Welcome to the future of home entertainment technology.
What is this mechanical marvel!?
This is a Video Cassette Recorder, or 'VCR'. This machine will allow you to record your favorite television shows, important news or even cartoons for your children to watch right from your own television onto extremely convenient, book-sized 'cassettes' that you can keep and watch later!
TV guide scheduling will become a bygone relic of a much crueler era in television viewing.
There are so many buttons! And is that a built-in clock? My God, how many thousands of dollars must this machine cost!?
Thanks to outsourcing it's manufacturing to several production firms overseas, JVC is able to offer it's VHS format recorders to you for as little as two-hundred dollars! When you really think about it, that's a mere hundred trips down the road to go buy a sundae from Mr. Walton's general store. And you don't get to keep those sundaes forever, unlike your own personal VCR.
These sort of Nintenga gizmos always spin my head 'round. Will JVC be offering thrifty servants for hire to properly operate the device?
You are in luck! While JVC is not yet offering full time VCR servants, many independent entrepreneurs have already established 'video rental stores', where you can go and not only learn about the machine, but loan out a variety of videos - including entire Hollywood films - for a mere dollar a dozen! One such up and coming video rental store goes by the name 'Blockbuster'; it comes with my personal recommendation.
Hey, wait a minute; why would I purchase one of these 'Video Cassette Recorder' machines when I already have a BlueRay player on my Playstation 3? And why the Hell would I walk down to a video rental store when I can just buy videos while shopping at Wal Mart or, better yet, just watch shows on Netflix?
...Y'know what? You can get off my lawn, now.
So, Blockbuster's been dying for a while (and most of it's competitors have long since vanished). It filed for bankruptcy in 2010, was bought by Dish Network, and then this month it's UK subsidiaries were put into administrative status. I have no idea what that means, but it's apparently Very Bad, and could mean about 4,000 layoffs.
It's hardly surprising, but it's been a shock to me nevertheless: going down to the video store to rent games and movies was a staple of my childhood. A dollar for a dozen on Tuesdays at the local non-Blockbuster generic rental store I don't remember the name of! What a great deal that seemed at the time, and it wasn't that
long ago (I guess 15-16 years~). I remember when, to their eventual chagrin, my parents bought Beta instead of VHS because the cassettes were more compact. I recall when DVD was first released, showcased with some higher definition (at the time) footage from Independence Day, and my parents poo-poo'd the medium and stubbornly clung to the VHS machine until it started eating about every second cassette put into it, and the little TV repair shop in town had closed-up shop so they couldn't get it fixed.
I also recall getting into big trouble one day when the video store called and charged my parents like $15.00 because we'd returned about 6 movies without rewinding them. :/
To my naive eyes, video rental stores seemed like a technological goldmine, and the local owner / manager would always wow my friends & I with some tech stories / knowledge that sounded impressive even if it meant absolutely nothing to us. They were my gateway to gaming as a hobby.
So, I'm throwing-on my rose-tinted glasses and taking a look back at the video rental business n this thread.
What the Hell is a video cassette anyway?
I imagine most people know them by appearance; they aren't that
old. These things started the video rental store craze, which was arguably responsible to injecting a lot of interest & capital into the tech sector (...and, interestingly, the adult film industry).
The cassette itself is just a reel of magnetic tape. The VCR uses a combination of heads to record an analog image signal & separate analog audio signal from the TV; the analog nature of the process, which involves the heads in the VCR physically contacting the magnetic tape, is what causes older machines to start 'eating' cassettes as the mechanical parts start to wear.
How did Blockbuster get it's start?
David Cook opened the first Blockbuster in Dallas, Texas in '85. The rental store boom was in full swing by that time; Cook was able to grow his business more rapidly than most of his competitors by identifying what films the local demographic was most likely to rent and tailoring his stock accordingly. He also leaned heavily on what was, at the time, an exploding medium that was in high demand just about everywhere: porn. His Dallas store was not the first video rental space with a 'back room' full of pornography, but that space became a staple of the business model and one that was replicated by just about every large rental store chain to follow.
What was so great about these rental stores anyway?
Speaking realistically: nothing.
Speaking with my rose-tinted glasses firmly in place: the same thing that's great about a good book store. I saw so many damn movies that I'd have otherwise never seen because, hey, I need one more tape or Nintendo cartridge to make an even dozen, and this title sounds fun / scary / action-packed. Yes, most of those films or games were terrible, but that's besides the point! A decent rental store was a giant archive of the best & worst creative endeavors of the time.
Also, my local rental store had a real caramel popcorn machine. You put in a dollar, it popped fresh popcorn, put it in a cap, and then poured fresh caramel over it. Sure, half the kernels were missed and I'm sure it was stupid expensive when you think about what you pay vs what you get, but man, real caramel popcorn
How / when did it all go wrong?
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when Blockbuster's fortunes reversed; most rental chains had closed their doors by 2008, with Movie Gallery and Blockbuster holding down the fort until 2010, when Movie Gallery was liquidated. The rental space had been being crowded-out ever since digital distribution became A Thing People Did, but Blockbuster itself seemed to be riding that wave (releasing it's own digital distribution platform, offering a DVD by mail service, eliminating late fees in favor of more progressive & cost effective customer experiences, etc) until at least 2009. Store closures began in mid 2010, and have continued to the present day; there are about 500 total stores left in the United States as of this post.