Say Goodbye to the VCR

The last (known) maker of VCRs—that’s videocassette recorders, for the children out there—is throwing in the towel. Here ends an era. Not that anybody could ever program the goddamn things even at the height of their popularity, anyway.

That’s according to the New York Times, which reports that Japan’s Funai Corporation is calling it quits on the VCR, blaming things like “difficulty acquiring parts.” (Even though they apparently sold 750,000 of them across the world last year, which frankly is more than I would have guessed.) Once upon a time, these clunky machines were positively mind-blowing.

In 1956, Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company introduced what its website calls “the first practical videotape recorder.” Fred Pfost, an Ampex engineer, described demonstrating the technology to CBS executives for the first time. Unbeknown to them, he had recorded a keynote speech delivered by a vice president at the network.

“After I rewound the tape and pushed the play button for this group of executives, they saw the instantaneous replay of the speech. There were about 10 seconds of total silence until they suddenly realized just what they were seeing on the 20 video monitors located around the room. Pandemonium broke out with wild clapping and cheering for five full minutes. This was the first time in history that a large group (outside of Ampex) had ever seen a high-quality, instantaneous replay of any event.”

1970: “The new EVR system which allows the recording of television programmes which can then be watched at the owner’s discretion.The new Teleplayer has been produced in partnership with Rank Bush Murphy Ltd and EVR and has enormous potential.” Via Getty Images.

VCRs now seem impossibly ancient, even compared to video cassettes themselves—sure, you might conceivably want to revisit some gory horror flick from the 1980s, or your childhood dance recital videos. But when was the last time you thought about setting your VCR so you could catch a show later? (For many of you, the answer is probably never!) Nevertheless, as Popular Mechanics points out, you can thank the technology for the fact that you’ve now got the last 17 episodes of The Price Is Right saved on your DVR, for some reason.

The VCR changed the way media operated, giving viewers a chance to watch programming whenever they wanted to. The 1983 Supreme Court case Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. tackled the issue of making individual copies of a recording for personal use on a VCR. The Court, in a 5-4 ruling, cited the “ millions of owners” of VCRs in allowing their continued use. The VCR’s ability to “time-shift” a viewing, as the Court referred to it, can be seen as the beginning of a line which leads directly to Netflix’s current streaming options.

Go ahead and transfer those childhood dance recital videos to digital now, before it becomes impossibly complicated.

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