“Nostalgia in a box”: A ‘VHS Tape’ Deep Focus

Opinion posted April 11, 2023 in

Streaming, eat your heart out because sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than plugging a video cassette into the VCR and awaiting the glorious hiss of a VHS tape.

Yes, it is strange, but I am a 21-year-old college student that still watches movies on “that old clunky analog junkheap,” and I am not ashamed of it either.

There is nothing inherently wrong with VHS, being that it has always been an inherently wonderful piece of technology. Think about it, the fact that audio and video were successfully transferred onto a strip of thin magnetic tape is extraordinary. 

Originally, VHS was never meant to be something to watch films on at all. If you wanted to catch the latest episode of “Dallas” but had to go to a school board meeting, have no fear, because you could just set the timer on your VCR, and it would record the show while you were gone.

On another note, VHS was not the only home video technology on the market. It had to compete with its videotape cousin, Betamax, in the famous 1980s format war, and eventually won due to greater popularity, costs and machine efficiency.

Additionally, it also beat out the LaserDisc, and the lesser-known CED Video Disc format (or vinyl movies in a nutshell). The rest is history, and VHS remained a staple of households for years to come. 

Contrary to popular belief, the quality of VHS is not as terrible as people claim it is. Sure, there is always going to be a scenario where a newer, more advanced piece of media supplants the previous iteration.

CDs were going to replace audio cassettes, the next iPhone is going to outdo the last model and so forth.

It is a simple case of “out with the old and in with the new.” Despite that, just because VHS was eventually outdone in quality by DVDs does not mean that it should be rejected.

An obsolete piece of media should not be forgotten about and tossed to the side, but rather, it is a historical document that should be preserved and remembered.

Quality-wise, VHS provides a very soft image, but it is in no way horrific in quality, and there is no situation where you cannot discern what is happening on screen.

There have been plenty of instances during streaming where, because of terrible wi-fi, I have had to endure terrible video compression where everything looks blocky and terribly pixelated.

It is a terrible image, and in that case, I would honestly rather watch something on VHS. Besides, my VCR never stopped a movie I was watching so I could reset the internet connection.

Furthermore, more video content has been released on VHS than any other piece of media, including DVDs/Blu-Ray, and even streaming.

And because the internet is everyone’s friend nowadays, you could find just about anything that was released on VHS tape, ranging from movies, television episodes, someone’s lost home videos, etc.

VHS was even used for board games (mainly trivia) that might have required it. The multitudes of VHS usage are also endless!

Also, consider the fact that a lot of the cover art for VHS boxes is freaking awesome.

How else would we have gotten exposed to the awesome poster art of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or have gotten the fantastic 3-D T-Rex as the cover for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park?”

Sometimes if you find a movie on VHS tape that does not work (because the previous owner never took care of it properly), at least keep the box.

VHS offers HUGE viewing convenience as well. If you had to pause a movie to go to a doctor's appointment or resume a week later, it always plays right where you left off. Now tell me why that would not be super helpful. 

In my lifetime, I never knew a moment when I never used the VHS format. It was in my household when I was very young, it was there when I was a teenager and I am still using it now. In fact, much of my childhood was shaped by it.

Why else would I bother to find a VHS copy of “Toy Story 2” if I felt it did not mean anything to me in my early life? I am also incredibly happy to keep my VHS copy of “Transformers: The Movie.”

It reminds me of my eighth birthday because that was the first time I watched what would change my life forever, finally convincing myself to choose a path in moviemaking.

Because of that, it is the most prized tape in my collection, and it is the definitive way I watch the movie. Honestly, though, I never felt VHS was anything to dismiss even if there were higher-quality options available.

I enjoy watching VHS as much as I would watch something on DVD, Blu-Ray or even a LaserDisc. If it means I will not have the pixelated compression of some streaming mishaps, then I am completely fine with it.

I am also proud to say that I now have a growing VHS collection, with 112 movies in total! Sure, nine of those are other copies of the same movie, and of course, I have numerous copies of the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

But the variety of my collection is also endless, ranging from great picks such as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Star Trek III- The Search for Spock,” “The Godfather,” “Ernest Goes to Camp,” “The Terminator” and the list could go on.

I also might be running out of shelf space, but honestly, I do not intend on stopping anytime soon, especially if there is still plenty more to find at Goodwills and other thrift and antique stores.

VHS may be outdated for some, and there is definitely a next generation of kids that is going to, unfortunately, disregard it, but on the other hand, I do not see why it is anything to reject.

In fact, maybe it’s time for a second chance at the format because the hate for it is undeserved. 

Overall, that is my take on the VHS tape format, and of course, everyone else’s experience with VHS is going to be wildly different than mine.

Some might have had a VCR for a few years during childhood and then tossed it away when families upgraded to DVD/Blu-Ray.

Perhaps you never got exposure to VHS and have unfortunately disregarded it as “not-up-to-date.” Or you are a hipster like me that might have been born half a century too late than like any piece of media that was before my time and see the inherent value in things that are older.

Also, in no way was this an article designed to shame streaming services, because they have their place. I just do not prefer that it is my main way of viewing films.

Never forget that physical media in general is forever, and anything “online” is not and easily taken away (as demonstrated by the streaming wars).

VHS, in a way, is the quintessential “nostalgia in a box,” because it is the perfect time capsule from a fantastic era. #BeKindAndRewind 

Logan M. Sharp is a third-year Film Production student at Penn State University. To contact him, please email lxs5590@psu.edu.