Video home system (VHS) cassettes were a popular format for both commercial movies and home videos, and the compact version was first introduced in 1982. These much smaller cassettes were known as video home system compact (VHS-C), and used the same magnetic recording material as regular VHS tapes despite being a fraction of the size. Due to this design, it is possible to view a VHS-C tape with a regular videocassette recorder (VCR). In order accomplish this, a VHS-C to VHS adapter is typically used. These adapters often have the appearance of a regular VHS tape, but include a slot into which a VHS-C cassette may be placed.
Most VHS-C tapes had a limited amount of recording time due to their small size. This made them well suited to the consumer camcorder market. At the time when VHS-C was introduced, Betamax camcorders benefited from a smaller form factor than their VHS counterparts, while the main benefit offered by VHS camcorders was their ability to play video in addition to recording it. The VHS-C format allowed for much smaller camcorders while also retaining the playback capabilities of larger VHS units.
The two main ways of viewing a video recorded to a VHS-C tape were to use the camcorder itself, or to use a VHS-C to VHS adapter. Many VHS-C camcorders could play video via the viewfinder or an attached liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, in addition to offering video and audio out cables. The VHS-C to VHS adapter allowed the playback of a VHS-C tape through a VCR without connecting the camcorder unit. A VHC-C tape could be placed into the adapter, allowing playback on any VHS compatible VCR.
VHS-C to VHS adapters were made possible by the two formats using an identical type of magnetic storage material. Each VHS-C cassette has two spools, one of which is a gear wheel and the other of which is identical to a regular VHS spool. When placed into an adapter, the tape is spooled out so that it will be readable by a regular sized VCR. It continues to unwind from one spool inside the VHS-C cassette and subsequently wind onto the other, just as it would inside a VHS-C camcorder.
The two main types of VHS-C to VHS adapter are purely mechanical and battery operated. The purely mechanical variety pulls the tape out of the VHS-C cartridge via the mechanical motion of inserting the cassette into the adapter. Battery powered variants use a small motor to accomplish this same function. Once the tape has been spooled out into the adapter, both versions work in an identical manner.