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Tales In Tech History: Japan Ends VCR Production

The last video cassette recorder (VCR) will roll off the production line next week, heralding the demise of a TV recording technology that was present in many homes since the mid 1970s.

The Nikkei newspaper reported that Japan’s Funai Electric would cease production of home videocassette recorders by the end of July, due to falling sales.

Format Wars

Funai had been making VCRs since 1983, and it was the last known VCR maker in Japan. It made VCR machines in mainland China for sale in North America and other parts of the world, mainly under the Sanyo brand (now owned by Panasonic).

At its height, Funai Electric was reported to be selling as many as 15 million units annually. But sales fell to just 750,000 in 2015, as competition from DVDs and Blu-ray took its toll.

For many years, the VCR industry was firmly divided into two camps of supporters. Those that supported Sony’s Betamax tape format, and those that supported the VHS cassette.

Betamax was widely considered to the superior technology,but it ended losing the format war, mostly due to the higher cost of Betamax VCR machines and its shorter recording time.

Betamax first arrived back in 1975, followed a year later by the cheaper VHS format from Philips. Sony only stopped producing Betamax tapes in 2015.

Although Betamax eventually lost the format war, the technology (in the guise of Betacam) continued to be used in the television and media industries, until it was eventually replaced by digital alternatives.

For many Brits however, obtaining a VCR machine was increasingly difficult due to the fact that high street electronics retailer Dixons opted to stop selling them in 2004.

The advent of DVDs with its superior audio and video capabilities, coupled with the arrival of PVRs (personal video recorders like the Sky box), meant the end for recording television content on plain old tape.

Netflix Generation

But whilst DVDs were widely considered to be the successor technology for video cassettes, the next generation optical media also experienced its own format wars between 2006 and 2008 as a battle took shape between Sony’s Blu-ray technology and the rival HD DVD format from Toshiba.

In 2008 that format war was decided after Sony managed to persuade a number of Hollywood studios to back its technology.

But now even DVDs and Blu-ray sales are in decline, as streaming content becomes the norm around the world.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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