Obsolete: VCR

Obsolete item: Video cassette recorder.

Born: Ampex introduced a $50,000 2-inch tape recorder in 1956. The industry had settled on the VHS format by 1980.

Death: DVD players and digital recorders surpassed VCR sales by the early 2000s.

English comic sci-fi writer Douglas Adams observed that "video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself". Before hopping into the Volvo 244 and heading out to the dinner party, one could programme the video to start and stop recording, hoping that the internal clock and the TV broadcast schedule both remained accurate.

Another use of video machines was viewing the sort of material that was far too naughty to appear on TV, termed a "video nasty" by British campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

There was a competing format called "Beta" (which usually stands for "complete but likely to contain a number of known or unknown bugs") — sadly, the only people who understood its superiority were never invited to dinner parties, so sales were slow.

Now instead of craning our necks reading the spines of countless videos on our shelves and declaring "there’s literally nothing to watch" we can browse in armchair comfort, scrolling through not-quite-bingeworthy offerings on the various streaming apps, who have watched millions of hours of tedious TV on our behalf, saving us the bother.

Comeback?: No replay is likely.

 Peter Dowden


Betamax. Oh, the format. VHS monopolised and Beta disappeared, like coal gas made obsolete by electricity.

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