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What is VHS?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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The term VHS refers to the Video Home System format for video recording developed by the Japanese company JVC. At the time, it was a huge advance for consumers, placing the power to record and playback video into the hands of the public, and spread quickly into most homes. It also gave people the ability to record television programs for later viewing. Images and sound were recorded onto video cassettes with a camera or a device known as a VCR, or video cassette recorder, which could also play the recordings on a television for viewing.

The VHS format was first introduced by JVC in 1976 to compete with a similar system offered by Sony known as Betamax. For a while, both formats were in competition with each other, but the VHS system was preferred by consumers because it offered longer playback time, quicker rewind, and fast forward, and it was less expensive to purchase. Additionally JVC allowed others to use its VHS technology for a small licensing fee, making it more popular among the producers of prerecorded movies and other entertainment cassettes. Thanks to these factors, VHS became the dominant recording format by the early 1980s for cassettes and VCRs used in most homes until the end of the 20th century when digital video discs (DVDs) became the leading technology.

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Prior to the development and spread of the VHS system, consumers did not have the ability to record their own original video images or to tape television shows to watch at their convenience. The proliferation of this technology was a huge advance and paved the way for future developments. It also changed the way consumers utilized television and movies, giving them greater control over viewing choices. For the first time, movies could be purchased or rented for home viewing, instead of waiting for a television channel to play them.

The typical VHS video cassette, commonly called a videotape, contained about 1,410 feet (430 m) of magnetic tape in a bulky plastic casing; depending on the recording speed, it could hold from 2 to 6 hours worth of video. People could record video footage of important events using portable video cameras known as camcorders. Many camcorder models also had playback capabilities when connected to a television; recordings could also be viewed by watching the tape in a VCR. The VCR itself was able to record video, such as televisions shows and movies, from the television signal, thus allowing viewers to record one program while watching another or while they away from home. The VCR was also used for playback and viewing of the recorded programs as well as prerecorded media.

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