VCR era ends due to lack of chips – and demand

November 04, 2016 // By Bill Schweber
Bill Schweber considers the end of the electronic and mechanical that was the video cassette recorder.

Funai, the last manufacture of video cassette recorders – better known as VCRs – decided to end production at the end of August, reportedly due to difficulty of obtaining key components (see here and here for two reports with some numbers).

Let's be honest: we knew this amazing product would get its "end of life" notice sooner rather than later, as digitally based recording has taken over, and fewer and fewer VCRs are in use. I'll admit it: I still have a VCR and use it with my CRT display and digital-TV over-the-air converter box; you might call it a modest way of walking the walk and living a more-analog life.

My intention here is not to lament the VCR's passing, as its time had truly come and gone; such is progress. Nor will I say that the VCR was superior in image quality or longevity to today's digital recording media because, frankly, it isn’t. Finally, I won’t opine on what the VCR meant to society and how it freed viewers from the dictates of a broadcaster setting the time you had to watch something. Meetings and community events were sometimes re-scheduled to avoid conflicting with top-rated shows, which is now so hard to believe. Sociologists (I do not use the term "social scientist", because most of it is not "science," IMO, sorry) have published countless studies on the impact of the VCR on society and individuals, and there no need for me to add my comments to the pile.

But from an engineering standpoint, the VCR represents an amazing triumph of electronics and mechanical engineering. If you have ever looked inside one of these units (what? you haven't?) especially while it is loading a tape; winding it around the capstan, tension rollers, and head; and doing what it has to do, you have to be amazed at the electromechanical complexity of this consumer device. Prices started around $1,000 when they were introduced, but followed the trail of semiconductors down to under $100 in the following decades. While I can understand how that price decline was done with the ICs, it amazes me that the vendors were able to do that on the mechanical side, considering the extremely sophisticated and precise rotating-drum head assembly, and the complex mechanical linkages and limit switches within the box.