June 4, 1977. Jimmy Carter has been in office less than six months. Star Wars has just been released in theaters and is well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film to date. Kanye West will be born in four days.
Oh yeah, and VHS is about to hit U.S. shores at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Chicago. Betamax has been kicking for over two years now, but VHS creator JVC is about to drop a series of bombs on the consumer electronics world. The first is two-hour record time, doubling that of Beta and establishing enough room for a feature-length film on one tape. The second was porn (not an official announcement, but JVC had no problems with porn, while Sony banned it on Beta).
Within two years, VHS had stolen over 40 percent of the U.S. home-video market. By 1987, around 90 percent of the VCR market belonged to VHS. Regardless of image quality supremacy (a component video system with more lines of resolution), Beta’s shorter recording time and JVC’s willingness to a flood of other manufacturers led to a bitter format war that Beta just couldn’t win. Even with improvements in recording time pushing five hours, VHS kept the record-time edge with over 10 hours in SLP on a T-210 tape.
VHS lived a long life. The last stand-alone VHS VCR was manufactured by JVC in 2008, and DVD+VHS combo players are still produced. DVRs have replaced tape with hard-drives for television recording, and with DVD and Blu-ray we’re already on our second post-VHS pre-recorded medium. Video stores, however, are a fading relic of the VHS age as Netflix, VOD and RedBox are today’s norm.
I have many a fond memories of VHS. Tim Burton’s Batman and Wrestle Mania 6 were probably the most played tapes in my house when I was a kid, and the change in the couch funded many a bicycle trip to “Video Fantastic” in my sleepy little town. Nostalgia aside, VHS brought Hollywood into the home and introduced the concept of time-shifting. Without these basic concepts, we would live in a completely different world. Thanks, VHS. We’ll help you blow out all 33 candles, even if you are just a box full of old Disney movies in the attic these days.
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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.