Watch Those VHS Tapes!

It was only ten years ago when DVD players cost over 500 bucks. And it seems like only yesterday that people were trampling each other in Wal-Mart on Black Friday to buy up $25 DVD players.

At this point we’ve probably all taken for granted the inevitable obsolescence of the VHS video tape. Yet, how many of us have shelves or closets full of tapes? Movies we never bought on DVD (or still aren’t available), stuff we taped off TV, home videos or maybe even tapes that have still gone unwatched.

Now we have one more reason to get ourselves in gear to go through those tapes and see what’s worth keeping, watching or preserving. JVC, the inventor of VHS, has confirmed that it has quit making stand-alone VHS VCRs. While there are still many VCRs left in the supply-chain, when they’re gone, they’re gone. As goes JVC, likely that’s the way the rest of the industry goes.

Nevertheless, with millions, if not billions, of tapes out there in the world, it’s probably a little premature to sound the final death knell for VHS. While stand-alone VHS VCRs that do nothing but play and record VHS are disappearing, JVC–along with several other manufacturers–is still making combo units that combine a DVD player or recorder with the VHS VCR.

Still, I wonder how long until we start seeing a dwindling number of these combo units on store shelves. it doesn’t look like BluRay is ready to take of quite like DVD did nearly a decade ago, but it’s fair to say that DVD is now not far from the place VHS was at the turn of the century, when VCRs dropped under $50 and tapes became bargain-bin items.

The point here is to see the writing on the wall and take steps to evaluate and preserve your VHS collection. That can mean stockpiling VCRs for the time when finding a working player gets more difficult, or–perhaps more efficiently–copying your favorite or irreplaceable tapes over to DVD-R.

If your favorite tapes are recorded off TV or in a camcorder you’ll have no problems making the copy using a VHS/DVD-R combo deck. However, if your favorite VHS tape is a commercially produced program your combo deck will balk at making the copy, thanks to Macrovision and the DMCA — even if that program isn’t otherwise available on DVD.

You can find so-called “video stabilizers” online that pretty effectively remove the macrovision copy protection from the analog VHS signal to record to DVD. But to use them you have to have a standalone VHS deck and DVD recorder, not a combo unit. Although, you could use two combo units, playing from one unit’s VHS deck to the other’s DVD recorder.

Another option would be to kick-start the latent VHS fan movement. It seems like plenty of forgotten technologies, from 8-track tapes to 78 records, so why not VHS? As the most popular analog video format you’d think that there’s got to be some underdog passion out there for it, whether due to forgotten cult classics only available on tape, or appreciation for its retro analog charms. Invite friends over to watch movies taped of late-night cable in the 1980s, or home videos from the early 90s.

Or maybe it’s time for all-VHS pirate TV when the analog turnoff happens in February.






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