25 January 2011

The 1980s: Coming To Your Home - A VCR! But Should It Be Betamax, Video 2000 or VHS?

Ah, the 1980s video revolution! Wasn't it thrilling? Well, yes, it was, but it was also slow moving and confusing. The newspaper ad above is from 1980, when only 5% of UK households had a VCR. Video technology had been around for yonks, but VCRs had not. And they were expensive - to buy or rent. So, hardly anybody had a VCR and nobody felt the lack because what they'd never had, they never missed.

But of course if you did rent one you need never miss another episode of Coronation Street again, as Chapman & Son of High Street, Haverhill, England, informed us.

The 1980s saw the arrival of various innovations - such as front-loading machines and ever fancier and more confusing timers.

VCRs moved into the ascendancy. In 1983, nearly 20% of UK households had a machine, and in early 1985 it was 25%. The sky was now the limit and it would not be long before a VCR in the home was regarded as essential by the majority of us. Most people I knew rented their first VCR.

However, another hurdle to surmount in the early-to-mid 1980s was the different formats available. Should you rent or buy Betamax, VHS or Video 2000?

From the Brian Mills Spring/Summer 1983 mail order catalogue:

VHS, Beta or 2000


The features and performance are similar, but the three systems are not compatible, and video tapes are not interchangeable between them. Please check carefully that the tapes you have ordered are the correct type for your machine.

A 1982 newspaper ad for the Phillips Video 2000 "Fame" release. The 1980 film was now available to view in your own home.

From the Brian Mills Spring/Summer 1983 mail order catalogue - a Sharp VC9700 format de-luxe video cassette player and a Toshiba V87008 Beta format de-luxe video cassette recorder - £699.99 and £535.00 respectively. Pricey, weren't they? The cheapest models featured in the catalogue were two Beta models at £399.00 each. Mail order catalogues provided another option, apart from renting or buying outright, for people who wanted the VCR experience, as the cost could be spread over a number of months.

An aunt of mine bought a Beta model in about 1983, and lived to regret it when VHS won the sales battle. However, Auntie kept her Betamax machine for years, determined to get "value for money". Blank Betamax cassettes were, of course, still on sale for a while, and she used the machine to tape films and her favourite soap, Brookside!

Another 1980s technological marvel from the Brian Mills Spring/Summer 1983 mail order catalogue - a Pye 2023 "2000" system de-luxe video cassette recorder, priced £499.99. Probably pretty collectable these days!

I was really becoming aware of the video revolution by the mid-1980s. One of my favourite memories of those days is the 1985 Scotch video cassettes skeleton ad, featuring the voice of Deryck Guyler. "Re-record, not fade away..." Remember? See it here.


Nicky said...

I first rented a video recorder in 1984. They were still not very common where I lived.

Mad about the 80's said...

Wow, yes forgot all about the battle of the video formats! My dad brought a betamax - and proudly said it was the best out there - our video shop did both formats but slowly started stocking less beta's as VHS won over. It was an exciting day when they got rid of all the old beta tapes in a big sale, but of course used video's weren't the same as used DVD's and they invariably had that snowy picture on when they got too old.

Anonymous said...

We had our first VCR in 1985 - it specialised in eating tapes!

Frank Chickens said...

We had our first VCR in 1982 or 1983, a Ferguson Videostar and one three hour cassette at they were costly back then, think the tape cost something like £7.99 and lasted until the late 80s.