You can download almost anything illegally, but this is less of a problem than the studios make out. Just like the risk of VHS copyright infringement didn’t stop massive studio sales of popular films, or people going to the cinema. The only difference is that it’s quicker to copy a DVD than a VHS tape. But it will always take 2 hours to watch the film, which rather limits the interest of mass copying to rogue market traders and their ilk :-D.

Anyway… with no good download solution most new recordings I buy are on DVD. Those I make myself are recorded directly on a 1Gb memory card. You can get more storage on that square centimetre of media card than you used to be able to get in a very expensive hard drive. In fact that square centimetre at 1Gb can hold more information than a 3 hour VHS tape, and at superior quality, using XviD and MP3 compression.

Back when VHS was big, editing home movies together meant two VHS decks, and if you had the money, an editing console to automate the start/end points for you. With a digital source you can use VirtualDub or Windows Movie Maker and get it done for free, in much less time.

I invite you to embrace the digital age for it allows us all to do things more quickly and cheaply. It means we can be creative and share our creations with people who share our interests all around the world. It doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly a major copyright infringement case. Goodbye VHS, I have fond memories of bookcases full of tapes but I’ll stick to a 250Gb hard drive and my DVD shelves, where I have far more films at higher quality and in far less space.

Image credit: A. Carlos Herrera.

7 Responses to “The Death of VHS”

  1. Carrster Says:

    VHS is a pain in the butt for me. I’m digital all the way. I love editing digitally and storing things on hard drives and CDs or DVDs. I’m soon going HD and getting a massive storage unit which will hopefully last me for many years….ya never know though with technology.

    Happy Holidays!:)

  2. Simon Says:

    Hi Carrster,

    VHS is a real nostalgia thing for me. I shot amateur movies when I was in my teens, moving up to SVHS at university on a student project. Digital would have been great at that time, would have saved us money on editing!

    Digital is the way to go, but I bet storage requirements will keep on going up as we all move to HD (1920 x 1080) and higher (4096 x 2160 for 4D cinema spec) which will eat up hard drive space at about 300GB per movie, possibly more if uncompressed ready for linear editing, including all shots… :-)

    -Fruey

  3. Carrster Says:

    Yep – I’m investing soon in a 2 Terabyte tower to give me some breathing room – for now at least. The space it takes is mind blowing but then again so is how small storage is getting. If I had to actually cut negatives I don’t think I would ever have gotten into editing. I’m way too impatient for that!

  4. Simon Says:

    2 Terabytes…! That sounds like a good healthy amount of storage :-D.

    I think there’s probably a charm in cutting negatives (did a very very small amount of that with Super8 ciné films) but it gets boring very quickly. You really feel a sense of acheivement though, having done it all with a cutting block and splicing tape…

    -Fruey

  5. Marinade Dave Says:

    Merry Christmas, Fruey!

  6. Simon Says:

    Hi Dave,

    A very Merry Christmas to you too, enjoy the festive season! Thanks for dropping by to send your good wishes.

    -Fruey

  7. Carrster Says:

    Happy New Year! :)