Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Auf wiedersehen, VHS.
T'is the end of an era. There will be no rewinding back to the days of VHS. The Los Angeles Times reports, with no small bit of nostalgia, that the era of VHS has come to an end, with the last load of VHS tapes being sent out from a Florida warehouse.
The story includes an interesting look at what the new format meant for home entertainment, with theater-going not only NOT dying, but with movies getting a second run as a VHS release and a third run as an addition to a home movie library.
For about ten years in Korea I taught a very popular cross-cultural course that was a running commentary on comparisons between American and Korean culture, using news segments as the kernel of the course. Though that was only one of the things I did—and it was mostly a hobby because I loved teaching it—it was the thing that paid for all the other things, including the nascent media business I started.
I religiously recorded all English-language news broadcasts on AFKN, which were usually ABC News with Peter Jennings (R.I.P.) and NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. CNN, with its short and shallow clips, was usually not very useful, and CBS was rarely shown on AFKN (too liberal?).
The videotape format meant that if something I wanted to use was, say, fifteen minutes into a thirty-minute broadcast, I couldn't record the next day's program before the first. That meant videotapes filled up fast. I always meant to go back and re-record the usable clips using two VCRs hooked together, but there was usually no time. It was always easier to get a fresh new tape, number it (they had codes like "9811C" or "0204D" for the third tape used in November 1998 or the fourth tape used in April 2002, respectively), and stick it in the VCR.
And that's how I ended up with literally hundreds of videotapes in my apartment-cum-office. I think at one point we used them as office furniture. A whole bunch of them, when a move had to be made, ended up being tossed, including the ones that had my old Simpsons recordings on them.
When I briefly resurrected the course in 2006, right before leaving for Hawaii, I had the news programs on Quicktime files, courtesy of BJIT (British James in Texas) who would record them and upload them for me. Much easier to deal with.
VHS tapes made me rich (well, rich enough to buy an apartment and use it to start a small company). The Macs helped. So did my hard work, I suppose.
Ah, VHS. There are still a lot of old VHS movies lying around my house, including the uncut version of Angel Heart, which I watched over and over and over again (well, parts of it at least). One by one I have "replaced" them with their DVD counterpart. It doesn't hurt that some DVDs are as cheap as $5 at WalMart and Borders sometimes has whole seasons of your favorite show for $15.
I still remember, probably in the early 1980s, when my dad got us a membership at the local video store which had just opened up. It cost $50 or so for the annual membership, and then $2 or $3 for each video we rented. They often didn't have what we wanted. The proliferation of cable TV memberships and then video rental chains like Blockbuster magically turned the mom-and-pop video store into a Korean BBQ restaurant.
My dad also paid to have his old Super-8 home movies converted into videotape, thinking that would make them more permanent. Much to his horror, he learned that videotape has a shelf life measured in a decade or so. He was also horrified that his "Married With Children" collection wouldn't last. Later he had the good sense to simply buy copies of "Desperate Housewives," his new must-see TV program.
So, good-bye, VHS. It's been a lot of fun. But I have one question: With nothing but DVDs, can we still call them video stores? (Sure, if you accept that DVD stands for digital videodisc and not digital versatile disc.)