28 January, 2006

Death to VHS

There's a large cupboard in our garage under the house that's stacked with videotapes. There's about 300 of them, piled in there three or four deep and they're in no particular order. Not that it would be easy to put them in order anyway as the majority of them are unlabelled. They've been stuck down there for perhaps as long as five years, untouched and unloved.

I can't recall the exact sequence of events, but I suspect that the tapes may have been consigned to this cupboard not long after we bought our first DVD player. That was in early 2001 - a time when, in New Zealand at least, DVDs were still yet to make a big impact on the market and were still very much the playthings of collectors and 'early adopter' consumers.

At the time we bought our first DVD player I was working as the VHS & DVD content manager for an online shopping website (it was about that time that I also became its General Manager, but that's another story). Looking back now it seems rather absurd that I'd been writing about DVDs for the website for a full year and a half before I watched my first DVD. Indeed I owned about a dozen titles on DVD before I even bought something to play them on. Maybe that's because at the time DVD machines were reasonably pricey (about four times as expensive as they are now), but the price was dropping rapidly enough for it to be worth holding off as long as possible before buying one.

Having discovered the allure of these shiny discs with their wonderfully sparkling clarity of sound, vastly superior picture quality and space-saving slim cases, the writing was on the wall for our collection of VHS tapes. The video shelves in our living room were cleared off and we set about expanding our DVD collection. A handful of VHS tapes were kept close at hand for the convenience of recording something off TV while we were out that we wanted to watch later, but after purchasing a DVD recorder a couple of years later, there was no longer even a need for these tapes, and the VCR was unplugged to make way for the DVD recorder.

But the bulk of the tapes were never disposed of. We gave some away and sold a lot of the commercial videotapes as we replaced the various movies and TV series with their DVD equivalents, but about 300 blank tapes of off-air TV recordings still languished in their cupboard gathering dust. Each time we did a spring-clean of the garage, the subject of what to do with the tapes came up, but there was always the dilemma of what if there was something on them we wanted to keep? I knew that somewhere in the mass of unlabelled tapes were a few items that we'd hate to lose.

The only solution was to dust off the VCR (which turned out to be still in good working order after sitting in another cupboard!), dig out the tapes, and start checking through them one by one. After putting the task off for a very long time, I finally did this today.

It's been a thoroughly liberating experience to do away with stacks of tapes filled with TV episodes of shows such as South Park, Buffy, Stingray, Red Dwarf and X-Files, all of which we now own on DVD. I've also discovered that almost all of the movies we recorded off TV over the years are ones that we've since replaced on DVD, so there was very little in the way of umm-ing and ahh-ing over what to keep.

In the end the 'keep' pile turned out to be thankfully just a small handful of tapes, including recordings of a few times when I've been interviewed on TV; a classic and much-loved kids TV series called Under the Mountain, a couple of music documentaries, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special.

It's taken me most of the day to work through the imposing tower of black plastic but the job's finally done, thank goodness. The cupboard's cleared out and I've reduced 300 tapes down to about ten tapes of things that we actually want to keep. The next task is probably to hook up the CR to the DVD recorder and transfer the recordings we want to keep to DVD, but that's a job for another day!

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