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Video Cassette Recorder (VCR)

The advent of the VCR suddenly offered the TV viewer a different relationship with broadcast television by making it possible to time shift, to zap commercials and to store and re-view programs.

vcr_002A British newspaper article from 1971 had the following to say about the humble VCR:

“A machine that tapes and plays back TV programmes goes on sale in Britain next spring. The video cassette recorder can be pre-set to work while a viewer is away from home and will also tape a show on one channel while the viewer is watching another.

It records and transmits colour but it may be 1973 before Britons are using it in their homes. Supplies will be limited at first and industry and education will get first priority.

The machine, about 2 feet long by 13 inches wide and 6 inches high, is being made in Austria by Philips. It will cost about £300 but will be available on a rental basis.

The recorder uses half-inch videotape in cassettes costing £15 for an hour’s recording, £12 for 45 minutes and £9 for half an hour’s. The tapes can be wiped clean and used again”

vcr_033When video recorders were first launched they were a status symbol. Only the well-off could afford to tape Coronation Street on a Monday night.

But despite being at the cutting edge of electronic wizardry, the early models were huge silvery grey breezeblocks with clunky top-loading tape mechanisms and an amazing feature called “tracking”.

This was a dial which removed any flutter or ‘noise’ from the picture when using older tapes (or ones you had bought down the market out of a suitcase).

That was the theory. In actual fact, this tracking process usually turned into a fun game of ‘move the interference around’. You could have flickering lines of interference at the top of the screen, or at the bottom. Or in the middle. With the power of tracking, the choice was yours.

There were two types of VCR in the early days: VHS and Betamax. Most people bought VHS and it quickly became the dominant format. Poor Betamax owners became a laughing stock.