Videocassette recorder

:"VCR" redirects here. This article is about videocassette recorders in general. For other uses of "VCR", including the Philips VCR ('N1500') video format, see VCR (disambiguation)."

The videocassette recorder (or VCR, more commonly known in the UK and Ireland as the video recorder), is a type of video tape recorder that uses removable videotape cassettes containing magnetic tape to record audio and video from a television broadcast so it can be played back later. Most VCRs have their own tuner (for direct TV reception) and a programmable timer (for unattended recording of a certain channel at a particular time).


Early machines and formats

The history of the videocassette recorder follows the history of videotape recording in general. Ampex introduced the Ampex VRX-1000, the first commercially successful videotape recorder, in 1956. It used the 2" Quadruplex format, using two-inch (5.1 cm) tape. [ [ Ampex VRX-1000 — The First Commercial Videotape Recorder] .] Due to its US $50,000 price, the Ampex VRX-1000 could be afforded only by the television networks and the largest individual stations. [ [ Charles P. Ginsburg, The Birth of Video Recording] .] In 1963, Philips introduced their EL3400 1" helical scan recorder (aimed at the business and domestic user) and Sony marketed the PV-100, their first reel-to-reel VTR intended for business, medical, airline, and educational use. [ [ The Airborne VTR] .] The Sony model CV-2000, first marketed in 1965, was intended for home use. [ [ Sony CV Series Video] .] Ampex and RCA followed in 1965 with their own reel-to-reel monochrome VTRs priced under US $1,000 for the home consumer market.

The development of the videocassette followed the replacement by cassette of other open reel systems in consumer items: the Stereo-Pak 4-track audio cartridge in 1962, the compact audio cassette and Instamatic film cartridge in 1963, the 8-track cartridge in 1965, and the Super 8 home movie cartridge in 1966.

Sony U-matic

Sony demonstrated a videocassette prototype in October 1969, then set it aside to work out an industry standard by March 1970 with seven fellow manufacturers. The result, the Sony U-matic system, introduced in Tokyo in September 1971, was the world's first commercial videocassette format. Its cartridges, resembling larger versions of the later VHS cassettes, used 3/4-inch (1.9 cm) tape and had a maximum playing time of 60 minutes, later extended to 90 minutes. Sony also introduced two machines (the VP-1100 videocassette player and the VO-1700 videocassette recorder) to use the new tapes. U-matic, with its ease of use, quickly made other consumer videotape systems obsolete in Japan and North America, where U-matic VCRs were widely used by television newsrooms, schools and businesses. But the cost — US $1,395 for a combination TV/VCR, or $6,362 in 2005 dollars — kept it out of most homes. [Sony sold 15,000 U-matic machines in the U.S. in its first year. "Television on a Disk," "Time", Sep. 18, 1972.]

Philips "VCR" format

In 1970 Philips developed a home videocassette format. Confusingly, Philips named this format "VCR" (although it is also referred to as "N1500", after the first recorder's model number). The format was also supported by Grundig and Loewe. It used square cassettes and half-inch (1.3 cm) tape, mounted on co-axial reels, giving a recording time of one hour. The first model, available in the United Kingdom in 1972, was equipped with a crude timer that used rotary dials. At nearly £600 ($2087), it was expensive and the format was relatively unsuccessful in the home market. This was followed by digital timer version in 1975 — the N1502. In 1977 a new (and incompatible) long-play version ("VCR-LP") or N1700, which could use the same tapes, sold quite well to schools and colleges.

Avco Cartrivision

The Avco Cartrivision system, a combination television set and VCR from Cartridge Television Inc. that sold for US $1,350, was the first videocassette recorder to have pre-recorded tapes of popular movies available for rent. Like Philips' VCR format, the square Cartrivision cassette had the two reels of half-inch tape mounted on top of each other, but it could record up to 114 minutes. It did so using a crude form of video compression that recorded only every third video field and played it back three times. Cassettes of major movies such as "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" were ordered via catalog at a retailer, delivered by parcel mail, and then returned to the retailer after viewing. Other cassettes on sports, travel, art, and how-to topics were available for purchase. An optional monochrome camera could be bought to make home videos. Cartrivision was first sold in June 1972, mainly through Sears, Macy's, and Montgomery Ward department stores in the United States. It was abandoned thirteen months later after poor sales. Later, it was found that Cartrivision tapes that had been stored in a warehouse had disintegrated.

The late 1970s: Mass-market success

It was not until the late 1970s, when European and Japanese companies developed more technically advanced machines with more accurate electronic timers and greater tape duration, that the VCR started to become a mass market consumer product. By 1980 there were three competing technical standards, with different, physically incompatible tape cassettes.

VHS vs. Betamax: The format war

The two major standards were Sony's Betamax (also known as Betacord or just Beta), and JVC's VHS [Video Home System] , which battled for sales in what has become known as the original and definitive format war.

Betamax was first to market in November 1975, and was argued by many to be technically more sophisticated, [ [ Why Is Beta Better?] ] although many users did not perceive a difference. The first machines required an external timer, and could only record one hour. The timer was later incorporated within the machine as a standard feature.

