A staple of the 1980s and 1990s, Video Cassette Recorders—or VCRs as they’re more commonly called—revolutionized the way people viewed home entertainment. For the first time, people had the ability to participate in timeshifting, a practice that is widespread today. While the history of the VCR was brief, it’s significant.
The first VCR machine was developed by the Ampex Corporation in 1956, featuring a bulky rotating head design that recorded video and audio on magnetic tape. However, VCR machines didn’t make their way to the U.S. market for another 20 years. This is because the first VCR player, coined VRX-1000 by Ampex, was both inefficient and wildly expensive. The device sported a hefty price tag of $50,000, which equates to nearly $325,000 in today’s dollars.
Despite the failure of the VRX-1000, it generated a lot of curiosity from consumers across the globe and the desire for the technology was officially established. Over the next several years broadcasting companies like NBC and CBS began adopting VCRs but individuals still craved the ability to record television broadcasts so they could watch them at their leisure. Japanese electronics company, Sony, answered their calls with the CV-2000. This device was much smaller and used a reel-to-reel format, but it only recorded in black and white.
The next significant improvement by the Japanese came with the invention of the first VHS system by JVC in 1976. A year later, the system was also sold in the U.S. From there, the two most popular VCR systems in the U.S. came down to JVC’s VCR and Sony’s Betamax. The VCR ultimately won out due to its longer recording time and lower price point.
But the invention of the VCR and the VHS tape shook up the movie industry as drastically as the streaming era is now doing. Today, VCR technology has been phased out by DVDs, Blu Ray, and most recently On-Demand and streaming technologies.
However, VCRs are not completely dead. In fact, the world’s last Blockbuster Video store is in the TDS territory of Bend, Oregon. The store, which still rents out VHS tapes, has managed to thrive despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The social isolation period resulting from the pandemic has also given people the opportunity to go back, pull out their old recordings from storage, and reflect on memories of the past.
Recognizing that VHS tapes can break down over time, all you need to preserve those precious memories are a working cassette player, computer, and two different cables. The first is an RCA audio video cord, which has red, white, and yellow male-to-male connectors that plug into the back of the VCR machine in the “out” slot. The second is an adapter that connects the RCA audio video cord to the USB port on your computer. Combined, these two cords typically cost around $20.
Is there money in VHS tapes?
A handful of VHS titles have also sold for some big dollars, including fitness guru Richard Simmons Reach for Fitness and the 1999 tape of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. According to eBay’s data, 22 out of the 25 most expensive tapes sold on their site since 2017 were Disney movies. eBay reported a first-run edition of Beauty and the Beast from 1991 sold for $60,000 in 2017. A copy of Aladdin from 1992 went for $28,000 the same year, and Toy Story on VHS auctioned for $25,000 in 2019.
So, go dig out your old VHS tapes to see what they might fetch on eBay, but don’t be surprised if most are worth between $5 and $15 apiece.
By Garrett Seymour, TDS Communications Intern