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Thursday, 7 July 2016
From the late 1970's to the early 2000's, it had its short-lived moment in the sun as the best format for home viewing. Who remembers the flickering silver lines of tracking, the brief flashes of red, green and blue that would occasionally cross the picture on their television, the sound of a tape rewinding in the VCR machine, the "Be Kind, Rewind" stickers on rental tapes, the cheesy Eighties workout adverts that would be tacked on before the worthwhile movie came up? It's a format that sadly won’t be missed by the digital age. Very few companies still even manufacture tapes, neither blank nor holding a feature film. And that's no surprise, what with the hype that digital enthusiasts throw out there all the time about the importance of pixel count and blu-ray technology. People who still use VHS are unfairly labeled as "flaunting the past" or "hipsters". But VHS still has its genuine benefits.
#1: Tapes last longer.
There's a common myth that on average, a VHS tape will last 15 years or less. However, professionals who work or who have worked extensively with the format will agree that most tapes will last usually 65 years more or less. The key is to look after the tapes in question. Most tapes that have failed to make it past 15 years have been stored improperly or mistreated. Many were stashed away in mildewy basements after people forgot about them. Many people had young kids who would throw tapes, touch the tape inside the plastic covering, squeeze the tapes and spill crud on them. Sometimes its the fault of the VCR machine, which, if malfunctioning, will "eat" the tape or spit it out from the cassette. And, like with DVD's, the length a VHS tape will last often depends on the manufacturer. Either way, DVD's definitely aren't as durable, having the issue of being easily scratched, snapped in half or covered in fingerprints. My DVDs last on average about ten years, save for two older DVDs from 2004.
#2: What about Netflix?
Netflix is overrated, and very pointless. Digital streaming companies like Netflix often don't have more obscure/foreign content available for viewing. With Netflix, you can watch what's there, but you can't ever have your own copy of any content on the site unless you buy it or find it elsewhere. Netflix costs money when there are plenty of free alternate digital streaming services available. And VHS tapes are often free at thrift stores. Yeah, there'll always be the lame ones that nobody wants, but I've been able to find copies of old favorite films on VHS such as Mrs. Doubtfire, The Shawshank Redemption, New Waterford Girl, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and even a VHS copy of the 2012 movie Sinister (recorded straight from the Sci-Fi TV channel to a blank tape). These tapes all looked amazing on both my CRT television and my parents' flatscreen, and all of them together cost me about $1. How much does a new blu-ray DVD cost? A months' subscription to Netflix? Is it worth it?
#3: Aesthetic value
This one is one of those things that matters to some people and is irrelevant to others. Either way, VHS tapes are unique in that their thick cases have always allowed some space for unforgettable cover art, not to mention the front of the outer VHS case itself. The VHS era brought out some of the best images that are still pasted onto DVD cases out of nostalgia's sake even today. As for the VHS tapes themselves, personally I love the look. It's brightly-colored, sharp, organic. HD has always seemed too defined to me, almost inhuman. To watch an HD film and be able to see the flies buzzing in the background of a farm scene, or all the pores on an actor's skin, is just surreal and creepy. VHS just works for me, regardless of whatever the digital nerds will buy right into about modern digital clarity. The god's honest truth is, unless you're one of those gamers who obsess over the appearance of graphics while playing, or a pretentious individual who wants to pretend that they're somehow more intelligent because of the sharpness of what they watch, if somebody showed you a VHS file next to an HD file and didn't let you know which was which, odds are you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Besides, you can apply "HD technology" to any digital file, but if the digital file was unclear to begin with, HD can't fix that. HD technology enhances what's there, but it can't improve a bad file.
#4: VHS tapes are fun!
People get so preoccupied with the technology behind their movies that they often forget, movies are supposed to be an entertaining experience! You get a good laugh out of VHS, you get a different sort of look, you get an old school atmosphere.
#5: VHS is cheaper.
As mentioned earlier, in this day and age VHS is a slowly dying format. What was once $20 a tape has changed to about ten cents for any VHS tape you can find, unless it's a rare collector's one. If you're the kind of person who wants a new movie every day, why spend a fortune on blu-rays and DVD-Rs and Netflix subscriptions (and those do add up with time, believe me) when you can get ten tapes for a dollar?
#6: Rescue lost films
If you've ever been on iMDB.com, chances are at one point or another, you've hit some movie's page you've never heard of before. It has no cover image, very little info, and has only been listed on the site as a placeholder. The Eighties and Nineties saw thousands of made-for-tv movies be sold only on VHS and then never released on DVD. Some will never resurface, as they've slipped through the cracks of the modern world and been lost forever. But many people recorded old TV movies on blank tapes, which they later donated to thrift stores. It's highly unlikely that you'll ever see these films as torrents, on DVD or on Netflix because they no longer exist - officially. VHS is the last way to rescue these guys from oblivion. And for people who despise analogue tech that much, it's relatively simple to scan an old tape and convert it to a digital MP4 or AVI for viewing on a DVD or computer.
In the end, there's sadly no denying that although VHS might be saved by the people who still love it, it'll likely never be at the entertainment status it once was. However, why not have both? I have a DVD/VCR combo player by Sony. I can watch both formats, because I like both. And I still have my beloved super 8 film projector for all my home movies. There's something nice about having a tangible object that you can keep, hold and display. Digital files are okay but they aren't the same. They're just easily lost binary data. Many will disagree, but no matter how advanced digital tech gets, I'm still gonna have my shelf of VHS tapes. Besides, who needs digital tech? Isn't it high time we lowered the cellular phones and Bluetooth headsets and godawful selfie sticks for five minutes and looked at the natural world for a change??