DescriptionRecording format of magnetic tape for video
Time Period
DetailsVideo recording of The Matrix, with case
Packaging approved by VprC (Video Packaging Review Committee)
Dimensions20 x 12 x 3 cm
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201723

The VHS, or Video Home System, debuted in 1975 by JVC (Japanese Video Company) as a means to compete with the Betamax.[1] The VHS quickly overshadowed the Betamax, which Sony had released only one year earlier, thanks to its full two hours of recordable film tape for films, faster rewinding and fast-forwarding capabilities, compact size, longevity of individual tapes’ lifespans, and ability to easily record cable footage.[2] While the Betamax achieved similar functionality, the VHS had the ability to record television programming or footage from other VHS tapes, creating what become known in copyright litigation as a “timeshifting” culture, the on-demand playing facility for film and television content.[3] The medium quickly democratized the capacity to record and play any video but also introduced a host of intellectual property concerns. Original VHS tapes cost around £55 per tape, while the VCR player cost £3,600 (adjusted for 2018 inflation).[4] The VHS market rapidly developed, generating a new industry for film and television show home releases that manifested in video stores––the most successful of which was Blockbuster Video, a video rental store that opened in 1985 in Dallas, Texas.[5] By 1997, the DVD (Digital Video Disk) was introduced into the video market, surpassing the VHS in sales in 2001. By 2010, the industry surrounding VHS had collapsed thanks to DVDs and at-home, internet-based streaming services like Netflix.[6] By 2016, Funai Electric, the last company to produce VCRs, announced it would no longer produce VHS players, marking the medium defunct.[7] While VHS tapes are still sold in second-hand forums for as little as £0.01, the scarcity of VHS players have rendered the tapes obsolete. While many speculated that VHS tapes would receive a similar nostalgic revival to that which LPs received in the early 2000s after the advent of CDs, the VHS industry has yet to experience any major renewal. The visuality of VHS tapes, the screen’s distortions as well as fast-forwarding, pause, play, and rewinding signals, have become features of many digital renderings of VHS tapes and pervade digital videos created after 2016 but edited to appear as though they originated on VHS tapes.


[1] Lucas Hilderbrand, Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 36.

[2] Ibid., 37.

[3] Jan Van Den Bulck, “VCR-Use and Patterns of Time Shifting and Selectivity,” Journal for Broadcasting & Electronic Media 43.3 (Summer 1999): 316.

[4] Priya Ganapti, “June 4, 1977: VHS Comes to America,” Wired (June 4, 2010), online.

[5] Greg Satell, “A Look Back at Why Blockbuster Really Failed and Why it Didn’t Have To,” Forbes (September 5, 2014), online.

[6] Daniel Herbert, “Nostalgia Merchants: VHS Distribution in the Era of Digital Delivery,” Journal of Film and Video 69.2 (Summer 2017): 2.

[7] Jonah Engel Bromwich, “Once $50,000, Now VCRs Collect Dust,” The New York Times (July 25, 2016), B1.