Sunday, March 12, 2017

Those Were The Days

I bought a Betamax too.  I bought the Toshiba model.  I was excited, and ready to start taping.  I remember I bought it at a department store called Ardan, which is now defunct.  The player itself was rather huge and bulky, but it would fit inside my stereo case where I had my stereo amp and cassette deck.  I could also hook it up through my receiver, so that I could hear it in stereo.  It really boosted the appeal of watching movies that way.  At the time we had either Showtime or HBO, and I collected many movies during that time frame.  I'm not sure what I first taped.  It was probably some type of science fiction.  Like the guy above in the video, I did most of my taping off the cable.  I rarely bought actual Hollywood-made tapes as they were more expensive.  Sometimes a lot more expensive.  I still have an old Movies Unlimited video catalog from 1991.  Don't ask me why I have hung onto it.  But in it most of the Hollywood-made movies sell for around $19.99 a pop, but some go for as high as $89.99, which sounds crazy now.  A lot of the more foreign or esoteric art films like Ingmar Bergman are around $30., but I see Pelle the Conqueror is $89.99.  Just thumbing through the catalog there's also a Roberto Rossellini movie, The Age of Medici (1972), which is basically a documentary on Florentine art, tracing the history through the lives of the famed Renaissance merchant family.   It retails for $129.99.  Just for that one VHS tape!

Later on I did buy a few factory made tapes, but that was when you could find a lot more discounted at Blockbuster near the end days of the VHS industry.  Of course, I eventually had to dump them all as my Beta machine stopped working and Betamax was taken over by VHS. 

I remember going into video stores back in those days, and the stores would be set up or divided with VHS tapes and then Beta.  Sometimes you'd have a rack with Raiders of the Lost Ark with the Beta and VHS displayed more or less side by side.  I should have been tipped off then that VHS was going to take over as there were always more VHS tapes available.   The reason I chose Beta was that I'd read it was a bit wider tape so they got better picture and sound quality, and that's basically true.  By the way, I also bought into Quadraphonic as well back in the day. (If any of you are old enough to remember that audiophile phenomena.)  You had to buy a Quadraphonic amp, which I bought, then a turntable with a Quadraphonic stylus, check.  Then you'd buy the Quadraphonic albums which were more expensive, AND have an extra set of speakers.  Check, check, boom--that craze went belly up pretty quickly.   (Oddly enough with the home movie sound systems, the craze came back, just in a different reconfigured style.)

I remember the first time I was introduced to DVDs.  I had a friend named David, and he was really into collecting things of all sorts: comics, African mask, books, walking canes, and eventually movies among other things.  I think that's one of the things that solidified our friendship, the collector mentality.  I enjoyed comics as well among books, music, and what have you.   At any rate, he gotten a large screen TV, this was before digital flat screens, and a DVD player.  He invited me over to his apartment and we watched the movie, Trainspotting.  Aside from it being a good movie, I was amazed at the picture quality.  It was unbelievable.  I didn't run out and buy a DVD player immediately, but in the back of my mind it was on the agenda.

Eventually I did buy a DVD player.  I can't even remember the first DVD I bought.  It may have been some Woody Allen or maybe something like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You'd think I would remember something like that, but it's just too far back in history for me, and I've bought countless more DVDs since that day.   I've not yet bought into Blu-ray.  It's probably on the horizon for sure.  My current machine is a Sony, one of those combo VHS-DVD player things.  The DVD player in it still works good, but the VHS works a bit wonky, and really since Suddenlink (our cable provider here) switched over to this new bogus system, heck I can't tape anything anyway.  Sometimes technological advancement suck in that way, but I'm not going back to Betamax anytime soon. 


At 6:39 PM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

Ah, the format wars: as old as Edison (the record grooves had vertical bumps and pits) and RCA (grooves wiggled horizontally). Sheer laziness coupled with cheapness often have prevented me from 8-track, Beta, and their doomed cousins. By the time my old equipment breaks, a format winner usually has emerged: note that this has nothing to do with foresight. Quadrophonic was a great sounding system though. I didn’t have one (cheapness again: my stereo worked fine until the quad fashion passed), but a few of my friends did. I don’t believe for a moment the claims that the new (tiny!) hi-tech speakers are better than old big hairy ones. The old ones were better, especially on bass, and the quad arrangement was super.

