The VHS VCR — The End Has Finally Come

Time to stop using a VCR to record and play videos

After 41 years, the VHS VCR was discontinued in the Summer of 2016. Funai, the last remaining VHS VCR maker (under its own and the Emerson, Magnavox, and Sanyo brand names) ended production of the once-revolutionary time-shifting video recording and playback machine.

Although there are still millions of VHS VCRs used around the World (it's estimated 45% of U.S. households have at least one), sales of VHS VCRs dropped to 750,000 Worldwide in 2015 and has steadily decreased since.

Loading A VHS Tape Into a VCR
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A Brief History of VHS

In 1971, JVC wanted to provide an affordable way to record and playback video content to view on TVs used at the time. VHS reached the consumer market in 1976 (in the U.S. under the RCA brand name in 1977), about a year after Sony's BETAMAX videocassette format.

Before VHS and BETA, there were several other videotape formats such as Cartivision, Sanyo V-Cord, and Philips VCR, but all fell by the wayside.

By the mid-1980s, VHS was the dominant home entertainment video format, relegating its direct competitor, BETAMAX, to niche status.

VHS gave rise to both the chain and "mom-and-pop" video rental industry. At its peak, it seemed like there was a video rental store on almost every street corner. However, in the mid-'90s newer options (DVD, TIVO/Cable/Satellite DVRs) began the slow decline in the popularity of the VHS VCR.

VHS video quality was no match for newer formats and options. For recording, the introduction of DVRs that recorded video on hard drives, and DVD recorders, provided higher quality results.

More recently, the convenience provided by Smart TVs and internet streaming decreased the popularity of VHS VCRs further.

With the advent of HDTV (and now 4K Ultra HD), the video quality of VHS recordings just doesn't hold up, especially on larger TV screens. Attempts to improve VHS quality with S-VHS, and D-VHS didn't make consumers jump to those options.

Another factor affecting VHS was the imposition of recording restrictions (copy-protection) limiting the practical use of the VCR. For many, VHS VCRs became relegated to playing old tapes or as a playback device for copying tapes to DVD.

The last Hollywood movie credited with a wide release on VHS was A History of Violence (2006).

As a playback device for making copies to DVD, the rise of the DVD Recorder/VHS VCR combo enjoyed some popularity, but since 2010, ​even that option has become very rare.

The VHS VCR's Place in Consumer Electronics History

Despite its demise, the VHS VCR has a special place in consumer electronics history.

Before Cable/Satellite DVRs, Video-on-Demand, Smart TV, and internet streaming, the VHS VCR established the foundation for consumers to take control of TV and movie viewing. In its heyday, the VHS VCR was one of the few tools that consumers had to time-shift their favorite shows for more convenient viewing.

Also, despite fears from movie studios that VCRs would doom their industry, as VHS VCRs, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and streaming have each gained a foothold, people are still going to the movies in large numbers. On the other hand, the VHS VCR should be credited as a contributing factor in the development of home theater.

VHS has been retired to Gadget Heaven, joining such legendary products as the BETAMAX, LaserDisc, 8 Track Tapes, HD-DVD, and CRT, Rear Projection, and Plasma TVs. However, one old legendary product, the vinyl record, has enjoyed a resurgence.

What Happens Now

If you have a lot of VHS tapes and want to preserve some or all of them, time is of the essence as VCRs, including DVD/VCR combos, are no longer being made.

If you are still looking for a device that will record and play VHS tapes, check some remaining products that may still be available new (as long as the stock remains), or used.

As long as there is a large number of VHS VCRs in use, blank VHS tapes should be available, if not in retail stores, they will be available for purchase online.

What the Letters VHS Stand For

For consumers, VHS stands for Video Home System.

For engineers, VHS stands for Vertical Helical Scanning, which is the technology that VHS VCRs use for recording and playback.