VHS finally dies a death – how long until DVD does the same?

December 22, 2008

VHS (Video Home System) may have been dead for most of us for many years but until now it hadn’t officially died. With the news that the last big supplier of VHS tapes is ditching the format, that death can now be officially announced. R.I.P. VHS.

What the VHS video format did for movies cannot be understated, both good and bad. It gave people the power to watch movies at home, affecting theater sales terribly, but also giving studios a second bite at the profit cherry thanks to rental and buying markets for their wares. It also brought movie piracy into the mainstream, a business that is bigger now than ever thanks to the Internet.

VHS came to prominence in the 1980s after originally launching in 1976. After a bloody battle with the rival Betamax format – a battle with many parallels to the recent Blu-ray vs DVD format war – VHS became an integral fixture in most people’s homes. The humble videotape not only allowed the viewing of the latest Hollywood blockbuster but also gave people the opportunity to record programs off the TV for the first time.

But now, according to The Los Angeles Times‘ Ryan J. Kugler, the last major supplier of VHS videotapes, is ditching the format in favor of DVD, effectively killing the format for good. There will, of course, still be a market for the tapes amongst collectors and people too far behind the times to have even upgraded to DVD let alone Blu-ray, but that’s all that’s left for this once great format.

Hollywood ditched VHS back in 2006 when A History of Violence became the last big movie to be released on the format. But Kugler says his Distribution Video Audio Inc. company managed to sell over four million videotapes in the last two years, proving there was still a demand, however much it was shrinking.

The world has, of course, now moved on a great deal. DVD is now the format of choice for most but even that looks outdated compared to Blu-ray. And both physical formats probably face their toughest test from the emergence of digital downloads as a true force in the movie industry.

Kugler himself may be a fan of old formats but he thinks even DVD has a limited life left, stating that “the DVD will be obsolete in three or four years, no doubt about it. Everything will be Blu-ray. The days of the DVD are numbered. And that is good news for me.”

Whether that prediction rings true or not remains to be seen, but one format is now officially dead. Will VHS be missed? Not when compared to what we now have, with videos being brittle, clunky, and rather user-unfriendly. But they ushered in a new era that was important to get to where we are today. And for that reason, the death of VHS is rather sad. Almost as sad as the people still using it.

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16 Responses to “VHS finally dies a death – how long until DVD does the same?”

  1. Ralph:

    I still use the old fashioned VCR. You can record and erase, you have no loss of video and audio sync as one does with digital media.

    Ever watch a movie where the actors voice is out of sync from what he is supposed to be saying? Its especially irritating with music videos. VHS does not have that problem.

    VHS tapes are still inexpensive, easy to use and the recorders are far less expensive than a stand alone DVD recorder.

    Ever try to record a video on DVD only to have the disc fail half way on a stand alone recorder?

    I never had that problem with a VHS tape, unless it was so worn out that it wasn’t worth using in the first place.

    Yes I know DVD looks better than VHS, I could care less that it isn’t perfect on VHS. At least with VHS, just pop it in and watch.

    With DVD, you have to press the on button, press the eject (then wait), then the tray pops out…put the movie onto the tray, press close, then wait some more until the player scans the disc.. (wait) then you press play. Already you wasted three minutes.

    Another issue, ever buy a used DVD at a flea market or even a video store. I have seen movies (only three or four years old) on DVD all scratched up to the point of being unplayable.

    Compare that to a used VHS tape that is fifteen or even twenty five years old. Sure, maybe the case is a scratched up, but the movie will play.

    VHS does not have that Region 1,2,3 hassle either. If you want to watch a tape from Europe and you live in the U.S. you will need a multi standard VHS player to play the PAL VHS format. They are not that expensive, but well worth the cost if you swap VHS tapes with a friend in Europe.

    VCR has no monthly fees unlike a TIVO, . You can record for up to six hours per tape and take that tape anywhere you want. Try doing that with a TIVO.

    For ruggedness, the VHS tape will hold up better. VHS is less expensive, less hassle, even though it has less video quality, it can be recorded again and again…regardless it is well worth the trade off.

    I guess I need to stock up on some VHS tapes while I can get them. Progress sometimes isn’t…progress.

  2. Fractalzone:

    Hi Dave,

    Although TechBlorge has changed significantly since I first subscribed, it has remained one of the very few daily online periodicals I read religiously. Your articles are part of the reason.

    I just wanted to say that while I was an early adopter of VHS, RW CDs/DVDs, and the fastest home/office ‘Net connections I could afford, I’ve pretty much ignored HD-DVD and Blu-ray, because I suspect that sort of physical digital media will remain in vogue about as long as 8-track tapes.

