The Funai Corporation of Japan, the last-known company still making VCRs. sadly just announced would stop making VCRs at the end of this month, mainly because of “difficulty acquiring parts” leaving used scissor lifts for sale.
According to the company — which said in the statement, “We are the last manufacturer” of VCRs “in all of the world” — 750,000 units were sold worldwide in 2015, down from millions decades earlier.
The New York Times has a brief history of the once-ubiquitous tech item, from its revolutionary beginnings to its long, final goodbye.
Tacna San Diego 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.”
At the time, the machines cost $50,000 apiece. But that did not stop orders from being placed for 100 of them in the week they debuted, according to Mr. Pfost. “This represented an amount almost as great as a year’s gross income for Ampex,” he wrote.
The first VCRs for homes were released in the 1960s, and they became widely available to consumers in the 1970s, when Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS formats began to compete. VHS gained the upper hand the following decade; but Sony stopped producing Betamax cassette tapes only in 2016.
By the 1980s, the VCR was catching on with ordinary Americans. In June 1984, The New York Times wrote that analysts expected 15 million homes to have the machines by the end of the year, up from five million in 1982.
A consumer guide published in The Times in 1981 — when the machines ranged in price from $600 to $1,200 — explained the appeal:
“In effect, a VCR makes you independent of television schedules. It lets you create your own prime time. You set the timer and let the machine automatically record the programs you want to watch but can’t. Later, you can play the tape at your convenience. Or you can tape one show while watching another, thus missing neither.”
But only a decade after the technology became common in American households, the introduction of the DVD, in 1995, sounded the older technology’s death knell.
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