At 9:43 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Yeah, I guess different formats still persist and are just as prevalent with the computer age: Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge. Sometimes it's hard to choose, and the time you do, it all changes. Quadrophonic did sound good, I'll admit. I believe I had bought a Kenwood receiver for that. It was a mammoth thing as well. It did simulate a sort of fake quad, if you just put on a regular stereo or monophonic record, and it still sounded great. Since I still lived at home, it wasn't very practical as I had to keep it down in my room 99% of the time. Back in our day though I guess that was one of the signifiers of cool, like a hot chick or car. :) Another holdover from that day was reel to reel recorders. For whatever reason the guys that went to Vietnam bought a lot of those. I had several friends in the service that bought them, and brought them back home. Now you hardly ever see one. I saw a guy on Youtube that was into buying them, and would refurbish them, but even he admitted--it's a pricey hobby.

Oh, I had to have a 8-track too. At least I was too young to splurge on a 4-track. Some players, if memory serves, played both formats. Talk about a format that had built-in obsolescence. Those 8-track tapes didn't last very long due to the winding inside. I don't know if you ever cracked one open, but they fed in a weird way--I've actually fixed a few in my time. Even so, some of them would start to have playing problems as well. Too some degree that's one of the problems with VHS/Beta too. Tapes drug, became jittery, and tracking became a problem. You're right too about the speakers. I still have my old Advent speakers, and they still sound good. The new small high efficiency speaker sound pretty good and will get loud depending on what you buy. Those sound bars don't work that well however--I bought one of those too.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Oh yeah I remember those old video store days of Beta/VHS being on the same shelf. I remember that being a big challenge my dad faced during those early 80s. There was also this other format which was a precursor to the LaserDisc, where the disc was in this huge plastic container. I can't remember what that thing was called, but he did pick up a few of those too.

Being an independent video store always posed that issue. He eventually went to full VHS, and the picked up Laserdisc as well. DVDs were the winner over the DIVX format. That one actually had a lockout feature that would only allow the disc to be viewed a certain number of times, then require a fee to upgrade the views to an unlimited number. There was a lot of encryption on there too which caused some issues on DVDR of the 90s. The format was quickly shot down because of lack of support from Blockbuster.

Then you had the HD wars between BluRay and HDDVD. That one closer to the VHS Betamax wars in a lot of ways. But BluRay won because Sony had Playstation 3 arriving with full compatibility with the format.

For my dad the video games were always the toughest prediction to get right. He went with Atari in the early 80s, then Nintendo in the mid 80s. But the 90s were difficult and he ended up going with both Sega and Nintendo. Once the playstation came out he just stopped carrying video games (and by that time video game only stores were everywhere). The upshot was we had to have a game system at home to test those defective claims. :) Played a lot of Sega Genesis back in the day.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger El Vox said...

It must have been tough running a video story with all those competing formats. Should you put the VHS copy on the shelf, and the Beta next to that, or a separate section for VHS and then Beta? I bet it got to be a real head scratcher, but I assume a lucrative one with all the late fees etc. I was never much into gaming due to being in a different generation, and working all the time. That's probably a good thing in some ways although I sometimes wish I had picked up a Nintendo. What's funny at the time I was so distanced from all of that even though I had a friend that bought one for his boys, I just figured these things would break within a year and were cheap. Amazingly enough some are still around and being played.

I don't recall a very big push for gaming except in magazines. I can recall hardly ever seeing an ad on TV for them (or my memory is just faulty). Now you see gaming ads on TV celebrating a new release. I guess there always will be a format war somewhere along with the obsolescence of the older formats for the newer. I keep thinking surely there will be some stopping point, but it doesn't look that way. Perhaps that should be celebrated, but what do I do with all my old VHS tapes?


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