The videocassette recorder (or VCR, more commonly known in the UK and Ireland as the video recorder), is a type of video tape recorder that uses removable videotape cassettes containing magnetic tape to record audio and video from a television broadcast so it can be played back later. Most VCRs have their own tuner (for direct TV reception) and a programmable timer (for unattended recording of a certain channel at a particular time).
The history of the videocassette recorder follows the history of videotape recording in general. Ampex introduced the Ampex VRX-1000, the first commercially successful videotape recorder, in 1956. It used the 2" Quadruplex format, using two-inch (5.1 cm) tape. Due to its US $50,000 price, the Ampex VRX-1000 could be afforded only by the television networks and the largest individual stations. In 1963, Philips introduced their EL3400 1" helical scan recorder (aimed at the business and domestic user) and Sony marketed the PV-100, their first reel-to-reel VTR intended for business, medical, airline, and educational use. The Sony model CV-2000, first marketed in 1965, was intended for home use. Ampex and RCA followed in 1965 with their own reel-to-reel monochrome VTRs priced under US $1,000 for the home consumer market.
The development of the videocassette followed the replacement by cassette of other open reel systems in consumer items: the Stereo-Pak 4-track audio cartridge in 1962, the compact audio cassette and Instamatic film cartridge in 1963, the 8-track cartridge in 1965, and the Super 8 home movie cartridge in 1966.
In 1970 Philips developed a home videocassette format. Confusingly, Philips named this format "VCR" (although it is also referred to as "N1500", after the first recorder's model number). The format was also supported by Grundig and Loewe. It used square cassettes and half-inch (1.3 cm) tape, mounted on co-axial reels, giving a recording time of one hour. The first model, available in the United Kingdom in 1972, was equipped with a crude timer that used rotary dials. At nearly £600 ($2087), it was expensive and the format was relatively unsuccessful in the home market. This was followed by digital timer version in 1975 — the N1502. In 1977 a new (and incompatible) long-play version ("VCR-LP") or N1700, which could use the same tapes, sold quite well to schools and colleges.
The two major standards were Sony's Betamax (also known as Betacord or just Beta), and JVC's VHS [Video Home System], which battled for sales in what has become known as the original and definitive format war.
Betamax was first to market in November 1975, and was argued by many to be technically more sophisticated, although many users did not perceive a difference. The first machines required an external timer, and could only record one hour. The timer was later incorporated within the machine as a standard feature.
The rival VHS format [Japan, Sept. 1976] (introduced in the United States in July 1977 by JVC) boasted a longer two-hour recording time - with four hours using a "long play" mode (RCA SelectaVision models - introduced in Sept. 1977). Since 2 hours and 4 hours was near-ideal for recording movies and sports-games respectively, the consumer naturally flocked towards VHS rather than the 1-hour-limited Betamax. Although Sony later introduced Beta-II and Beta-III to allow a maximum time of 5+ hours, by that time VHS was already boasting 6, 8, or even 9 hours per tape. Thus VHS had a perceived "better value" in the eye of the consumer during the late 70s.
When creating a copy-protected videocassette, the Macrovision-distorted signal is stored on the tape itself by special recording equipment. By contrast, on DVDs there is just a marker asking the player to produce such a distortion during playback. All standard DVD players include this protection and obey the marker, though unofficially many models can be modified or adjusted to disable it.
Also, the Macrovision protection system may fail to work on older VCR's, usually due to the lack of an AGC system. Betamax, VHS and S-VHS machines (and DVD recorders) are susceptible to this signal, generally machines of other tape formats are unaffected. VCR's dubbed for "professional" usage typically have an adjustable AGC system, a specific "Macrovision removing" circuit, or Digital Timebase Corrector and can thus copy protected tapes with or without preserving the protection. Such VCRs are usually overpriced and sold exclusively to certified professionals (video editors, TV stations etc.) via controlled distribution channels in order to prevent their being used by the general public (however, said professional VCRs can be purchased reasonably by consumers on the second-hand/used market, depending on the VCR's condition).
Dual-deck VCRs (marketed as "double-decker") have also been sold, albeit with less success.
Camcorders also feature an integrated VCR. Most of these use smaller format videocassettes, such as 8 mm, VHS-C, or MiniDV, although some early models supported full-size VHS and Betamax. Generally, they include neither a timer nor a TV tuner.
Also note JVC's attempt at D-VHS (ie. JVC HM-DR10000) which, despite being fully functioning and providing much higher quality than even S-VHS, (its most notable feature was that you could now skip using its navigational controls to certain programmes you had recorded on its 21/32 hour tapes) never really caught on as it was too late. By then, DVD was really starting to take control; people only wanted a basic VCR, if that, to watch their previous video collection.
For home video recording, both Digital Video Recorders (such as TiVo, Mythtv, Sky+ and ReplayTV) and DVD recorders are becoming popular, although they are only slowly replacing the VCR. In fact, TiVo cooperates well with VCRs which can be used to archive PVR recordings. However, the introduction of recordable DVDs with sufficient recording capacity on to the regular market with their advantage of random access could spell the doom of the VCR now that prices are falling.
The main drawback with recordable DVD is not the technology itself, but of the disc formats. At present, no less than three different types of DVD recordable disc exist. These are DVD + (plus), DVD - (minus) (both in record once and rewritable versions) and DVD-RAM (which is always rewritable and invariably bundled with DVD-). All three are backed by different consumer electronics manufacturers, and none shows any sign (as of 2006) of gaining "critical mass" in the marketplace. However, in recent years manufacturers have been releasing units that can playback and record to multiple formats. Despite this, many consumers are confused of the formats, and are wary of another format war (similar to the Betamax versus VHS debacle of the early 1980s). This has meant that sales of consumer DVD recorders have been slow to take off.
Another important drawback of DVD recording is that one single layer DVD is limited to around 120 minutes of recording if the quality is not to be significantly reduced, while VHS tapes are readily available up to 210 minutes (standard play) in NTSC areas and even 300 minutes in PAL areas. Dual layer DVDs, which increase the high quality recording mode to almost four hours, are increasingly available, but the cost of this medium is still relatively high compared to standard single-layer discs.
A new format war was digital High Definition compatible recordable HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. These two formats record and play back video in HD producing high resolutions. Although the Sony Blu-ray format stores more data per disc and is supported by more movie studios, HD DVD was released before Blu-ray. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray have released first-generation players, as well as several select high-definition discs. Much like the DVD+/-/RAM format war, some manufacturers started releasing units that can play both formats. However, in 2008, Blu-Ray was adopted as the standard by market forces, relagating HD DVD to the status of a dead format, similar to Betamax.