The rival VHS format [Japan, Sept. 1976] (introduced in the United States in July 1977 by JVC) boasted a longer two-hour recording time - with four hours using a "long play" mode (RCA SelectaVision models - introduced in Sept. 1977). Since 2 hours and 4 hours was near-ideal for recording movies and sports-games respectively, the consumer naturally flocked towards VHS rather than the 1-hour-limited Betamax. Although Sony later introduced Beta-II and Beta-III to allow a maximum time of 5+ hours, by that time VHS was already boasting 6, 8, or even 9 hours per tape. Thus VHS had a perceived "better value" in the eye of the consumer during the late 70s.

Philips Video 2000: No prize for third place

A third format, Video 2000, or V2000 (also marketed as "Video Compact Cassette") was developed and introduced by Philips in 1978, and was sold only in Europe. Grundig developed and marketed their own models based on the V2000 format. Most V2000 models featured piezoelectric head positioning to dynamically adjust the tape tracking. V2000 cassettes had two sides, and like the audio cassette had to be flipped over halfway through their recording time. User switchable record protect levers were used instead of the breakable lugs found on VHS/BetaMax cassettes. The half-inch tape used contained two parallel quarter-inch tracks, one for each side. It had a recording time of 4 hours per side, later extended to 8 hours per side on a few models. V2000 hit the market after its two rivals in early 1979. The last models produced by Philips in 1985 were felt by many to be superior machines to anything else on the market at the time but the poor reputation gained through the limited features and poor reliability of early models, and the by now dominant market share of VHS/Betamax, ensured only limited sales before the system was scrapped shortly after.

The court battle

In the early 1980s, the film companies in the USA fought to suppress the device in the consumer market, citing concerns about copyright violations. In the case "Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.", the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the device was allowable for private use, thereby guaranteeing market acceptance. In the years following, the film companies found that videorecordings of their products had become a major income source. However, television networks found the widespread use of this device was threatening their advertising business model because viewers then have the ability to either fast forward through television commercials, or pause recording when they are broadcast.

The beginning of the end?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, DVD gradually overtook VHS as the most popular format for playback of prerecorded video. DVD recorders and other digital video recorders such as TiVo have recently begun to drop in price in developed countries, which some consider to be the end for VCRs in those markets. DVD rentals in the United States first exceeded those of VHS in June 2003, and in 2005 the president of the Video Software Dealers Association predicted that 2006 would be the last year for major releases on VHS. [Jen Chaney, "Parting Words For VHS Tapes, Soon to Be Gone With the Rewind," "The Washington Post", August 28, 2005; p. N01.] Most consumer electronics retailers in North America (such as Best Buy and Circuit City) carry only one or two VCRs (often VCR/DVD-recorder hybrids, used for transferring VHS to DVD). Standalone VCRs now generally cost more than low-end DVD players. The declining market combined with a Federal Communications Commission mandate effective March 1, 2007 to include ATSC tuners in VCRs have encouraged most electronics makers, including Funai, JVC, and Panasonic, to end production of standalone units for the US market, although LG continue to manufacture and sell 4-head and 6-head models for the Australian market.

Special features

Copy protection

Introduced in 1983, Macrovision is a system that reduces the quality of recordings made from commercial video tapes, DVDs and pay-per-view broadcasts by adding random peaks of luminance to the video signal during vertical blanking. These confuse the automatic level adjustment of the recording VCR which causes the brightness of the picture to constantly change, rendering the recording unwatchable.

When creating a copy-protected videocassette, the Macrovision-distorted signal is stored on the tape itself by special recording equipment. By contrast, on DVDs there is just a marker asking the player to produce such a distortion during playback. All standard DVD players include this protection and obey the marker, though unofficially many models can be modified or adjusted to disable it.

Also, the Macrovision protection system may fail to work on older VCR's, usually due to the lack of an AGC system. Betamax, VHS and S-VHS machines (and DVD recorders) are susceptible to this signal, generally machines of other tape formats are unaffected. VCR's dubbed for "professional" usage typically have an adjustable AGC system, a specific "Macrovision removing" circuit, or Digital Timebase Corrector and can thus copy protected tapes with or without preserving the protection. Such VCRs are usually overpriced and sold exclusively to certified professionals (video editors, TV stations etc.) via controlled distribution channels in order to prevent their being used by the general public (however, said professional VCRs can be purchased reasonably by consumers on the second-hand/used market, depending on the VCR's condition).

Flying erase-heads

"Flying erase-heads" is an attribute of some VCRs to precisely edit video, usually performed by the aid of a frame buffer and a special interface to the VCR from a computer. The flying erase-head and the technique of using them was developed during a time when computers did not have the memory or processing power to generate video from individual frames stored on disk.


In addition to the standard home VCR, a number of variants have been produced over the years. These include combined "all-in-one" devices such as the televideo (a TV and VCR in one unit) and DVD/VCR units.

Dual-deck VCRs (marketed as "double-decker") have also been sold, albeit with less success.

