In the movie City Slickers, the holiday cowboys struggle with the concept of setting a VCR timer. President Reagan said he dreamed of seeing VCRs made easier to program before he left office.
Panasonic tried to use bar codes to set a VCR timer, and the next year in 1988, Germany’s Grundig came up with a master plan to compete. Unfortunately a lot went wrong.
Grundig’s factory in Nuremburg pre-set the clocks on its VCRs to save users the trouble. But this meant they arrived in British shops on Continental time, and the instruction manual neglected to say how the clock could be re-set.
Grundig’s VS 540 VCR also sported a new feature, called text programming. The VCR contained an ordinary teletext decoder, of the type then found only in TV sets.
The user switched this decoder on to display whichever broadcast teletext pages showed the times for the day’s TV programmes.
Buttons on the remote control moved a screen cursor to the entry for a programme, and its scheduled start time.
Pressing OK on the remote then automatically set the timer to start recording at this time. The stop time was set by moving the cursor onto the entry for the programme that followed, and pressing OK again.
The complicated German design again caused difficulties in the UK. The timer worked on a 24-hour clock, and expected a dot between the hours and minutes, because that was how German stations ARD and ZDF worked. Britain’s ITV and Channel 4 teletext also worked this way.
But the BBC used a 12-hour clock, and saved precious screen space by omitting the dots. Until modified, the German VCR could only be set to tape BBC TV programmes transmitted in the morning.
Owners also found that the German VCR could be fooled when asked to tape a programme with a number in the title, like the movie 1941. The VCR mistook it for 7.41 pm.