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  4. VCR Dream Product
  5. Part 1 Clunky Beginnings

  7. The consumer VCR was a dream product. In fact the consumer electronics or "Brown Goods" industry continually dreams of another product like the VCR – which everyone wanted or needed even if they did not realise it until they could buy it.

  8. It's hard now to imagine the excitement of being able to do what had never before been possible - set a machine to record a TV programme to watch later, instead of having to choose between missing the programme or staying at home to watch it.

  9. There was no no-hardware/no-software, no-chicken/no-egg issue. When the hardware was launched, there was already plenty of software in the form of TV broadcasts to time-shift and watch later, and share. As the hardware park grew, so did the opportunities for pre-recorded software sales and rental.  

  10. But the VCR was not an overnight success. The pioneers got arrows in their backs. The first VCRs were bulky and clumsy beasts, designed for professional use e.g. education.

  11. Before tape there was this EVR from Hitcachi Before VHS, National (Panasonic) made audio cassette recorder that recorded still colour pictures on an audio cassette
    Before tape - in the late 1960s - there was this EVR from Hitcachi; Electronic Video Recording was film-based for playback only
    Before VHS, National (Panasonic) made audio cassette recorder that recorded still colour pictures on an audio cassette
    Panasonic made U-Matic VCRs under the National name
    Early pre-VHS Panasonic semi-pro U-Matic VCR

    The story really began with the Philips N1500

  12. The home video story began on May 20th 1974, when, in the Pinafore Room of the Savoy Hotel in London, Philips announced "a landmark in the history of television and the start of a revolution in home entertainment".  

  13. The N1500 VCR was the first video cassette recorder with a built-in tuner to receive programmes without a TV set, a timer to switch the recorder on and off, and an RF modulator to feed signals in to the aerial socket of a domestic TV - all the essentials of time-shifting which we take for granted today.

  14. This was long before the days of SCART and HDMI video connections - so the RF connector was vital.

  15. In Europe there was no choice of make or model. You bought the Philips N1500 or nothing. It cost £388.62. Grundig made a similar machine.

Grundig VCR First Philips N1500 series VCR
One hour VCR from Grundig
First Philips N1500 series VCR
  • The relatively high cost of the machine was a big deterrent. But even more of a deterrent was the high cost of feeding it with tape in a clumsy double decker cassette. For several years taping cost between £20 and £25 an hour. The longest cassettes available lasted only one hour. So it was impossible to tape TV films without changing the tape halfway through. The only pre-recorded cassettes contained business material, or pornography,.

  • All round the world, the race was on to develop a VCR which taped for at least two hours, long enough to time-shift a feature film. In September 1977 Philips came up with the N1700 VCR which ran the tape at slower speed to give over two hours from a one hour cassette.

  • But by the time the N1700 reached the market, in early 1978, it was already too late. JVC was promising VHS and Sony was promising Betamax.

  • Grundig sideshow
  • In May 1978, Grunding squeezed even longer playing time (nearly four hours) from a standard one hour Philips videocassette (by further reducing the tape speed). This was technically clever but commercially a flop.

  • Behind the scenes both Philips and Grundig were secretly pinning their faith on yet another European system, V2000. Technically this was even more clever, but Philips made a serious tactical error. The Dutch company announced full details of the format in June 1979. By the time halfway to reasonable V2000 machines reached the shops, in 1981, the Japanese were streets ahead.

Grundig VCR mechanism Philips VCR  
Grundig long play VCR
Philips Long Play
  •  Philips promoted its first one hour recorders with the promise of going out but not missing Philips VCR
    Philips promoted its first one hour recorders with the promise of going out but not missing a programme - as long as it did not last longer than an hour, of course
    Longplay VCRs, like this one from Philips, solved that problem
    Filming with early VCRFilming with early VCR  
    The Philips VCR could be used for filming, but only if there was a power point nearby



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