    Ever-faster digital communications and cheaper, larger capacity “thumb drives” will render storage media that relies upon movement (rotating platters or spinning tapes) obsolete. Solid state media is more durable in many (most?) ways, too.

    I now carry 42Gb on three thumb drives around my neck at times — and I bought the 2, 8, and 32 GB sticks for around $40/ea. when they were each SOTA. If I live another decade, I expect to pay less than $50 for a TB of fast, tiny solid-state portable storage and use it to carry various fractions of 10s of TB of data I happen to have elsewhere.

    Merry Christmas!,

  3. DaveBG:

    “the DVD will be obsolete in three or four years, no doubt about it. Everything will be Blu-ray.”


    The delusions of these guys is a great source of amusement.

    DVD will be around for many many years to come and I can see no serious reason why it will not see off Blu-ray.

  4. Jon Skeet:

    @Ralph: If it takes you *three minutes* to start to watch a DVD, then you should really get a better DVD player. Heaven forbid you should ever want to start to watch something other than where you left off last time, too…

    (Plenty of other points can be countered too, but that was the most ridiculous one. Really, three minutes?)

  5. Jonathan:

    I need to record 8-hour-long events; VHS EP is still the most convenient way to do that, as far as I can see.

  6. Daniel Selby:

    Actually VHS was not the first unit on the market that people used to record TV programs off the air. Back in summer of 1972 my parents bought a unit at Wards called Cartrivision and it allowed reording off the air and with a B&W camera.

  7. Daniel Selby:

    8 Tracks tapes were made from the mid 1960′s to the mid 1980′s. I’d say 20 years is a long while, FractalZone.

  8. eeun:

    VHS tapes are…brittle?

    How could anyone write that in the same article that discusses DVD and blu-ray discs without the meaning being purely sarcastic?

    And to end the article with “Almost as sad as the people still using it” just smacks of immature Starbucks-sipping techno-elitism, and pretty much invalidates anything useful said earlier in the article.

  9. GasWeasel:

    Old tapes will play if banged up, yes, however if they have been played in dirty players, or if your player is a little dirty, the tape is likely to wrap around your heads and require a sacrifice of either the tape or the player to remove it.

    All tech has its ups and downs, and I think the move from VHS to DVD has eliminated more downs than it has created, and definately created more ups than it has lost. Don’t sugar coat your memories of VHS now that it’s on its way out the door. They were crappy compared to DVD in terms of convenience, quality and price.

    DVD will be around a long time, eventually to be slowly supplanted by BluRay. DVD will likely not be ushered out the door until the successor to BluRay starts to become mainstream. There’s almost always an overlap of two formats available for cutting edge folks and hangers back. Think EP/LPs of various speeds, 8 Track, Cassette, CD, digital download. At least two of those were in mainstream at any given time, but one was usually on its way out at any given time, as well.

  10. Kelly Edmonds:

    I have a conundrum for you… I was trying to back up a movie to DVD that I had recorded from TV to VHS several years ago, merely because I can not find it available anywhere on DVD, and I mean anywhere, regardless of the region code. But when I try to copy it using my Combo unit (DVD recorder/VHS recorder), I get the same error I have gotten when trying to make a back up copy of a video from my personal library… Any ideas why this happens… I started with a blank VHS tape that I purchased at a Target or Walmart or K-Mart… recorded it from TV.

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  13. Dave:

    VCR’s rule

  14. SegaAM3:

    Even in 2012 I still use tape the digital switch over in England put paid to a lot of people’s VCRs but a top set box was all I needed to keep this flame going, I grew up with tapes and never really been keen about moving away from them because they’re so dam reliable, the amount of storage they have is amazing 6 hours for technology that is donkey’s years old really makes the DVD pale in comparison, plus VHS tapes are solid and extremely easy to work with for recoding and whatever you have recorded is in your hands for keeps and not on a poxy hard drive that could fail any time, people say to me “why do you use tapes they will fail over time” hmm I have yet to see that, I have recordings I made that go back to the late 1980s on cheapo tapes recorded on a really low end VCR’s and even to this day they don’t look any different picture wise so it’s bollox, if you store your tapes correctly and keep your VCR well maintained then your tapes and your VCR will last for ever
    Tapes will be around for some time yet, granted not many uses them now but there is billions are tapes out there so there’s no danger of shortages just yet.

  15. kizer:

    @Jon skeet

    I really have to call you out on your comments. Yes it does takes ages to get to the main content on a DVD because you can’t fast forward through all the crap at the start. Nothing to do with the type of DVD player. Fool.

    VHS FTW!

  16. Kbot:

    And at the start of the story he said that DVD would probably be obsolete soon, Five years on and DVD are still going strong and I believe it still has atleast another five years. I still now watch VHS but now DVD has massively improved and is not as unfriendly as it once was :)

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