History of VHS Tape

If you’re a millennial or older, you likely have fond memories of the video format known as VHS. You may be delighted to know that June 7 is Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) day! That’s right, this unofficial holiday encourages everyone to learn more about the once-revolutionary format that changed how people watched television or movies and recorded them for posterity. And for all the younger people who are shaking their heads, it’s understandable if you think VHS is an ancient dinosaur unworthy of so much attention. You may even be asking, what does VHS stand for? The answer is the video home system. 

VHS vs. Betamax

On this journey, we’ll start with the question, what was before VHS? Considered innovative for its day, Sony Betamax was introduced on May 10, 1975, in Japan and in early November of the same year in the U.S. Compared to VHS, Betamax was a bit sharper, crisper, and more compact. But VHS offered longer-playing ability and the players were less expensive and easier to use. The two formats were locked in a struggle for a short period of time, with VHS coming out the clear victor. In its debut year, VHS took 40% of the business away from Betamax. As they say, what comes around goes around and in 2003, DVD rentals surpassed VHS rentals. 

Awesome VHS Features

Tracking button and picture quality: VHS tapes sometimes presented tracking problems, but the handy tracking button on a VCR typically resolved this issue. With streaming services, you’re basically out of luck when the connection slows down, the picture becomes pixelated, or it doesn’t play at all. And think about it – millions of amateur videos on social media are incredibly poor quality!

Affordability: When VCRs were introduced in 1975, the average machine cost between $1,000 and $1,400. By 1985, you could buy a much better VCR for $200 to $400 with a remote control, freeze frame, search, and other nifty features. Anybody remember giving your teenager a television with a built-in video player? This eliminated squabbling about taping your favorite show when your kid wanted to watch something else.

Maintenance: Believe it or not, some people actually enjoyed using head cleaning tapes or even better, opening up the VCR to manually clean the heads with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. It was kind of cool to marvel at the complex mechanism when you were performing maintenance. But when tapes became a jumbled mess beyond repair, these moments weren’t so happy!

Versatility: You can create a lot of weird and even useful things with old VHS tapes!

VHS History Highlights

  • VHS was developed in Japan in the early 1970s, released in that country on September 9, 1976, and in the U.S. on August 23, 1977 
  • In 1985, an estimated 11.5 million VCRs were sold in the U.S
  • By 1987, about 90% of the $5.25 billion VCR market in the U.S. was VHS format
  • In 1999, consumers spent 12.2 billion on VHS rentals and purchases – this decreased to $100 million by 2007
  • In 2002, 12 years before it went under, Blockbuster had more than 2,800 stores worldwide, thereby dominating the home video rental market

VHS Tapes – A Few Fun Facts

  • A VHS tape measures 1,410 feet long
  • When they were first introduced, blank tapes cost $20.00 apiece
  • In North America, the first three VHS movies released on the same day in 1977 were The Sound of Music, Patton, and M*A*S*H, at a retail price of $50 to $70 each
  • The Lion King, released in 1995, was the bestselling VHS movie ever, selling 32 million copies and generating $520 million in revenue

Digitize Your VHS Memories

At ScanCafe, we’ve designed the entire VHS to digital process to be as pain-free as possible. So dig out all those VHS tapes, send them our way, and you’ll soon be taking a magical trip down memory lane!