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What is a VCR?

Alex Tree
Updated May 16, 2024
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VCR is an acronym for video cassette recorder, more commonly known as a video machine in some regions of the world. This device is used to record television shows on videotape cassettes to play back later and was invented in the 1950s. Often, a VCR is rectangular in shape and silver, black, or gray in color. The video tapes used in VCRs are much smaller, but also rectangular and usually black. Due to the popularity of the DVD player, VCRs have largely fallen out of favor but are still produced in smaller numbers.

With this device, a person can record one or more television programs, depending on the VCR. A popular feature is unattended recording, which allows a person to set the device to begin recording a certain time without further prompting. This feature was not available in early VCRs, but quickly became a major selling point after its initial introduction. It is now considered a standard feature in all later versions of the device.

The first VCRs were bulky, expensive, and could not record video for long; the device was also difficult to put together. These drawbacks were gradually fixed over the years as the technology advanced and VCRs were produced in bulk, making the product cheaper. While VCRs never became very light in weight, they did become more compact and easier to move from one place to another.

When VCRs started to become popular, the film companies in the United States cited copyright violation concerns and tried to halt VCR sales. There was much outrage regarding the potential use of VCRs. For the most part, however, the film companies had nothing to worry about; the judge ruled that VCRs are acceptable for non-commercial use, and eventually videotape cassettes became an extremely profitable industry all around the world.

Even with mass popularity at one point, the VCR never overcame certain flaws. For example, as the machine aged or became dirty, it would often ruin any videotape cassettes inserted. The magnetic tape of the cassette would be pulled out of the casing and twisted or broken. Even after decades of refinement and approaching the end of its popularity, the machine was frequently being designed and built to be simpler, with less features, and often had a shorter lifespan than older models. The stagnant evolution of the VCR and its increasingly poor craftsmanship made it easier for the DVD player to replace it.

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Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and EasyTechJunkie contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon359928 — On Dec 22, 2013

To the person asking whether it's still possible to buy VCRs, why not get a DVD/VCR combi machine? It's just a standard VCR with a DVD player/recorder built into the same box, and they are widely available here in the UK.

By anon324372 — On Mar 10, 2013

I'm 19 and I'm shocked that there are people about my age, even up to 22, who have never used a VCR.

Growing up in the late 90s and 2000s, my family always had a VCR and hundreds of VHS tapes. We didn't buy a DVD player until 2004 and didn't fully upgrade our VHS collection until 2007 or 2008.

By sneakers41 — On Jul 06, 2011

I feel old when my kids that are seven and ten tell me that they don’t know what a VCR is. My father in law has a DVD VCR combo and they asked me the other what a VCR was. It is amazing that are a whole generation of kids who don’t know what a VCR is.

If you think about it DVD players are everywhere now and DVD’s are now the format that people buy and rent movies from. I remember when I was a kid we would rent VHS tapes from a video store to play in our VCR, now we have kiosks and DVD’s on demand that offer movies in a DVD format.

They even have Blue Ray DVD’s and Blue Ray DVD players that are supposed to offer even better reception than the traditional DVD player. It is amazing how times change since the first days of the VCR.

By geekish — On Jul 06, 2011

My first VCR video - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Also, my family never did figure out how to record a tv show properly with the VCR - so I am that much more grateful for DVR!

I also remember when my family converted their slide shows to VCR tapes, now of course we need to convert them to DVDs. I've seen you can do this through VCR to DVD converters. Has anyone tried them?

By orangey03 — On Jul 05, 2011

My first movie experience was on a Panasonic VCR. My parents bought it several decades ago.

Though we originally bought it to watch movies, it was the coolest thing to me that you could record movies from television! The only drawback was risking cutting off part of the movie by stopping the recording at commercial breaks and trying to restart it at the exact moment the movie came back on.

I recorded many movies on TV this way. As technology progressed and we bought a VCR that could be set by a timer to record, I would record episodes of my favorite soap opera while I was at work. I could set the VCR to record at a certain time on certain days.

By StarJo — On Jul 04, 2011

My, how times change! We got our VCR back in the 1980s. We also got an account at the local movie rental store.

Just about every weekend, we would go rent a movie or two. I believe they were $2 each.

I also remember when the movie rental place started carrying mostly DVDs. Tapes became harder to find.

Because of places like Redbox and Netflix, that movie rental place shut down last year. It succumbed to the fate of many such stores around here. I must admit, I use Redbox frequently, and even if tapes were readily available, I would still rent DVDs instead.

By shell4life — On Jul 03, 2011

@kylee07drg - I have a VCR/DVD combo as well. Though most of my movies are on DVD, I have one tape to which I absolutely must have access.

I found this Latin rhythm workout video on tape back in 1999 that is the perfect workout for me, and I have been using it ever since. It is an aerobic workout featuring easy dance moves set to the music of a mariachi band, and it has helped me lose weight several times.

I am afraid that my VCR will eventually eat the tape. I have played it so much that the picture is a bit fuzzy. I don't know if I would be able to find it in DVD, but if that day comes, I will try.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 03, 2011

@letshearit - I am also one of those people! I have a combination VCR/DVD player, and I will never get rid of it.

I have music videos and pieces of performances and appearances on TV shows from my favorite bands recorded on tapes. I like to be nostalgic and watch these every few years. I can't imagine rendering myself unable to ever see them again.

Though these days, I do love my DVR and use it to record any new shows, I have to be able to see my old tapes. I also can't afford to replace all my old movies with DVD versions.

By popcorn — On Jul 02, 2011

Does anyone know if you can still buy new VCR players? I have found some old family movies on video cassette and I would really love to watch them to see what is on them.

I went to the mall and wasn't able to find any VCRs, and to be honest, people looked at me pretty funny for even asking about them.

I am thinking it might be impossible to find a new one, so if that isn't possible would you know of anyplace where you can order high quality used VCRs or ones that have been refurbished?

I don't mind shopping online but am cautious about online auction sites.

By letshearit — On Jul 02, 2011

I think I may be one of the few people that still has a VCR in good working quality hanging around the house. I have always been a huge movie buff, so when the DVD craze started I just had too many movies to upgrade them all. Not to mention many of the made for TV movies I had recorded would have gone out the window had I converted over completely because they just aren't available on DVD.

Nowadays with the popularity of streaming video and downloading my VCR seems even more ancient. But with so many great shows captured on tape I don't think I'll be giving up my VCR until it is in the grave.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 01, 2011

@SZapper - We had a VCR growing up as well. Unlike your parents my parents were big tech buffs so we had a long string of different VCR's.

I remember the feature that my parents were most excited about was being able to tape TV shows. Unlike now, you couldn't buy a TV show on DVD or watch it online if you missed it. So if you missed a show you liked you would just have to wait for it to come on as a re-run.

But when VCR's came out with the recording feature all that changed! You could set your VCR to record your show and watch it at your leisure and even fast forward right through the commercials. Amazing!

By SZapper — On Jun 30, 2011

I remember when my family bought our first VCR player. I was about five years old and my Mom let me pick out our first tape ever: Mary Poppins!

It's so funny how technology evolves and changes. At that time the VCR was the "next big thing" and I think it was fairly expensive. It was definitely a big deal at the time we got it!

We actually kept that same VCR for years. My parents weren't big fans of upgrading our technology so we basically kept it until it barely worked, and the kept it a little longer after that!

Alex Tree

Alex Tree

Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and EasyTechJunkie contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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