Short & Sweet

VHS versus DVD: The Face Off

Which is the greatest obsolete viewing experience?

By Yana Makuwa and Nathaniel Coderre

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VHS

Price: At their prime, VHSs were a very reasonably priced product. You could buy a blockbuster film and have it in the comfort of your home for a mere $15-$20 (Nate’s Dad, 2015). And now with a particularly good quality and rare first edition VHS, you have an anthropological artifact worth TENS of dollars!

Availability: While DVDs may surpass VHS tapes in availability in stores, the trusty analog antecedent has a leg up when it comes to availability of content. During the years when VHS was the only (or most popular) distribution method for home video, Hollywood produced such gems as the first Star Wars trilogy and The Shining (which actually did better in VHS sales and rentals than at the box office). VHS gave people access to the best of the best in the comfort of their home. And now it both provides us with a piece of our cultural history, and holds the responsibility of being the final format for many great films that were never transferred (see Listverse.com’s article “Top 15 Movies You Can’t Find on DVD” for more!).

Video Quality: This may be an instance where one would expect the VHS to fall short. The image quality that comes from the process of magnetic tape recording is simply incapable of the aggressively crisp high definition that we get from our newest video technology. However, there is something to be said for the texture and ethereal quality that comes from the rich grain of an analog video experience. Being able to see Richard Gere’s pores and eye-wrinkles on a digitally remastered HD version of Pretty Woman cannot compare to the angelic glow that the slightly blurred image gives his face on VHS. The Middle Earth of The Return of The King on DVD practically shouts fake CGI and set-design when compared with the dreamlike quality of a distantly magical memory that it has in The Fellowship of the Ring on VHS (The Lord of the Rings series straddles the years when DVD overtook VHS, which explains why I have the first on VHS and the last on DVD).

User Interface: The popularization of DVD ruined and cast into the realm of memory the true home-video viewing experience. Watching a VHS tape is a physical experience with an incredibly satisfying arc. First, there’s the gratifying click when you open the case (or swoosh if you have the cheaper, cardboard version). As you slide the tape into the player the machinery accepts it like a gift, and whirs to life to bring you the film you hand-picked. Where DVDs have cold and distant digital dings and jarring bright blue menu screens, VHSs have warm colors and comforting static. And at the end of your movie, when all is said and done, you get up and hit the rewind button—a magical moment of returning everything to the way it was before. (BONUS: You get to watch the movie twice! Once going forward, and then again in reverse!)

“Being able to see Richard Gere’s pores and eye-wrinkles on a digitally remastered HD version of Pretty Woman cannot compare to the angelic glow that the slightly blurred image gives his face on VHS.”

DVD

Price(LESS): Only $1 for Kelly Clarkson: Behind Blue Eyes, Beverly Hillbillies, or Best of Luke’s Peep Show Season 1 at your local video store!!! Have a cousin with more modern tastes??? You could get her critically acclaimed Netflix show Orange is the New Black for only $11!  DVD really has convenience and versatility unmatched by any other video watching experience.

Availability: Let me drop some choice DVDs on you: X-Men: The Last Stand, V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight. The DVD era was the Golden Age of comic book movies! Besides, since I wasn’t really allowed to see movies with nonsexual uses of the F word and middling amounts of violence, PG-13 movies were where it was at.  Sure, my brother scratched the hell out of my copy of The Dark Knight TWO WEEKS after I got it, but getting DVDs for Christmas was AWESOME way back when. Mid-aughts nostalgia is a thing guys! I know for a fact that the majority of your movie-watching days have been in the DVD era (beginning June 2003, if you were curious). 90s era Disney was amazing, no doubt. I’m just willing to bet that a lot of you have DVD re-releases. In fact, let’s make an actual bet. If more than half of our childhood homes still have VCRs, I will only watch VHS tapes for the rest of my life.

Video Quality: Are you kidding me? Shiny laser-optical discs beat whatever the hell cassettes are every day of the week. People who reminisce about VHS quality are conflating their current viewing experience with childhood nostalgia. I loved watching The Lion King on VHS with my siblings as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean I’d prefer that over the digitally remastered version.

User Interface: The PS3 that I used to watch DVDs back in 2006 was sleek as hell. They also had that cool thing where you could turn on the video game system from your controller! So as long as you already had the remote, the controller, and the DVD remote (maybe? I can’t remember), you wouldn’t even have to get up off of the couch. And DVD menus are the best! Rotating pictures, the trailer (so convenient), scene selections, and DVD extras. Let’s not forget about the DVD extras! Best example: the over 3 minutes of Uncle Joey impressions on the Season 3 Full House DVD. You’d have to watch the entire season to figure out which episode he does his Joe Pesci impression in if you were watching the VHS.

Let’s make an actual bet. If more than half of our childhood homes still have VCRs, I will only watch VHS tapes for the rest of my life.

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