Camcorders also feature an integrated VCR. Most of these use smaller format videocassettes, such as 8 mm, VHS-C, or MiniDV, although some early models supported full-size VHS and Betamax. Generally, they include neither a timer nor a TV tuner.

New media

The S-VHS format [1987] was introduced in an attempt to breathe new life into the aging VCR technology, but it did not gain sufficient momentum in the consumer market due to its higher initial cost for both machines and video tape. By the time JVC had lowered prices on S-VHS machines and video tape, the arrival of the new digital video formats spelled the end of analogue tape development.

Also note JVC's attempt at D-VHS (ie. JVC HM-DR10000) which, despite being fully functioning and providing much higher quality than even S-VHS, (its most notable feature was that you could now skip using its navigational controls to certain programmes you had recorded on its 21/32 hour tapes) never really caught on as it was too late. By then, DVD was really starting to take control; people only wanted a basic VCR, if that, to watch their previous video collection.

For home video recording, both Digital Video Recorders (such as TiVo, Mythtv, Sky+ and ReplayTV) and DVD recorders are becoming popular, although they are only slowly replacing the VCR. In fact, TiVo cooperates well with VCRs which can be used to archive PVR recordings. However, the introduction of recordable DVDs with sufficient recording capacity on to the regular market with their advantage of random access could spell the doom of the VCR now that prices are falling.

The main drawback with recordable DVD is not the technology itself, but of the disc formats. At present, no less than three different types of DVD recordable disc exist. These are "DVD + (plus)", "DVD - (minus)" (both in record once and rewritable versions) and DVD-RAM (which is always rewritable and invariably bundled with DVD-). All three are backed by different consumer electronics manufacturers, and none shows any sign (as of 2006) of gaining "critical mass" in the marketplace. However, in recent years manufacturers have been releasing units that can playback and record to multiple formats. Despite this, many consumers are confused of the formats, and are wary of another format war (similar to the Betamax versus VHS debacle of the early 1980s). This has meant that sales of consumer DVD recorders have been slow to take off.

Another important drawback of DVD recording is that one single layer DVD is limited to around 120 minutes of recording if the quality is not to be significantly reduced, while VHS tapes are readily available up to 210 minutes (standard play) in NTSC areas and even 300 minutes in PAL areas. Dual layer DVDs, which increase the high quality recording mode to almost four hours, are increasingly available, but the cost of this medium is still relatively high compared to standard single-layer discs.

A new format war was digital High Definition compatible recordable HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. These two formats record and play back video in HD producing high resolutions. Although the Sony Blu-ray format stores more data per disc and is supported by more movie studios, HD DVD was released before Blu-ray. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray have released first-generation players, as well as several select high-definition discs. Much like the DVD+/-/RAM format war, some manufacturers started releasing units that can play both formats. However, in 2008, Blu-Ray was adopted as the standard by market forces, relagating HD DVD to the status of a dead format, similar to Betamax.


ee also

*TV/VCR combo
*Write protection
*Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios
*Dew warning

External links

* [ The Videotape Recorder Turns 50]
* [ Total Rewind – the Virtual Museum of Vintage VCRs]
* [ Fixer Corp.] VCR Self-Repair Instruction Website for about 60 models
* [ VHS, 30, dies of loneliness] -

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • videocassette recorder — n. a device for recording on and playing back videocassettes …   English World dictionary

  • videocassette recorder — an electronic apparatus capable of recording television programs or other signals onto videocassettes and playing them back through a television receiver. Also called VCR [1970 75] * * * ▪ electronics also spelled  video cassette recorder (VCR) … …   Universalium

  • videocassette recorder — noun a magnetic tape recorder for recording (and playing back) TV programs • Syn: ↑VCR • Hypernyms: ↑tape recorder, ↑tape machine * * * noun, pl ⋯ ers [count] : vcr …   Useful english dictionary

  • videocassette recorder — noun Date: 1976 VCR …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • videocassette recorder — noun A device that can record broadcast television programmes, or the images from a video camera for subsequent playback through a television set Syn: VCR …   Wiktionary

  • videocassette recorder — vid′eocassette record er n. rtv See VCR • Etymology: 1970–75 …   From formal English to slang

  • videocassette recorder — TV (VCR) Multifunction machine intended primarily for recording and playback ofvideotape stored in cassettes …   Audio and video glossary

  • videocassette — (n.) 1971, from VIDEO (Cf. video) + CASSETTE (Cf. cassette). Videocassette recorder is from 1971, now usually VCR (also 1971) …   Etymology dictionary

  • recorder — /ri kawr deuhr/, n. 1. a person who records, esp. as an official duty. 2. Eng. Law. a. a judge in a city or borough court. b. (formerly) the legal adviser of a city or borough, with responsibility for keeping a record of legal actions and local… …   Universalium

  • recorder — noun 1) he put a cassette in the recorder Syn: tape recorder, cassette recorder; VCR, videocassette recorder, videotape recorder; DVD recorder, digital recorder 2) a recorder of rural life Syn: record keeper, archivist, annalist …   Thesaurus of popular words

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