You’ve probably already bumped into this story in the last few days. The last company still making VHS VCRs is about to stop making them. This brings to an end the 45-year history of VHS VCRs, which were once so common in houses that it was odd to see a home without one. At my peak, I owned four of them. And now, starting very soon, no one will be able to buy a new one.
Of course this doesn’t mean those VHS tapes you have will immediately stop being usable. I mean, chances are that the older ones have already degraded to the point of being unusable anyway, that’s what happens to magnetic media as the decades wear on. If you still have a VCR, it will keep working, and if you still have tapes that work, they will keep playing. It’s just that in case you had any doubt at all, the technology has no future.
There’s an excellent article over at The New York Times about the history of video tape recording, and since there’s no way I’ll match that level of journalism I’ll take you on a different journey.
What do you do if you’re committed to VCRs?
I don’t know why, but I don’t judge; if you’re a VCR fanatic this would be an excellent time to raid your local charities and buy up all the cassettes you can get, even if your only purpose is to record over them. While you’re there you’ll probably find sweet deals on a bunch of VCRs too. Personally I would look for the early-80s models. If they have wood grained sides, I’d head straight for them. Chances are they’re better built than anything you could buy in the 90s or 2000s so they probably still work.
If you still have a lot of your own content on video tape, this is definitely the time to start converting those tapes to digital. Get a VCR if you don’t still have one moldering in the garage and then pick up one of these neat video grabbers. They won’t help you with copyrighted stuff, but they’ll get those home movies transferred to your computer while they’re still playable. It works with pretty much any PC (no Macs, sorry) and it’s easy to use. Connect it, press PLAY on the VCR, and start the software working. It also works with other SD devices too – camcorders, DVD players (again, not copyrighted stuff), whatever. Super easy.
If you’re still using a VHS-based surveillance system, it’s time to join the 21st century. Digital security systems like these from SecurityMan are better than any old VHS system and they’re much more affordable than you could have imagined just a few years ago. Of course you can scale up to high definition and dozens of cameras too, plus add remote monitoring on your phone. All this will come at a price that’s probably less than you paid for your old security system “back in the day,” believe it or not.
As for your old movies, that’s a challenge. The problem is that not every title has made it to digital –some never made it to DVD– and the copy protection systems used in the 80s and 90s are annoying. While they’re easy to defeat with today’s technology, you would need to find something that would let you do that, and they’re just not that common. Add to that, it could be illegal to copy those video tapes, even if you’re just using the copy for your own enjoyment. So you won’t find that sort of device at Solid Signal, although I’m sure if you look down enough dark corners of the internet you’ll find one somewhere.
When we look back on the future of the VCR, you can see that it paved the way for a lot of our technology today. Without VCRs, people wouldn’t have become so enamored of video recording… so Vine, Facebook Live, and Periscope wouldn’t be sensations today. Without people wanting to timeshift their favorite shows, there would be no DVR and probably no streaming video, since you wouldn’t bother streaming if you were just watching live TV and nothing else. VCRs opened up the universe of movies to your home entertainment system and gave us the movie rental business, which still thrives even though it’s gone purely digital. As for me, one of my first jobs was at a video rental store, so in a very real way VCRs also gave me a career in technology. So there’s that.
But today we seek to put the VHS VCR in the rear view mirror and look forward. If you want a new one, now’s the time; if you can’t believe they still make new ones, don’t worry… they won’t be making them much longer.