VHS (Video Home System) (1977 – late 2000s)

VHS (Video Home System) was a video tape cassette format developed by JVC, and was the most successful of the video tape formats for consumers, outlasting formats such as Betamax and Video 2000.

JVC began development of VHS in 1971, with 12 objectives in building a home video recording unit. In 1974, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry wanted to standardise on one consumer video format, and the preferred choice was Sony’s proprietary Betamax format, but pressure from JVC and Matsushita persuaded them to drop the push to standardise on a single format. JVC believed that an open standard, with the format shared among competitors without licensing the technology, was better for the consumer.

The first VHS recorder was available in Japan in 1976, and reached the UK in 1977.

A VHS cassette includes a flip-up cover that protects the ½-inch tape, and an anti-de spooling mechanism. Clear tape at both ends of the tape provide an optical auto-stop for the VCR transport mechanism. VHS machines pull the tape from the cassette shell and wrap it around the inclined head drum, using M-lacing, where the tape is drawn out by two threading posts and wrapped around more than 180 degrees of the head drum in a shape roughly approximating the letter M. The cassette can hold a maximum of around 430 m of tape, giving up to five hours playing time at standard play (SP) quality.

A smaller variant of VHS, VHS-C was introduced for use in camcorders. VHS-C tapes could be played in VHS machines with an adaptor.

In 1987, JVC introduced S-VHS, yielding 400 lines (compared to 240 for standard VHS), but this only had limited success. W-VHS was introduced in Japan in 1989, and allowed the recording of high-definition television, while D-VHS, which was the first digital variant of VHS, was introduced in 1998, but by this time DVD was available and after 2000, became the preferred method for pre-recorded video. The last major film to be released on VHS (‘A History of Violence’) was in 2006, and the last JVC VHS-only unit was produced in 2008.

VHS machines continued to be produced in Japan until 2016 by Funai Electric (who introduced the Compact Video Cassette format before switching to VHS in 1983) under brands such as Sanyo. Declining sales, and difficulties in obtaining components prompted Funai Electric to end production.

Although VHS was a popular format for long-play content such as films and television series, it was also used to deliver short-play content, such as music videos (sometimes in the form of Video singles), in-store videos and tutorials. VHS was also commonly included with various consumer products and services for demonstration purposes, or sent by manufacturers to service centres to demonstrate how to repair a new product.

Sources / Resources

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Preservation / Migration