- program the VCR's digital clock, and
- set the schedule to record a show in the future.
Renting movies was incredible but the power of the VCR was in its ability to record a show when you would not be in your home to physically press the record button. The entertainment industry called this ability "timeshifting" which represented being able to schedule a recording of video at a future date. Being able to do this required PROGRAMMING and most American homes struggled with this concept for entire lifespan of the VCR.
The VCR was a failed promise in its ability to timeshift because of three main reasons:
1. Clock programming
2. Menus not buttons
If you were able to program your clock, you unlocked the next level of programming your VCR to do something incredible. You could learn how to set a timer to turn on the record and then turn off at the end of a set time. You could timeshift.
Once your VCR knew what time it was, it could work with the regular TV Guide schedule of programming. You could look in the paper for the guide to see what time something came on and then set the VCR to start at that time and turn off when it was over.
It was and most VCR owners could not do this task on their own because it required that the clock be programmed to the correct time. Because most people could not program time, they could not use the timeshift feature.
So how did so many people record shows without automatically recording?
The answer is: buy blank tapes and hit the record button on your way out of your house while hoping you don't run out of tape time before making it home.
Most videocassettes had 6-hours of tape encased in plastic. These also had a cardboard or plastic case to keep dust particles out and make them more organizable. These also came with sticky labels which could be attached to the top-face of a VCR and the side like a binder. You could mark the contents of your tape on the side and top in order to help you know which tapes had your shows on them and which were blank.
Great idea. Didn't work out for most people. Most people don't label or keep the label current to the contents of the videocassette. Here is what most people did:
In most cases, you would remember on your way out the door that you wanted to record a show. You would visually look at whatever VCR tape you had closest to your hand at the time. The plastic viewer allowed you to see how much tape was used on one side compared to how much was left on the other.
Using your most scientific judgement, you would estimate the amount of time the tape on one side would allow you to record and pick the one with greatest amount of space available. Then you would insert the tape into the VCR, hit the RECORD button, and walk out.
This meant the VCR would be recording the entire time you were away until you returned to hit the STOP button or if the tape ran out of time.
Just a few problems with this:
- Run out of tape, missing entire show
- Run out of tape missing just the end of your show but you don't know it until you are watching it and the tape quits playing.
- Taped over a show you didn't want to tape over.
- Someone changed the channel and taped what they were watching instead of what you wanted to watch.
But if the time was set correctly on the VCR, this opened up the possibility to set a timer to record a show at the time the show broadcast. Being able to do this was the equivalent of pulling Excalibur from a rock.
In summary, the VCR was truly an amazing tool for its time. The systemic failure and frustration with this type of technology was really on our inability to understand the idea that buttons can serve multiple purposes without being labeled as doing such. It also reinforced the idea that we are unable to keep items properly organized and labeled to accurately reflect the contents of what is actually stored on them.
Imagine how much longer the VCR may have lasted if it had a clock with adjustable buttons available on the front of the device itself with the ability to adjust hours & minutes by pressing up/down. Imagine if VCR cassettes used dry-erase labels for easier organization and labeling. Could the VCR still be a market competitor now if these were available then?
What do you remember about VCRs?