On life support since 2006: R.I.P., VHS

December 24, 2008

The last U.S. source of pre-recorded VHS videos has pulled the plug.

VHS is dead, but for the twitches of life carrying on in schools and homes where people cling to the format Hollywood has not supported for the past two years.

Stories in ArsTechnica and The Los Angeles Times say Distribution Video Audio, the last U.S. supplier, will toss its inventory in early 2009.

After three decades of steady if unspectacular service, the spinning wheels of the home-entertainment stalwart are slowing to a halt at retail outlets. On a crisp Friday morning in October, the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Fla., warehouse run by Ryan J. Kugler, the last major supplier of the tapes.

“It’s dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt,” said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. “I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I’m done. Anything left in warehouse we’ll just give away or throw away.”

How much longer can DVD hold on?

Asked how the death of VHS might affect U.S. education, Mrs. Americanteacher said, “Hold on, I need to stoke the wood in the stove here, and clean the chalkboard.  Just a minute.  I’ll get back to you.”

VHS was about 30 years old.

Interment will be in thousands of landfills across North America, though some relics will be sent to small shrines in bars and bodegas around the world, mostly in second- and third-world countries.


RIP: VHS

November 21, 2006

VHS logoWe can still read the Gutenberg Bible. It was printed in 1455, 551 years ago. I have a few books in my library older than 80 years, and they are still quite usable. I have books from my undergraduate days that I consult regularly — though more than 25 years old, they work fine.

So while books carry on, it’s a bit of a shock, to me, to see that VHS is dead. Daily Variety carried the obituary last week, but I just heard this morning, “VHS, 30, dies of loneliness”:

After a long illness, the groundbreaking home-entertainment format VHS has died of natural causes in the United States. The format was 30 years old.

No services are planned.

The format had been expected to survive until January, but high-def formats and next-generation vidgame consoles hastened its final decline.

“It’s pretty much over,” concurred Buena Vista Home Entertainment general manager North America Lori MacPherson on Tuesday.

VHS is survived by a child, DVD, and by Tivo, VOD and DirecTV. It was preceded in death by Betamax, Divx, mini-discs and laserdiscs.

Although it had been ailing, the format’s death became official in this, the video biz’s all-important fourth quarter. Retailers decided to pull the plug, saying there was no longer shelf space.

VHS is an acronym for “vertical helical scan,” which means little to most people. It’s obscure enough that when some advertising writer suggested it stands instead for “video home system,” that explanation replaced the truth in many histories of the format.

Wikipedia says the format was launched in September 1976, the month that Orrin Hatch won an upset victory over Jack Carlson in the Utah Republican primary on the strength of the only endorsement then-former-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan gave to anyone. Hatch went on to defeat three-term incumbent Ted Moss with a vastly underpaid press secretary. On November 7, 2006, 72-year-old Orrin Hatch won a sixth six-year term to the U.S. Senate. But VHS is dead. Hatch’s career in the U.S. Senate will outlast VHS.

In late 1978 I purchased a high-end cassette tape recorder to convert my vinyl records to a format that could play in my car. I had avoided the 8-track boom, and I thought cassettes would be the format for a long time to come. That cassette recorder wore out; I have two other high-end machines I use only occasionally. I have a few hundred cassette tapes that are too decayed to play. It turns out that magnetic recording tape only lasts about a decade before it becomes unusable. Fortunately I kept the vinyl records, and now I have software to convert them to digital, for conversion to CD or MP3 formats. It is difficult to find needles for the record players these days. Cassette players still show up in autos. VHS, on the other hand, joins Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the “seriously dead” column.

I delayed purchase of VHS player until about 1989, when stereo versions were reasonably inexpensive, and when most of the war with Sony Betamax was over. In schools today VHS is almost ubiquitous, finally. My principal had to argue hard to purchase DVD players just two years ago. New VHS machines were installed in many schools in the Dallas area just a year ago.

DVDs launched in the late 1990s, according to Wikipedia. DVD sales surpassed VHS sales in June 2003. Three years later, movie studios announced they would no longer put new movies on VHS for commercial sales, in July 2006.

I may be missing something, or perhaps digital other-than-DVD formats are already eclipsing DVD, but I do not think there is a core of DVD recorders and players available to allow home recording to the extent VHS recorders were used. Or, perhaps TIVO has filled the void.

Remember all the litigation about copyright protection and VHS? Remember the fight GO Video had to make a two-head, reproducing VHS machine? All mooted now.

Alvin Toffler was right.*

VHS is dead, but will any format live long any more?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Tombrarian.

* Among other things, Toffler said: “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

He also wrote: “Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.”


The flood tide of technology

September 2, 2006

When we were setting up the computers for the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors in 1985, Ted the Computer Guy from Interior told us the ITT machines were the latest, greatest, and that the 10 megabyte hard-drives were all that anyone would probably ever need

We used Macs borrowed from staffers’ homes to do serious graphical layouts, and with the cooperation of Commission Vice Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor, then head of the National Geographic Society, much of the serious word-, photo- and chart-crunching was done by NGS employees, as donations.  The report was published in its most-accessible form in 1987 by Island Press, who had better typesetting and editing capabilities than the Government Printing Office (GPO).  My hard drive began to seriously bog down after four months — pre-Windows, it actually limped over the finish line, complete with a 5,000 member database of media contacts and their publications about the commission and it work.  ITT got out of desktop computing shortly after that big government contract.  My current computer strains with just more than 30 times the capacity of that old ITT machine — in RAM alone. 

From the President’s Commission I moved to the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) — one of my charges was a technology demonstration office that had an IBM desktop loaded with amazing features, like a dictionary, and a GUI interface (we couldn’t use such machines in our offices, of course).  Checker Finn was Assistant Secretary of Education for Research — stuck in bed for a few weeks with a back injury, he demonstrated how tyrannical useful e-mail could be, with several dozen e-mails a day between him and those of us with management responsibilities.  We used a 600-baud telephone connection.

Generation gap, hell!  This is revolutionary:  TDK Develops 200 GB Blu-ray Disc.

TDK announced Thursday that it had reached a new milestone in data storage on Blu-ray discs, revealing a prototype that can hold 200GB. The disc doubles TDK’s previous 100GB prototype and is possible by creating six distinct layers of data, each capable of holding 33.6GB.

The prototype, like all Blu-ray media, is single sided. “The ultra-ambitious technology roadmap for Blu-ray has now been confirmed as realistic, with landmarks such as this proving the long-term value of the format against its rivals,” said TD vice president Bruce Youmans. TDK said such high-capacity discs could be commercially available in several months.

The most revolutionary thing about it:  It’s not even small news.  Your newspaper won’t mention it.  Readers of this blog may not even know what Blu-ray is

In my classroom, I have a chalk board.   The eraser is old and works poorly.  I’m supposed to prepare the next generation.  Dick Feynman was a prophet.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

(copyright 1963 and 1991, Bob Dylan)


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