The world of home film entertainment has changed drastically over just a few decades. Once upon a time the only way to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters was to head down to a cinema, now you can head to Netflix and browse thousands of titles and watch any you want with just the touch of a button.
Technology has come so far; it’s hard to imagine the days when we couldn’t watch any film we wanted in the comfort of our own homes. So how did the home film entertainment industry begin, and where might it go in the future?
Before home entertainment releases were more easily accessible to the public, the only way to watch feature films was in their original theatrical runs or on the occasional theatre re-release. It was possible for people to buy a 16 mm or 8 mm film projector or buy home-use prints of some cartoons, short comedies and “highlight” reels from feature films. In 1965, the Super 8 format was introduced and marketed for making home movies, but it also boosted the popularity of show-at-home films.
However, these home releases of feature films were expensive and served only a niche market of very affluent film lovers. It wouldn’t be until later that cheaper formats made home film entertainment more accessible to the general public.
Betamax & VHS
The first video cassette recorder was Sony’s U-matic system in 1971, but it was designed for commercial use and was not affordable or user-friendly for home videos or films. The first consumer useable VCR was released in 1972, followed in 1975 by Sony’s Betamax. Then came the VHS format by JVC. What followed was an all-out format war between Betamax and VHS with other competitors such as Avco Cartrivision quickly disappearing.
The determining factor that led VHS to be victorious over Betamax was Betamax’s shorter recording time. Even though Betamax was supposedly of a superior recording sound and image capability, consumers did not think this justified the extra cost. By the time Betamax increased its recording time, VHS had already won. Betamax sales dwindled and VHS emerged the winner and dominated until the creation of digital video disc technology.
LaserDisc was the first commercial optical disc. Produced in 1978, it offered higher quality video and audio than VHS. However, it never managed to gain widespread use in North America due to the high costs of the players and the laserdiscs themselves, never managing to get above 1% market penetration of US households. But it did gain some traction in the 1990s with film enthusiasts and was also incredibly popular in Japan.
Its high costs and inability to record onto the discs took a severe toll on its sales; the last LaserDisc was released in 2001, and the last LaserDisc player was produced in 2009. The technology lay the foundations for later optical disc formats like DVD.
In 1993, Phillips introduced the VCD (Video CD) using a new digital compression called MPEG-1 which could compress films onto compact discs. The format was widely adopted in Southeast Asia and superseded VHS and Betamax until DVD became more affordable.
The technology was essentially the merger of CDs and the technology used in LaserDsic to give it the ability to produce video. VCD enjoyed brief success with feature film releases, usually on a two-disc set, until the film industry realised that the discs were easy to pirate, as MPEG-1 had no copy protection. However, whilst DVD pushed VHS entirely out of usage, VCD is still used in developing nations due to their cheap manufacturing and retail costs.
DVDs truly revolutionised home film entertainment. The format developed in 1995 and could offer higher storage capacity than compact discs whilst having the same dimensions. Capable of storing video, multiple audio tracks and additional extras, the DVD managed to do what LaserDisc couldn’t, and become the preferred method for distributing films for home use.
Film distributors embraced the DVD for its higher quality, lifespan and the fact that it could be interactive. DVD players quickly reduced in costs, as did the DVDs themselves, aiding their widespread usage all over the world.
Envisioned to be the successor to DVDs, HD DVDs were an optimal disc format released in 2006 that offered higher quality video and audio than DVDs with greater capacity to store data. This short-lived format was discontinued in 2008, after losing out to Blu-Ray. The reasons for this are speculated to be that Blu-Ray did a better job convincing major film studies to release high definition editions of films on Blu-Ray rather than HD DVD.
With the ability to hold up to 50 GB of storage, the Blu-Ray became the successor to DVD, but not quite in the same way DVD did for VHS. There has been no immediate indication that the production of DVDs will gradually wind down, as they still dominate the video sales market. Experts claim Blu-Rays are slow to uptake due to their high costs and the fact that most consumers aren’t willing to pay more as they are already satisfied with DVDs.
Manufacturers continue to sell DVDs as of 2019, so whilst Blu-Ray is indeed a rival and a successor, it’s a slow burn that could continue for many years.
Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime allow people to watch films and TV shows at any time, on many different devices and as often as they like – provided the title they want is available on that platform. Streaming services helped put an end to the DVD rental market, and it’s estimated that Netflix has around 139 subscribers worldwide and that number is ever growing.
The streaming market shows no signs of slowing down and it is expected to keep growing. In fact, more and more young people are abandoning traditional television broadcasts in favour of streaming services, opting out of purchasing a TV licence and instead are buying subscriptions to streaming services.
As streaming grows in popularity, companies are desperately fighting to compete. YouTube now produces its own content, and other platforms are trying to churn out original content in a bid to fight for viewers who are rapidly turning their backs on traditional forms of home entertainment.
Could we see DVDs and Blu-Rays fade away in favour of on-demand home entertainment? Possibly, but a lot of people still find joy in owning their very own copy of a show or film, knowing that they will always be able to watch it even if it’s removed from their preferred streaming service.
It will be interesting to see how the home film entertainment develops over the next decade or so. For now, if you have any home videos on VHS tapes, you can convert them to DVD with a VHS to DVD transfer at Video2DVD. Protect those precious memories today with a DVD conversion.