Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Last Christmas for VHS

It is gone and it is official.

Many of us grew up with VHS or to the people here, it is simply known as video tape. The black boxy tape stored many of our favorite movies and it brings so much nostalgia by just looking at this 30-year old device.
VHS or Video Home System, was launched in Sep 1976 in Japan by JVC and it soon became popular. It went through a fierce competition with rival format, Betamax (above top), and won. Life was good for many years.

In 1997, DVD was introduced. Initially, no one could see clearly that a replacement was born until 2003 when the usage of DVD overtook that of VHS. That was the first sign of death for VHS.

The dominance of DVD grew rapidly and the death of VHS was almost certain. On 23 Dec 08, the last major supplier of VHS tapes, Distribution Video Audio Inc, sent out its final shipment and officially drew the curtain.

If you have some of those video tapes lying around the house, I can think of two options for you: The first one is the most practical which I'd strongly recommend - dump them! Otherwise, if you are the nostalgic type, you might want to hold back a few for keepsake. Who knows, you may be able to auction them one day to some die-hard collectors.

Tips: If you really must collect them, look out for the first movie released on VHS and the last. The titles are The Young Teacher (1972, Korean) and A History of Violence (2006, US), respectively.

I cannot recall the last time I watched a movie on a VHS tape but I am quite sure it must have been within the last decade. One of the things needed to be done before we could enjoy a movie was to rewind the tape - something we never need to with DVD.

I remember having those rewinders made specially for this purpose. Some of those were made into fanciful shapes (I still have one shaped as a car). It was quite a time-consuming affair to rewind those tapes, especially the ones with long playing hours.

The quality produced by the tape was not great but none of us was complaining as there were no better alternatives. Some tapes were so poorly recorded that I could barely make out the images on TV. Today, we are talking about HD, high definition. What a contrast.

The tape was made with some mechanical parts which turn the tape in the video player. At times, the tape got really jammed up in the player you wonder if you should start to put the tapes or your own hair. It could get really exasperating, especially in the middle of an exciting show.

I remember watching the Japanese horror film as well as the English adaptation, The Ring. It is about a cursed video tape, when watched, will cause the viewers to die a week after. The show freaked me out in many ways and one of them is the use of video tapes. Since then, if I ever pushed a tape into a player and if it brought up grainy images on the TV, my hair would stand.

DVD now takes the realm but will it be for long?

When HD DVD player came into the market in 2006, it was aiming to succeed DVD by promising better image quality and greater storage space on HD DVD discs. A war with a competing format broke out and in Mar 08, Blu-Ray Disc was declared the winner. What this means is that you will have to watch HD movies with Blu-Ray discs on compatible players. If you take a quick glance in any video rental shops, you will find Blu-Ray discs invading the stores taking very prominent spots.

In the mean time, if you are not craving for those sharper images, you can still continue to watch your favorite movies on DVD discs. But it won't take a genius to know that the days are numbered.

Newer players and televisions are going for HD. Before long, you will find that you cannot get a replacement for your DVD player when the current one calls it a day. DVD took 11 years to 'kill' the video tapes. This time round, it won't take Blu-Ray that long to do the same. I will give it a few more years.

Verdict: Time to prepare the graveyard for our DVD discs and players.

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