How to Use a VCR

(I once had a coworker who did not know what a cassette tape was. So, once in a while, I feel the need to educate the whippersnappers out there about old-timey technology.)

Since Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is coming out next week I thought I would give it the appropriate introduction. Hey, if you own the four movies, you might as well watch them before the fifth comes out. There was only one quirk. I own the original on VHS.

Remember when digital media came in a cardboard box and you had to store it right side up or it would fall out? Titanic took two tapes because it could not fit on one. That is right kids, this is a VHS tape.


Now, if you are as spiffy as I like to think I am, you will have done your prep. Mainly, you would have dug your old “VHS Cleaner” out of storage. After slathering the little brushes with alcohol, one inserts this faux-tape into the VCR and fast forwards, rewinds, and plays until the heads are nice and clean. Or at least cleaner than they were. (The tried and true, “blow into the machine” technique will only get you so far.) These procedures are quite similar to keeping your 8-bit NES player working.

Next up, you dig out the coaxial cables of fury. If you do not keep them hooked up, remember to be ever-so careful. Instead of a dozen-pin system (Hi, HDMI!) or sturdy composite cables, you have a teeny-tiny metal pin inside of clunky housing. This pin is about the size of a needle. If you bend it too much, snap it, or taunt it, the sucker breaks. The end. Nada mas.


As you can see, the NES hook-up is intertwined with the VCR. Which is great if you want to record yourself playing Super Mario Bros. 3, but it does create some wiggly issues. Wiggle the y-connector. Wiggle the Nintendo input. Do whatever you can to get the connection tight. If you have a loose connection, you will get a nice snowy-overlay instead of a crisp picture. All snug? Great.

Speaking of crisp pictures? Um… yeah. DVD’s big selling point was that it was much clearer than VHS, so do not get your hopes up. (They used almost the exact same phrasing when Blu-Ray came out. “See it like never before! The ultimate home movie experience!”) Just tell yourself that every scene is supposed to have that slightly fuzzy look. It is not blurry; the sharp edges are just softened to make it more romantic. Yeah, that is it!

If you want the true VHS experience, you will need to tweak your TV just a bit. See, most VHS tapes will have that little blurb about how “this presentation has been modified”. Basically most VHS tapes were made for a 4:3 TV. So widescreen/ letterboxing was only for “special releases”. In my case, I took my VHS copy of a movie that had been released in widescreen, but made into fullscreen for the tape, but changed the aspect ratio of my TV to fullscreen even though it is widescreen. ??? I know, as crazy as it sounds, I watched a movie filmed in widescreen in fulllscreen to avoid cropping of what was left off the picture. Nobody said nostalgia made sense.

Now remember that skipping scenes is not allowed. There is no pulling up a scene if you fall asleep. Nope, ya gotta fast forward. Your VCR may have up to three speeds. Play, fast forward, and double fast forward. So watch those wavy lines zoom through the trailers and wait patiently. On the plus side, there is also no such thing as “feature not allowed”, so those FBI warnings and copyright things go buy in a blink.

Hey, no menu! No logo! Movie time! If you do not have auto tracking, now is the time to tweak and adjust. (Your picture will never improve much. But here is hoping you can get the wavy lines under control enough to ignore the fact that they exist. Remember, nostalgia!)

There you have it. Your cords are all set, your VCR is running smoothly (-ish), and you are really enjoying that dual-channel sound. Congrats!

Who needs Blu-Ray upgrades? You are watching in style! Enjoy the ‘90’s! Ving has a soul patch as he drools over “686 laptops”, works with modems, and 3.5 floppies come in see-through plastic… um, because they look cooler? Maybe?

Now what ’90’s flick do I watch next?  So many choices.


About Cosand

He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.
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1 Response to How to Use a VCR

  1. Pingback: Childhood Disdress | …Of Course, this Could All Go Horribly Awry

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