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The Rise and Fall of the VHS

By Shelby Burr

It won't scratch if dropped, and it always starts playing where you left off. It can record up to six hours and lets you fast-forward through anything or rewind if you missed something pivotal. It doesn't have any annoying menus or loading screens. Best of all, you can get rid of unwanted ads and trailers with a pair of scissors and a piece of scotch tape! You must be wondering what dream gizmo this could be. Well, it is the good old VHSThe staple of early home theater entertainment fueled by footage of yesteryear and waves of nostalgia.


A Technological Breakthrough

At some point in time, the Video Home System or VHS used to be just as big as DVDs are today. Well, “today,” referring to DVD’s peak back in the mid 2000s, right before Blu-ray and streaming services. For the VHS, it was the 80s and 90s, where the hair was big, the denim was acid washed and the fashion choices were questionable at best. For the first time, people were able to easily record things. The idea of watching one show while recording another was a major turning point back then, and a breakthrough in technology, literally revolutionizing the home theater industry. Although the VHS seems as old as dinosaurs—especially when comparing it to all the high-tech gadgets we have now—its usage was discontinued only about a decade ago.



Turf War Between Giants

Various companies previously produced Video Tape Recorders (VTR), including the AMPEX Company and Sony. The AMPEX Company released the AMPEX VRX-1000 in 1956 at a whopping $50,000.  Not too friendly on the average family’s humble home entertainment budget.  And we all scoff at the price tag attached to the latest iPhone releases. Obviously, it wasn't very popular or successful with the general public due to its outrageously high cost. Sony took the idea and came up with a new version in 1963, but it was still a little pricey for most people as most new and innovative tech was. Later, in 1975, Sony introduced the Betamax. First out of the gate, the Betamax was cutting edge in audio and sound quality for the time. The VHS was released soon after by JVC, and the VHS/Betamax war began with the VHS coming out as a clear winner based on its more affordable price tag and inclusion of third-party companies. It was truly the first great format war. In its first year alone, the VHS format took about 40% of business away from Sony. By 1987, 90% of the $5.25 billion VCR market in the U.S. alone was based on the VHS format. Although Betamax was technically the more sophisticated technology, the small discrepancies between the two formats didn’t warrant the heftier price tag that Betamax charged. JVC had no such reservations and in 2001, there was a significant peak in VHS sales. As a matter of fact, enough VHS tapes were produced that year to cover the earth-moon distance more than 987 times! And that’s not even counting the film reels inside the tape!!


The Rise and Fall of the VHS

The VHS videocassette format was first introduced in North America in 1977 at a press conference during the CES in Chicago. It featured a long playtime, fast-rewinding and fast-forwarding. The two-hour tape was considered to be incredibly compact and small, leading to the long-lasting success of the VHS and its smaller counterparts that would be later released – VHS-C, MiniDV, Hi8, etc. Even with the rise of DVDs, the VHS kept kicking and refused to die quickly or quietly without a fight. As of 2005, around 95 million Americans still owned VHS-format VCRs. Gradually, Hollywood stopped releasing movies on VHS. The last movie to be produced in VHS format was "A History of Violence" in 2006, signing the definite death of the VHS. Just shy of a 30-year run. Pretty remarkable when you stop and appreciate the significance of the “Be Kind, Rewind” era it left behind.

Today, we have DVDs and Blu-rays and streaming services galore, but who knows? A decade from now, we may have something entirely different and will find ourselves reading an article about the history of its ancestor! And in a way, that’s already happening with the sheer abundance of TV and movie streaming services. Like music, it seems no one cares to actually own a physical copy anymore, so long as they have access to a vast streaming library that they can watch instantly or order on-demand.

In the meantime, your VHS tapes matter. Your memories matter. All those precious moments recorded to your tapes or film, amazing images of life captured on negatives, slides or prints, and not to mention the audio you have recorded on those old cassette tapes. They ALL matter to you, which makes them matter to us!

Here at Southtree, we want you to relive your wonderful memories today, tomorrow and in the future. What a joy it will be to watch those memories with your friends and family for generations to come. And the best part? It's easy.


Simply order your Southtree Kit, fill with your media and pick which output you would prefer (Thumb Drives, DVDs or Digital Download). Send it off and, in a few short weeks, you'll receive your original memories back, plus your new digital formats, to post, share and enjoy!



Fun VHS facts

Can’t get enough history of the VHS? Then check out these fun facts that will blow your “be kind, rewind” mind.

  • First film ever released on VHS? The Young Teacher
  • Titanic was the only movie to ever be released on VHS while still playing at the theater
  • Certain VHS tapes are worth a pretty penny. Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (approx. value: $1,700), 101 Dalmatians: Black Diamond Edition (approx. value $750) and the list goes on.
  • The first American shows/films released on VHS? The Sound of Music, Patton and M*A*S*H*
  • Last major motion picture released on VHS? A History of Violence in 2006
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