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This entry is why I decided to do this crazy gallery in the first place. Apparently, <a href="http://klout.com/#/jperlow/
Ah, the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). How quaint. Today, we have Digital Video Recorders such as the TiVO and streaming media services like Hulu or Netflix, or even pay-per-view on-demand content like iTunes or Amazon Video if we want to time-shift our TV viewing.
But back in the day (that being the late 1970's when VCRs first came to market and up until the late 90s when the very first DVRs were introduced) if you wanted to watch a TV program when it wasn't showing live when it was on the air, you had to use one of these clunky things, which used large magnetic-based tape cassettes.
There were originally two VCR standards, VHS and Beta. Due to a number
of factors, the primary one being cost, the VHS standard that was developed by JVC won the consumer war. The higher-quality and arguably superior Beta, which was developed by Sony, was relegated to use in professional/broadcast quality video cameras.
Most people used 120 minute cassettes, so in their native recording capacity they were good for maybe one feature length movie or perhaps two 1-hour TV shows, since you had to record the commercials as well. However, VCRs had the ability to double the recording time at the expense of video quality using what was referred to as EP/SLP mode.
Unlike modern digital storage, over the years and successive viewings the tapes themselves would deteriorate and so would the video quality.
Unlike DVRs which allow the user to quickly fast forward through a recorded program, and allow random access to any number of recorded programs on the system, VCRs were sequential storage devices so if you had a program towards the end of the tape, it could take a couple of minutes before you get to view what you wanted.
So if you liked to collect movies and TV programs, you had to be well-organized and write down on the cassette box what you were recording and at what time index on the tape they were recording at. VCRs were also incredibly difficult to program compared to today's DVRs, and frustrated enough people that they never even set the clocks on them properly, so that they would perpetually blink "12:00".
Many people didn't actually use their VCRs for recording movies -- they simply went to the video store such as Blockbuster (yet another cultural anachronism) and rented a tape, which you had to return within a certain specified period (usually 24 or 48 hours) or face fines.
Many independently-owned video stores even had special back rooms for
Adult/Porn titles, which inevitably resulted in a certain skeeve factor and a certain level of embarrassment if someone you knew saw you walking in to browse the porn section. You could also buy movies on VHS tape, but in the early years before mass adoption, they were crazy expensive, in the $40-$50 range.
For the movie rental industry, VHS tapes were eventually replaced by DVDs. However video rental stores went the way of the dodo bird due to an inability to compete with pay-per view subscriber TV services such as cable and satellite, and mail order rental services such as Netflix which are currently being challenged by broadband based on-demand content like iTunes, Amazon Video and Netflix's own Instant Play.