The following letter to the editor was written in response to a column by editor at large Bob Gerson ("VCR Decks Finally Fading Out After 30 Years As Video Mainstay," Jan. 29, p. 36).
As a life long electronics hobbyist and store manager for an electronics franchise for some 11-plus years, I believe that the VCR is not dead yet.
With the transition to digital and HDTV, many changes have been evident in the industry. To make way for the DVD and eventually HD DVD, the industry had to eliminate the VCR as a device of preference for time shifting television programs. A few brave manufacturers attempted the next logical step by making the D-VHS machine. This was promptly opposed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which I believe effectively pressured the industry to stop production.
The DVD player/recorder would seem to be a logical replacement for the VCR; however, if you have ever worked with consumers, you would soon find out that the DVD recorder has been a flop. I am sure that there are early adopters (like myself) who figured out the beast and can time-shift TV programs. For many, though, the device is an infernal contraption, confusing to operate and seldom used to record. Using a DVD rewriteable disc as a medium involves formatting and erasing if previously used — not as convenient as popping in a tape and hitting record.
I suppose you would be quick to point out the versatility of the DVR/PVR, which records to a hard drive. Nice idea, though you would be hard pressed to transport it to your aging grandmothers house so she could watch a few shows missed while away or sick. Sharing anything from television is almost criminal according to the MPAA, which believes everyone should pay each time all the time.
It does little good to have cable, satellite or other sources of programming with thousands of old and new shows to watch if there is no way of conveniently saving some of that content. True, VCR tapes take up lots of floor space in a home. However, they sell like hot cakes at garage sales and there are still millions of blank tapes available out there. I have three VCRs that I use to time shift everything from the nightly news to programs of interest when I am having a life away from the TV.
When the ATSC digital set-top box is available at a decent price, I, for one, will purchase multiple units for my VCRs. Of course the signal will only be digital (no ghosts or bad pictures), and not true HD, but it will be good enough. I will have access to all the additional digital sub-channels my local stations provide. No high-definition recording of course — wouldn't want to anger the MPAA — but it will be good enough.
So in closing, I recommend that everyone snatch up VCRs whenever you find them at retail and horde them as a hedge against the Brave New World changes being forced upon us.
Robert J. Safford, Deer Park, Wash.
P.S. There may be a little light at the end of the tunnel, as RCA announced at International CES that they would make a VCR with a digital tuner for a while. I wish them well.