Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Press the eject and give me the tape

No, this isn't a post about Bauhaus, but about the death of VHS. This might come as a surprise to many of you who probably thought VHS had died some time ago. It might be more accurate to say that it has been on its deathbed, wasting away, and has now, with one long, low rattle, shuffled off this magnetic coil at last.

The format, rather astonishingly, lasted three solid decades. It had no real competition at all in the 90's from laserdisc, an expensive and cumbersome format that appealed only to hardcore movie dweebs like me. But when DVD emerged in the late 90's, inexpensive and crisp, packed with loads of goodies and easy, instant, clickable navigability, VHS began hemorrhaging market share until 2003, when DVD finally passed it decisively. Now, pretty much any retailer left that matters has decided to pull the plug. Simply by being granted no shelf space, this venerable format is officially obsolete. (Practically, it has been so for a few years.)

Ah well. You had a nice little world-conquering run there, VHS. But in the world of technology, it's hard to go back when you've been presented with something new, shinier, and better. I actually find it difficult to watch VHS these days; the image quality is literally that bad, even worse than I remember. And I've been enjoying higher-quality video for over a decade now, several years longer than most members of the public, who didn't discover the joys of higher resolution until DVD came along. I bought my first laserdisc player in 1991 (!), so as long as 15 years ago, I knew tape was on its way to the bin.

But now that it's actually, really, no-kidding-this-time, honest-to-goodness dead — I don't know — I'm a teensy bit sad. I had some good, dweeby adventures with VHS, obsessively taping my favorite movies and TV shows off cable and creating lovely labels on my laser printer. My rows of uniformly and chronologically labeled MST3K episodes are like my own personal shrine to shake-your-head geekdom. Even though those shows remain the only tapes I still watch at all — and that, only because many episodes aren't on DVD yet, and when they are, the tapes will be retired — I'm still a little sorry to see it go. Thanks, VHS. You did good, and you'll be fondly remembered.

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