The Trouble with VHS

No two ways about it, the humble VHS pretty much single-handedly changed the way we watch movies. Sure, there had been home movie formats before – with a history stretching as far back as the 1900s, when cine reels and projectors were the order of the day. But the video broke the mould. Folks didn’t have to miss out on their favourite TV shows, since the VCR, or ‘magic black box’ as your gran might’ve called it, was always on standby to record Coronation Street and the like. And it meant you could re-live your top cinematic moments in the comfort of your own home – that’s a trend that’s only grown since then, with home entertainment systems, speakers and big-screen projectors becoming ever-more prevalent.


But for all its awesomeness, the VHS wasn’t exactly the most reliable form, was it? Anyone who’s lost their sanity spending twenty minutes fiddling with the tracking just to get a half-decent picture can attest to that. So let’s check out those common problems with the video – and remember how lucky we are that we’ve gone from VHS to DVD and beyond.

A little background first – and one for pub quiz fans everywhere. VHS stands for Video Home System, and was knocked up by JVC back when flares were groovy and long hair was hip (that’s the 1970s to you and me). In fact, JVC went to great lengths to ensure the VHS was as super as it could be; they come up with twelve objectives, or commandments if you will, which included a minimum of two hours recording time, affordable VCRs and decent picture quality.

Ah, picture quality – the first issue with video. There’s a reason why you can get apps which mimic that grainy VHS-style quality. In the era of digital everything, we can easily tell the difference between VHS and DVD pictures. The super-sharp clarity of the former smashes the latter, with higher resolution images.


And what about the sound you hear? Sound quality is another problem with VHS. Of course, part of that is because VHS is, y’know, of its time. Surround sound stereo systems weren’t really a thing back in t’day, so the analogue sound is pretty weak, with a muffled sound – or worse, the sound dropping out completely.

Ok, so you want to watch a movie in a hurry – only one problem. You didn’t rewind the tape. So unless you have a super-speedy rewind on the VCR, you could be waiting a while. Worse still, sometimes even that wasn’t enough, so you’d end up poking a pencil into the video and rewinding it by hand!

Wear and Tear is another factor. Not only does a VHS start showing its age visually, stuttering along with poor picture quality, but also the VCR can cause some real damage. Remember the absolute horror you’d feel when the VHS would stop playing, you’d eject the cassette and a whole ream of tape would follow? Untangling that was like trying to get chewing gum out of hair. It happens because the deck switches inside the VCR start to wear out – they then send erroneous feedback to the micro-controllers, which tries to fix the ‘problem’ by changing motors. The result: a VCR apparently hungry for magnetic tape.

We’ve already mentioned t-t-t-tracking, but let’s take a close look. Play a video, and if the screen is a mess of fit-inducing flickering, or there is white static scrolling over the image, then there’s a problem with tracking. We’ve already spoken about the helical scan on our blog, and the problem with tracking is down to this little bit of kit. See, if the helical scan drum is out by even a millimetre, the result is the static you see on-screen. So you’d end up on your hands and knees, tweaking the dial until the picture was perfectly visible.


It’s obsolete technology. That’s probably the biggest issue with the VHS; the fact is, if you want to gather ‘round the TV and watch all your favourite home movies, it’s unlikely to happen without a trip to eBay to get hold of a VCR. Of course, there are ways around this. We specialise in the conversion of video to digital formats, so you can watch all those excellent moments time and again on DVD. Want to know more? Just contact our friendly crew here at Video 2 DVD Transfers on 0800 592 433 and we’ll be happy to help.